Chapter 1: Right

“Do not make laws you do not intend to enforce. Allowing one law to be broken with impunity undermines them all.”
– Extract from the personal journals of Dread Emperor Terribilis II

 

Evening Bell had just rung and the room was now lit with candles.

Most of the Southpool eldermen – the ones involved in my little visit, anyway – had extended invitations for me to stay in their own homes, but I had politely declined. Governess Ife would have those under watch, for the first time in years. After the Conquest eldermen assemblies had been made toothless by the near-absolute powers granted to Imperial governors, an abrupt fall for men and women who had once been a power to rival the guilds and the nobility. Their newfound irrelevance had allowed them to survive the discreet purges that had gone through all cities under direct Praesi occupation, which the governors were only now learning had been a mistake. A mistake driven by culture, as it happened. There was no equivalent to eldermen in the Wasteland, where power inside the larger cities was always in the sole hands of the ruling High Lord. Black had apparently been of the opinion that time would smother the institution on its own without any need for blood: Callowans born without having ever known the assemblies would not be inclined to defer to them, particularly when their old powers were in the hands of others.

He’d only been half-right. In Laure – where the guilds and House Fairfax had always been much stronger – the assemblies were already dead and buried before I was born. In Southpool, though, it was a different story. The Counts of Southpool had long been weakened by their proximity to the seat of a beloved monarchy, and the city was not strong enough in trade for the guilds to have a major presence. Governess Ife, now on her third mandate ruling the city, had found the opposition to several of her toll stations and extraordinary taxes to be strong and exceedingly well-organized. There had been riots, and at first she’d backed down after manoeuvring so the manner of it would not make her lose face. Then she’d quietly begun eliminating the most respected of the eldermen, breaking the assembly’s influence one corpse at a time. Like most forms of Callowan resistance after the Conquest, the enterprise had been doomed from the start. The eldermen of Southpool were now a pale shadow of what they’d once been, unable to mount any opposition worth the name.

But oh, they wanted to.

When I’d had Ratface contact them through intermediaries, they’d accepted my offer without even listening to all the terms. They were lucky I wasn’t out to screw them, because it would have been child’s play. I wasn’t exactly a great admirer of eldermen assemblies – the way eldermen were appointed by the vote of other eldermen made them too much like a knock-off nobility for my tastes – but I needed a check on the authority of governors and they were my most palatable option. It was better than letting the guilds have the reins, anyway. Fairfax kings had spent centuries locking the guilds out of direct political power, and in my opinion they’d been right to. Whenever the guildmasters got a scrap of authority they immediately used it to forced every commerce they could under their thumb, which filled their coffers but also broke smaller traders. Harrion, the owner of the tavern I’d once worked at, had always held the guilds in disdain. He’d been one of the few people in Laure I’d actually liked, so I supposed his opinion might have coloured mine.

The tavern I was currently hiding out in reminded me of the Rat’s Nest quite a bit, actually. The wooden walls were just as rickety, the floor creaked like a dying man and the smell of soured wine and vomit was so ingrained it would remain even if the place was put to the torch. I’d preferred dipping in the lake to using the only bathtub they had here, judging I’d come out of that adventure rust-tinged. I hadn’t drawn attention in doing so: like in Laure, most everyone living by the lake used it to bathe. Without armour and with only a knife for weaponry, I’d been able to keep my presence quiet. Deoraithe, even half-bloods, were rare outside of Daoine but in this part of the city people knew better than to ask questions. The only reason I’d gotten a few looks was currently entering my room, closing the door behind him. Hakram had put on a cloak but there was no hiding his height or his fangs: Adjutant was the tallest orc I’d ever met, with only Juniper coming close.

“I have it,” Hakram said, taking out a thick leather-bound book from under his cloak and dropping it on the table.

I put aside The Death of the Age of Wonders, the treatise I was now reading for the second time. Written by Dread Empress Malicia, I’d thought I could glimpse something of how her mind worked through her words. All I’d gotten, though, was that she was a firm believe in checks and balances when it came to the nations of Calernia. That a woman who’d claimed the Tower could believe foreign alliances should be determined by shared interests instead of alignment to Good and Evil was a fascinating departure from the norm, but it taught me little about Malicia as a woman. Dismissing the thought, I cast my eyes on the book Hakram had brought and flipped it open. Columns of numbers and words, scribbled so poorly even my own handwriting was legible in comparison.

“Won’t that make for pleasant reading,” I sighed.

“I already took a look, it’s why I’m late,” the orc said. “Here, let me.”

He moved the pages with a carefulness that was almost comical, given the size and thickness of his fingers. About halfway through he ceased, and laid a finger on a particular number. Three thousand golden aurelii, spent on…

“Furniture repairs,” I snorted. “Maybe she does have a sense of humour.”

“I’ve found the carpenters that supposedly did the work,” Hakram said. “Elderwoman Keyes knew them. I have sworn statements they did no such thing.”

“And we have the ledger from the Guild of Assassins, accounting for the three thousand aurelii,” I said quietly. “That should be enough.”

Barely a fortnight after claiming my fiefdom in Marchford I’d tasked Ratface to get in touch with all the so-called Dark Guilds of Callow, the criminal mirror to the merchant organization. I really shouldn’t have been surprised he was already on speaking terms with all the major ones. The Assassins had been reluctant at the idea of letting me claim a ledger, even if it was to be used against a Praesi. Black had tacitly sanctioned the existence of all the Dark Guilds after the Conquest, preferring limiting them to quotas rather than attempting an eradication that would drive them into the arms of heroes. The Assassins had quibbled until I’d offered them a calm reminder that Tribune Robber could be pulled from his current assignment at any time. The malevolent little shit was starting to have a reputation and I wasn’t above using it for my purposes. Still had cost me a small fortune to buy the ledger off of them, which mattered a lot more now than it would have a year ago. Marchford was haemorrhaging coin with no solution in sight, but that was a problem I’d return to chewing on tomorrow. Tonight I had a governess to deal with.

“She didn’t have time to cook the books?” I said. “Better than this, I mean.”

“She let Heiress’ people take care of the official ones,” Hakram said, amused. “But she didn’t trust Akua with her personal records.”

Ah, Praesi backstabbing. The gift that kept on giving.

“You worked quickly,” I praised.

He shrugged.

“I knew what we needed, I just had to Find it,” he said.

I hummed. Adjutant’s second aspect, one I still wasn’t sure what to think about. There was no denying how useful it had turned out to be – Hakram now frequently stumbled onto exactly what we were looking for, as long as it was feasible for him to do so – but relying too much on aspects was a good way to earn a one-way trip to the graveyard. I’d encouraged him to use it sparingly, but the both of us were drowning in responsibilities these days: there was a reason he’d come into the aspect in the first place. I changed the subject to more current concerns.

“The Gallowborne are in the city?” I asked.

“As of an hour ago,” Adjutant said. “They’ll be noticed soon, if they haven’t been already.”

“I don’t mind if word spreads,” I grunted. “It’ll discourage Ife’s household troops from getting any ideas.”

The eldermen had assured me that the city guard would stay out of it, but Ife’s own men were from the Wasteland. The governess was from a family sworn to the High Lords of Nok, with minor but very old holdings – held since since before the Miezans kind of old. That tended to breed unusually strong loyalties in Praesi.

“One last thing,” Hakram said. “Heiress’ envoys, they’re led by an old friend of ours.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Can’t be Hawulti, she hasn’t set foot in Callow since our pleasant chat in Liesse,” I said.

As the heiress to Nok, the Soninke would have been the natural choice for an envoy here.

“Fasili,” the orc said. “Slow learner, that one.”

The heir to Aksum. Apparently his aunt bluntly stating he was expendable in a scryed conversation with me had driven him even deeper into Heiress’ camp. Unfortunate, that. Aksum sat on half a dozen emerald mines, the largest in Calernia, and it had grown rich off of them. Fucking Praesi, rolling in gold and gems when Marchford wasn’t even breaking even.

“Let’s gift him a reminder, then,” I said. “Come along, Adjutant. Let’s have a talk with Governess Ife.”

The ranks of the Gallowborne had swelled in the six months that had passed since the end of the Liesse Rebellion. They were not a single company any longer: they numbered four hundred at the moment, the members still handpicked by the former Captain Farrier – now a full Tribune. Still, after a conversation with Juniper I’d forced his hand when it came to selection: there were Praesi now, if only a few, and orcs. Keeping anybody but my countrymen out of the ranks of my personal guard would have sent the wrong message, on that much I agreed with the Hellhound. About seven out of ten were still Callowan, though, and some of those recruits were fresh off the battlefields of the rebellion.

Not all of them had fought on the Empire’s side.

The first time I’d gotten a report that a former member of the Countess Marchford’s retinue had tried to enrol in the Fifteenth, I’d poured myself a stiff drink. My initial thought that this would be an isolated occurrence was quickly proven wrong, as hardened soldiers who’d been ready to run out the Empire not a year ago kept on flocking to my banner. Juniper had been of the opinion that they should taken in and then dispersed across the legions that garrisoned Callow, never allowed to gather enough they would be an issue if they rebelled again. Aisha had been more nuanced, suggesting that folding some into the Gallowborne first as a sign of goodwill would gain me approval with the people of Marchford. It was Ratface who’d been the dissenting voice. Take them all in, he’d said. Otherwise you’ve a city full of veterans with no one to fight for. Yet. He’d been right. The others hadn’t liked it but I’d put my foot down. The Fifteenth filled its rank to the brim before the first month had passed, which was when the first problem had come. We had our four thousand men and still recruits kept showing up.

Word had spread outside of Marchford, and the retinues of half the lords and ladies who’d fought in the rebellion had come to my city. I could not scry Black to ask him for advice, as he was in the Free Cities at the moment and scrying spells tended to break up over the mountains, but to all our surprise it was Nauk who found a solution. Or rather, failed to see where the problem was. Why do we give a shit if we’re over four thousand? he’d said. Our charter’s incomplete. Every legion, when founded, was granted a charter by the Empress – truthfully the Black Knight, but he did so in her name. It granted the soldiers right to pay, specified right of recruitment and formalized the right to be equipped by the Imperial forges at Foramen. It also specified the size of the legion. The Fifteenth though, unlike any other legion in living memory, had been raised as a half-legion of two thousand legionaries. That part of the charter had been left unspecified as a consequence, which Nauk took to mean there was no hard limit on our numbers.

A reminder that Black always, always played the long game.

The Fifteenth Legion now consisted of a little over six thousand men and was still growing. Juniper had hastily brought in recruits from Praes to balance the composition of the legion, but now over half was made up of Callowans. My general regularly made pointed comments about their conflicting loyalties,and she was right to. I’d realized too late that those men and women had not stopped fighting for their rebellion: they simply thought they’d joined the banner of a quieter, more successful one. In Praes, these days, I was seen as a symbol of the permanence of the Tower’s rule over the former Kingdom. In Callow, though? Countess, they called me, but I knew that some of them really meant Queen. This was trouble, in the same sense that fire was warm or Heiress was a megalomaniac. Regardless, if there was currently an advantage to having recruits pouring in from all over Callow it was that some of my Gallowborne were familiar with Southpool. They knew their way around the palace.

“We’ll have control of the grounds before you get to the hall,” Tribune Farrier said quietly from my side.

The two of us were peering at the silhouette of the former residence of the Counts of Southpool. My personal guard has moved swiftly and professionally to secure the palace, after a relative of the eldermen had unlocked a servant entrance. The Gallowborne would be outnumbered, but it was unlikely it would actually come to a fight tonight. Their presence was largely meant as a deterrent for when desperation struck. And even if it comes to that, they’ve fought harder things than men. After Marchford and Liesse, there was precious little that would make the Gallowborne flinch.

“Try to avoid incidents,” I said. “I’d like this to go as cleanly as possible.”

Or I’d have to answer to the Ruling Council for the mess. While I did own a winning coalition of the votes there, I was not beyond questioning. Baroness Kendal – Anne, as she insisted I call her now – had not lost her principles with her surrender and Sister Abigail abhorred violence of any sort. The two Praesi members had been uncomfortable at the idea of what was going to unfold here tonight, though both were owned by High Lords opposed to the man who owned the governess. That had been enough to make it a unanimous vote, without the appearance of Malicia’s representative. The Dread Empress had sent a messenger to cast her vote anyway, without saying how she’d known what the motion put to the council would be.

“My officers are steady,” Tribune Farrier said calmly. “There’ll be no fuckups, Countess.”

“I’ve come to expect as much, John,” I said, clapping his shoulder.

He blushed. He always did, when I called him by his given name. A part of me was still girlishly delighted I could have that effect on people.

“Forgive me,” he said, “but I still believe you should take a full line.”

“There’s no one in that hall for me to be afraid of,” I said amusedly. “A tenth is more than enough. Besides, Hakram will be there.”

“With all due respect, ma’am,” he said, “Lord Adjutant is a target too. It’s been a month since they tried to knife him, we’re overdue another attempt.”

If you’d told me two years ago that assassination attempts on my closest friend in the world would become a somewhat tiresome routine, I would have been fairly sceptical. And yet, here I was, wondering how far the next hired killer would make it before someone but a crossbow bolt in them. The last one hadn’t even made it past Apprentice’s wards before getting put down. Robber had managed to get a betting pool running without having been in Marchford for months, I assumed through the magical power of being a vicious little bastard. Hopefully the next one would make it past the second line of defence, I had twenty denarii riding on it.

“A tenth will be enough,” I repeated dryly. “Hakram, how are we looking?”

A green cabinet with a cloak slapped on top it, also known as Adjutant, stirred in the distance.

“Like we could use a bath from a place where fish don’t swim,” he said.

“That’s insubordination, it is,” I complained.

“I’ll get away with it,” he shrugged. “My commanding officer’s a soft touch.”

“I’m surrounded by insolence, John,” I solemnly told the tribune. “What did I ever do to deserve this?”

“I’m told you flipped off an angel,” he replied frankly. “That’d probably do it.”

“That’s…” I started. “Well, kind of true I guess. Still.”

I strode away, my escorting tenth falling behind me seamlessly as Hakram came to my side. The tall orc had put on his legionary armour before we set out, making the cloak even more useless a disguise than before. I’d not bothered with plate myself, keeping to a simple cloth tunic dyed in pale blue. The cloak, though, was the one I was becoming known for. The same one Black had given me years ago, now adorned with strips from the standards of the enemies I’d beaten. It swirled dramatically behind me as I kept a quick pace towards the banquet hall of old fortress of the counts of Southpool. I had a sword at my hip, now, as well as the knife I’d taken my first life with. Overconfidence had killed more powerful villains than me. The Gallowborne had cleared the corridors of everyone when they’d seized the palace, so we moved without contest. The hall I was looking for was easy enough to find, as it had once served as the room where audiences were held: it was dead at the centre of the structure. The doors to it were already open, though I whimsically wished they hadn’t been. This reminded me of another night, in Laure, when I had been on the precipice of the changes that would lead me where I now stood. A lifetime ago, it felt like.

By the sound of it, the guests had yet to notice anything was going on. I made a note to compliment Tribune Farrier on the efficiency of his men. I strolled into the room casually, casting a steady look around. Twenty people in attendance, with Governess Ife at the head of the table. Servants stood to the side in silence, in the Praesi way. Most of the guests were Callowan, though I recognized Fasili as the governess’ right side. A Taghreb sat by him, a young woman I did not know. Hard eyes and a scar on her face hinted at a retainer, and one not unfamiliar with violence. Three of the eldermen I’d struck my deal with were in attendance, clustered near the end of the table. Like servants. They were the first to notice our presence, as Hakram pulled down the hood of his cloak and the Gallowborne fanned out behind me. For another few heartbeats the conversation continued, then awareness spread and the hall turned silent as a grave.

“Get out,” I said. “Now.”

When Black had stood in my place, he’d used his Name to spread fear in the crowd. I didn’t bother, though I’d finally managed to learn the trick to it. The Callowans rose in barely-veiled panic, streaming by the blank-faced silhouetted of the Gallowborne as they fled. Fasili and his retainer only rose after he finished his cup of wine.

“Governess,” the heir to Aksum said, slightly bowing his head. “Always a pleasure.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” Ife replied with a gracious smile. “Until next time, Lord Fasili.”

The Soninke moved unhurriedly, pausing before me.

“Lady Squire,” he said icily.

The Taghreb retainer cast a wary eye on me, hand falling to the sword at her hip.

“Fasili,” I said. “Do be careful on the way back. I’m told Liesse has a banditry problem.”

“A temporary state of affairs,” he said.

“More than you know,” I smiled pleasantly.

I turned back to the governess, eyeing her curiously. A middle-aged Soninke, her frame still hinting at the slenderness of her youth but now grown thicker. Her eyes were not quite golden but very close. A sign of old blood, Aisha had told me.

“Lady Squire,” she greeted me. “You honour me with your presence.”

“Governess Ife,” I said, grabbing a seat and dragging it at the end of the table facing hers.

The sound of wood scraping on stone almost made her wince. I plopped myself down, then fished out the dragonbone pipe Masego had gifted me. Calmly, under her befuddled gaze, I stuffed it with wakeleaf from a small packet I got from a pocket sown into my cloak. I produced a pinewood match and struck it on the table, lighting the pipe. I inhaled a mouthful of grey smoke and spat it out, carelessly tossing the match into an abandoned cup of wine. There was a long moment of silence, broken only by Hakram failing to entirely smother a chuckle.

“Should I arrange for the servants to bring you a meal?” the Soninke finally said. “I have some of the finest cooks of the provinces in my employ.”

I inhaled the smoke, then let out a stream of it. The wakeleaf had become a guilty pleasure of mine, in the last few months. Aisha usually sprinkled a handful of leaves in her tea, as they sharpened wit, but Apprentice had informed me they could be smoked as well. They were, unfortunately, quite expensive. Grown only in Ashur, having been brought from the other side of the Tyrian Sea when the Baalites first founded the cities that would become the Thalassocracy. I used them sparingly as a consequence.

“The night I first became the Squire,” I said, “I stood in a hall much like this one.”

There was another long silence.

“The story is well known, in some circles,” she said, face without expression.

“Mazus wanted to be Chancellor,” I mused. “Ambitious, though back then I did not understand exactly how ambitious he truly was. I do not think you suffer from the same flaw, Governess Ife.”

“I do not understand your meaning, Lady Squire,” she said, eyes wary.

“Greed, you see, I can tolerate,” I said. “There’s probably been rulers that didn’t skim off the top, but I imagine they were in the minority. It’s an old sin, that one. As long as it doesn’t get out of hand, I can live with it.”

“An enlightened attitude,” the governess murmured. “If your visit is meant to be a… reminder of the virtues of moderation, your warning has been received.”

Hakram calmly placed the ledger on the table, pushing aside a plate filled with pheasant. I would give this to Governess Ife, the fear only showed in her eyes – and even then, only for a moment. I spewed out another mouthful of smoke, letting the haze wreathe my face like a grey crown.

“A thousand aurelii a head,” I said. “A point in your favour, that you bought Callowan instead of importing specialists from the Wasteland. Even if what you bought is murder.”

“I’ve no idea what you are referring to, my lady,” she said.

“We have the matching ledger from the Guild of Assassins,” I replied.

Ife closed her eyes.

“My term is at an end, then,” she said calmly. “I will be gone by the end of the fortnight. Will the replacement you have chosen require quarters before that?”

“So you don’t have a mage in Laure,” I said, cocking my head to the side. “Not one that can scry, anyway.”

I inhaled from the pipe, letting the wakeleaf quicken my blood. I’d thought, that same night in Laure, that when the time came I would enjoy this. That it would feel like justice. It feels like killing, I thought as I blew the smoke. And less cleanly than if I’d used a sword.

“As of last night, the Ruling Council has determined that acts committed as an Imperial governor fall under the jurisdiction of Callowan authorities,” I said.

She was a clever woman, the governess. She did not need for me to explain it any further.

“It would be a mercy,” she said, “to allow me poison.”

“It would be,” I agreed quietly. “But this is Callow, Governess. We hang murderers here.”

The Gallowborne moved forward.

“String her up,” I ordered.

She did not struggle as my soldiers took her away. I closed my eyes and leaned back in the seat. Eventually my pipe ran out and I emptied the ashes on a cooling plate.

“It was necessary,” Hakram said.

He was standing behind me, close enough to touch. He didn’t though. He knew me better than that, had seen me in this kind of mood before.

“When’s the last time we did the right thing, instead of the necessary one?” I asked tiredly.

“You think this wrong?” he said. “She commissioned murders, even if she did not wield the blade herself. By our laws, she has earned death.”

“I don’t think it was personal for her,” I said, eyes drifting to the ceiling. “She was just consolidating power. Like I’m doing right now, Hakram. If she deserves to hang, don’t I?”

“She was breaking the law,” the orc gravelled. “You are enforcing it.”

“The only reason I don’t break laws anymore is because I make them, now,” I scoffed.

Adjutant laughed softly.

“And that disturbs you?” he asked. “You have toiled to earn that prize since before we ever met.”

“There’s nothing right about this,” I finally said. “I didn’t win tonight because I’m better than her. I’m just more powerful. I have a bigger stick, so I decide how it goes.”

Humans,” Hakram mocked gently. “You speak that as if it were a tragedy, instead of the first truth of Creation: the strong rule, the weak obey.”

“I thought,” I said quietly, “that we could be better than that.”

“Justifications only matter to the just,” he gravelled.

I half-smiled. My own words, thrown back at me. And yet…

“I burned men alive, at Three Hills,” I said. “Hundreds of them.”

“Your enemies,” he said. “Soldiers.”

I let out a long breath.

“I have done, Hakram, terrible things,” I said. “Ugly things. I’ll do more, before this is over. If it is ever over.”

Once, when we’d talked under moonlight, the orc had compared trying to change the world to pushing a boulder up a mountain. And then watching it roll down the other slope. It doesn’t work that way, though, I thought. There is no summit to the mountain. You just keep pushing until your body gives, and you’re the first thing the stone crushes on the way down. If that was all it could be, though, if all you could ever do was buy some time…

“I made those decisions for a purpose,” I said. “I did not cover this land with corpses just to change the flavour of tyranny that rules it. If I don’t make it better now, when will I?”

I clenched my fingers, then unclenched them.

“We hang murderers, in Callow. Even the ones Black struck deals with.”

I slid back the pipe into my cloak.

“Get a message to Ratface,” I said. “He is to prepare for the dismantling of the Guild of Assassins.”

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58 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Right

  1. If any of you are interested in light novels and chinese web serial (which I’m guessing will be quite a few of you, given how often the Guide pops up in the reddits dedicated to both of those) I’m giving a shout-out to a site called volare novels, which translates quite a few of those.
    (Link: http://volarenovels.com)
    If you’re looking for something in a similar vein to the Guide, though of course with the usual transmigration/reincarnation shenanigans so common in the genre, then Poison Genius Consort (http://volarenovels.com/poison-genius-consort/) or Great Demon King (http://volarenovels.com/great-demon-king/) are some you might find interesting.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Vortex

      I love novel translations from Asia and I have actually plugged your web serial a few times on the subreddit that handles them: /r/noveltranslations.

      If you enjoyed poison genius consort, take a look at lightning empress maid. It’s something I found recently, and enjoyed greatly. There is a lot of stuff that is pretty similar to poison genius consort on there too (descent of the Phoenix, genius doctor: black belly miss, and a few others) but I thought lightning empress maid was fun, light, and original. http://www.novelupdates.com/series/lightning-empress-maid/

      Like

  2. Gunslinger

    Epic stuff. I love how well Catherine has come into her role. Also what name will Robber come into? He can’t be an assassin cause of The Assassin. Maybe a new Role that’s a claimant role to Assassin

    Like

      1. RoflCat

        @Hakurei: He’s ‘Robber’, as Hakua mentioned it’s a thief name.

        Thief -> Assassin

        And given that ‘story’ can be made into a Name (as Akua seems to be doing), Robber might as well become Eyehunter (instead of headhunter)

        Wouldn’t that be something?

        Warlock (Masego)
        Assassin (Robber)
        Captain (Hakram)
        Scribe (Rat Face)
        A part of me think Ranger might finds Catherine intriguing if she ever meets with Captain and hear of that “she’s like Black and Hye’s child” comment.

        Under the Dread QUEEN of Callow.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. George

      Ah cmon, it’s gotta be Robber. The question is if, once we are certain by some means that he’s claimed that Name, we ever find out just *when* he claimed it!

      Like

    2. Dragrath

      That requires him to not have a name already remember the words of Black.
      “I suspect they do have names” The goblins are secretive very so if they had a name they would likly never use it unless they had to and in that case no witnesses…

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      1. darkening

        Assassin being robber would require a rather high level of mobility as assassin was at the gathered rebel army to kill off the rebel’s crown claimant shortly before the battle of liesse. Teleportation has been stated to be impractical, and while name shenanigans are possible, as black said about the Bard, powerful abilities like being able to show up wherever you were needed to assassinate someone would have an unpleasant price.

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  3. “I part of me was still girlishly ”
    Only error I saw on my quick read through. Either “I was still girlishly” or “Part of me was still girlishly”. I suspect it started as one, then you deleted it and wrote what’s currently there.

    Like

    1. Soronel Haetir

      Given Assassin’s duties I would think Robber’s position with Cat would be awfully limiting. Assassin needs to be able to move around without comment. And that means not holding positions where those around them in a military chain of command would note an absence. Robber might not be right with Cat this moment but he’s been tasked with a job by Cat.

      For example, at the end of the last book we know Robber was supposed to be somewhere around Liesse but we were also told that Assassin would take care of the former Baroness Dormer if she refused the appointment.

      I tend to think Assassin is Lieutenant Abase (the Blackguard officer we’ve seen a couple times), though that to is a limiting position in terms of freedom to move around. But at least being in a personal guard rather than the Legions proper would likely mean there is a somewhat looser chain of command, or he simply reports that he has been detached by Black for some task.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Soronel Haetir

      Another factor that I believe cuts against Robber actually being Assassin is the way Cat met Robber at the War College. That seems like a posting that would tie a person to one place far too much. Robber had been there for weeks or months at least (probably more as he did graduate). A student at the college isn’t likely to be able to ditch classes to go off on other business.

      And while a Name can keep someone looking young there are still signs of age. I seem to recall a statement at some point that Robber looked young even for a goblin out in the world.

      Like

  4. Letouriste

    Interesting chapter:)
    Guys,forget about robber awakening a name,he is badass enough like that,he don’t need that…apart maybe at the end of the novel,like nauk maybe;)

    Like

  5. An error that no one else bothers to point out that drives me fucking mad:

    [Blockquote]“I made those decisions for a purpose,” I said. “I did not cover this land with corpses just to change the flavour of tyranny that rules it. If I don’t make it better now, when will I?”

    I clenched my fingers, then unclenched them.

    “We hang murderers, in Callow. Even the ones Black struck deals with.”[/blockquote]

    WHO SPOKE THE SECOND LINE?????
    The context suggests Catherine, but the formatting says concretely, without any doubt that it was Hakram. I do not think the author means for Hakram to say that line. This story is chock full of this error and it stops me in my tracks every single time, because I need to THINK about it, figure out who was actually speaking, then go back and reread to get into the flow again. It’s a really simple thing to get right, and it would go a long way toward making this story look professional.

    Here’s one possible correct way to write it (out of many possibilities). This changes the original text the least, though there might be other ways to get closer to the author’s original intent:

    [Blockquote]“I made those decisions for a purpose,” I said. “I did not cover this land with corpses just to change the flavour of tyranny that rules it. If I don’t make it better now, when will I?”

    I clenched my fingers, then unclenched them. “We hang murderers, in Callow. Even the ones Black struck deals with.”[/blockquote]

    Making it all one big paragraph is another possibility. Re-formatting completely creates dozens more.

    Like

    1. KageLupus

      Actually, if you look at the rest of that scene I am pretty sure that there is an indicator every time the speaker switches. There is also an indicator that Catherine is still speaking after a longer thought, on the order of a full paragraph. Cat says something, has an extended thought, and then says something else with an “I said” thrown in to keep the flow going.

      But right at the end there she says a line, makes a gesture (that only takes a single sentence) and then continues her statement. It read as pretty obvious to me that Cat was speaking the whole time at the end there, and breaking it up into several short statements like that gives it more of a punch.

      Like

    2. Alexander LeakingPen Hollins

      no, action paragraph followed by new dialogue is ALWAYS supposed to be a new paragraph. We haven’t been given any indication in text or dialogue that there is a new speaker, we assume it’s still Cat. The formatting does NOT say otherwise. Not sure where you learned this “rule” but it’s incorrect.

      Like

  6. Soronel Haetir

    “Find” sounds an awful lot like “Seek”. Actually Find might be even better, Seek doesn’t imply anything about coming up with an answer.

    Like

    1. nipi

      Find also happens to suggest that it should be out of the nameds control. You can actively Seek something but you cant actively Find something, it just happens if and when it does. Its a “passive skill”.

      Like

  7. maresther23

    This is going to explode hilariously in Squire’s face. She really is being brutal in her ruling, I wonder if so much blood is necessary for consolidating her power.

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      So right now Malicia was right in her judgement of the first (few) year(s) of Cat… which should make her plans for Cat work, if not for (seemingly at least) the horrible mistake of underestimating Heiress, thinking that only Tasia is a real problem or that Heiress is probably even just a minion of Tasia. But hey, Black is making a leap of faith in Cat’s favor, saying she learns best at/in/from(??) “the deep end”, he made the decision to go away after all, thinking all while be fine anyway [just push Cat into the cold water, without even teaching her how to swim – she’ll come out of it eventually, even if that means walking on the ground of said water until she finally gets out again at the shore, instead of via floating on top by swimming…], so that would seem to fit together again, click-clack, perfect fit, showing what Black was thinking about with that ‘perfect team, being complements for each other’ thought about how he makes the leaps of faith and Malicia sees things he doesn’t, filling the hole in the plan that the other leaves (if they do).

      Or maybe Malicia has started to see more in Cat, too, trusting Black’s judgement and thus feels fine in using her to solve the Problem Named Heiress, to solve the other problems that need solving, who knows…

      Like

  8. Ah the moment the story reminds you, that an angel won’t let beeing mugg- er forced into giving out the rightful price on terms not dictated by himself, is nothing they seem to like….

    “…. even those Black struck deals with…” huh this one is very interesting to….

    This story just doesn’t really get worse, as most others do….. looks like this will be going for a while longer~

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      Yeah, well, Black seemed to be absolutely fine with her “kicking the hornet’s nest”, *knowing* what she does, so… 😉

      Like

  9. stevenneiman

    “Whenever the guildmasters got a scrap of authority they immediately used it to [forced->force] every {bit of?} commerce they could under their thumb”
    “All I’d gotten, though, was that she was a firm [believe->believer] in checks and balances”
    “the blank-faced [silhouetted->silhouettes] of the Gallowborne”
    “I have done, Hakram, terrible things” I don’t actually know if this is grammatically correct, but I think it would read much better if “Hakram” was at the end of the sentence.

    Well, this is going to be a mess. It’s one thing to bully the nobles with Black’s support, and quite another to try and defeat a group specifically trained to kill and avoid detection acting against his wishes. I understand her reasoning, but this is going to be messy, painful, and dangerous. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of her close friends gets killed doing this.

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      One awful mistake I see in her is STILL not seeming to think the long route out, not even close… and not being innovative at all. She’s still scraping by via making do with what is there and using the old stuff, trying out the mantle, but not making it hers. Exactly why I keep repeating that she is not ready. Just mimicking the few scenes she knows from Black’s past is not enough. Just taking pieces here and there from societies that have come before, when she finds they are yet the best ones she saw, even if they are not fully to her liking, is just wrong, too. Why not make NEW assemblies, but take the old ones that she already SEES are not quite “the right thing”? She’s not there yet. The vision is still lacking. And it’s starting to tell, imho and will do so very quickly. Countess/Queen versus her actual position is going to be a pain in the ass. Just harassing Akua, but not doing more, too. Etc. etc.

      But hey, of course – it’s necessary we go down the drain and/or rabbit hole again, this is only the start of a new plot arc, after all and Cat is supposed to develop, all fine.
      [ I just refuse to follow all the hints of her replacing Black immediately, pointing out how she has still (a long) WAY to go 😉 I would be seriously disappointed if that were truly what the foreshadowing would end in to up the ante for her. There are so many, many NEW and much nicer angling points that have already cropped up by now, how shit could hit the fan in new fun ways. Much more interesting than just killing off Black/Malicia and let her deal with that, jumping over godsknow how many steps leading to an actually FITTING moment in time where that might happen. If one needs it at all… I can’t stop thinking of how the position of “knight” is something that you *usually* rather end up in by being *appointed* to it, either by the knight who trained you (on-the-field-appointment) or some much higher authority figure, like kings and empresses… for deeds done; and not by your trainer/mentor dying, which is normally the rarest case scenario when it comes to knights… One way or another – she’s not there yet. She’s gone over to not just learning, but now trying to mimick – but the true step would be finally finding her own way, coming into her OWN, as the saying goes. Not just following in someone else’s steps and mimicking them. Also, if the Girl Climbing the Tower should not just be a song for Malicia, but actually more (and not just a wrong interpretation)…. Knight is not necessarily what Cat should become at all, even though she starts out as Squire. Transcending would seem to be a good idea for her, what with her breaking the rules etc. etc. … 😉 (In general, I mean, no matter if Black dies along the way or not, even though I would feel it highly inappropriate and thus disappointing if the should do so *already* instead of just being out of the way for a bit, so she can develop some on her own.) ]

      Like

    1. Soronel Haetir

      Maybe if the guild of assassins were competent, but I have the idea that they are just as wrecked as everything else Callowan. After all they have been limited to soft targets for the last 20 years (if they had gone after ruling Praesi Black’s forbearance would have disappeared).

      Like

  10. nerfworld

    Well at least she got more men, cause squire will need them to drag heiress out of Liesse when she makes her move

    But killing that guild will be a bad idea since they may agree to join heiress and that one already has enough black op teams running about causing havoc

    Think thief still around stealing things in matchford?

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      There are other ways to disassemble that guild than just kill them off one by one, though… although this chapter so far does not quite give the impression that they are thinking of much else. Still…

      Like

  11. Kylen

    This was a great chapter. I love it when the Crew is being playfully insubordinate with Cat, because it shows they care, at least a bit. I’m not sure why they are going after the Guild, but I’m sure she has a longer ranged plan. Can’t wait for next week’s chapter.

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      Has she?

      I dunno, maybe the author WILL pull another stunt of things-happening-behind-the-screens-only again…
      He did do it once already what with Cat’s “I’m the Queen (if just for a second), haHA”-triumph, where we never got shown much of her thinking about why Heiress is targeting Liesse exactly and combining it with the mention of something to [bind names..?] there plus the ritual Will was attempting, barring that one sentence of her thinking about the mention of sth. like that being in Liesse and then her following towards Will’s summoning place that seems to be the target of Heiress, too (which might have happened without all the other implications coming together, as it was presented, we never got the full bunch to suprise US instead of just the enemy)..

      …but… it feels a bit shallow to pull that trick twice *in a row (of all things)*.
      Would be nicer to be able to piece the hints together beforehand this time, including necessarily a few more hint drops of her ACTUALLY planning something and the direction of it (instead of pulling planning-happend-behind-the-scenes out of the hat only in the very end), for a change – diversity is ‘the salt in the soup’ for ongoing readability, after all. 😉

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        And so far, she does not *give off the impression* (to the READER (at least not to me)) that she has thought that far ahead and actually knows what she is doing there already. The impression this chapter gives off is one of general scrambling and scrabbling to find purchase, find a way, and not drown in the cold water she was dumped in (of her own volition, but still… she IS inexperienced in ruling – and (I’d say) it SHOWS).
        Like she is not sure herself right now, what she even WANTS to do with all the new power she’s got (anymore, if she ever had… as I said before, she didn’t seem to have much of a plan what exactly to do after her subversion succeeds and she DOES get in a position of power beyond a muddy “i wanna give Callowans some more influence over their own lifes back and make life better in general”, no big idea HOW to do that) — and right now she seems/feels even unsure what the “right thing” would even BE… much less how to achieve it.

        [ Which would rather fit expectations… she’s still in training, after all, further along than the two year span would normally suggest, but still… she’s SO not finished there — and we need a new heap of problems for the new arc, after all, and further development options 😉

        If there should actually be once more more of behind-the-screen-not-visible-to-reader-stuff going on again in HER circle, not just the Calamities’ ranks.. Well, it would seem a bit.. hm… not quite so believable as other things and even less satisfactory if she makes it in the end, seeing how Cat has been presented as this ‘massive underdog scrambling along without plan, acting on events, not planning them, for the most part’ and not as the ‘big thinker’ (yet), only as someone STARTING to think, what with the example of Black (and Co.) presented to her and nudging her along. Expectations MATTER. Of course there are ways surprises are nice, too, but – as I said. The whole it-was-all-behind-the-screens-approach does not really come off all that well, at least not easily, and not twice in a row. Readers generally don’t seem to like being played for stupid very much and “only-behind-the-screens” instead of pulling of hint-dropping and STILL leading us in a wrong direction and surprising us with the big reveal rather DOES play us for stupid, because it only succeeds by withholding stuff, not giving us insight, cutting out natural POV-scenes, seeing how we’re mostly following the protagonist, DO (seem to) get quite a lot of her thoughts — not giving us the important ones, not even in decisive, but ambiguous hints, seems rather assholery… Most of us seem to like at least having a decent CHANCE to figure things out. ]

        Like

      2. Morgenstern

        To sum up: It’s a thin line to tread.

        If Cat DOES already have a bigger plan and better grips on the situation/future implications – she should at least be HINTED AT to have it. The “I will do a lot more bad stuff before the end” goes in that direction, but all the rest of all this “necessary vs. right thing” and blahblah “should it not apply to me/us too” blahblah “laws must be followed, but i never did it” blahblah… “don’t like the elder assemblies, but they’re my best shot (i cannot think of anything else, least of all new things to bring up on my own)” blah blah … it’s so very muddled, it very much gives of the impression she does NOT have a real plan, but it’s more or less just grabbing around in the dark and toying with a multitude of ideas, but not real PLAN, not even in simple but coherent outlines beyond the way too general “make life better for Callowans” / “rule of Callowans”. The How is missing too much / presented as being way too muddled and her being unsure about it instead of “haHA, i have a plan, but i won’t reveal it that easily, try to find it in my tiny remarks here and there”.

        Like

  12. I don’t believe dismantling the Guild of Assassins will blow up in Catherine’s face because of one statement on her part. “If I don’t start making things better now, when will I?” This fits Catherine’s “story” *perfectly*…as such it strengthens her Name/Role, and the meta power behind the Names themselves. We’ve already seen a hard example of Story trumping Names. Catherine’s “Enemy, Sword in the Stone, Claim” Story squashed both the Lone Swordsmen and Heiress, THEN went on to power her through Mugging the Choir of Contrition.

    So long as Catherine is acting in accordance with her overarching Story (Referred to as Working Within/Gaming the Dread Empire to Reform Callow) Catherine won’t come to grief by the hand of Fate. In fact, had she FAILED to move against the Assassins because Black made a deal with them, Catherine would’ve been weakening her story by allowing an element of the post-Conquest Praesi status quo to remain intact. Then Creation might well have bitten her, predictably via the Assassins still being around.

    There isn’t one example in the Guide of a Named taking definitive action that supports their Story Narrative of that Named coming to grief by it, without “Half the world being set against them.”

    Look at the fall of all the major/competent Dread Emperors that have been mentioned. Massive force is all that brought each down. Catherine isn’t immune to that level of force, but failing that, so long as she holds tight to her Story, she’s bulletproof. No single Hero, no single Villain will ever pull her down.

    Unless it’s the Bard…but it won’t be by direct action in that case. It would be the Bard being clever enough in a meta sense to arrange for the massive force required to topple a Name in the full cry and glory of their power.

    Look at what the Tyrant just pulled. Simple declarative belief, backed by ironclad action that proves his “faith” in his Story was all it took to turn the SKY into a weapon of mass destruction.

    The same has gone for Catherine numerous times. By military strength alone, Marchford should’ve been the end of the Fifteenth. Instead Marchford became a pretty strip of cloth on her cloak and a step built for her to climb the Tower.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Morgenstern

        It would seem rather likely that some of her circle have a better idea of “dismantling” the guild than just killing all its members off… 😉 Catherine has, so far, not been the “biggest planner there is”, that’s more of a job for others, at least in helping her along to find out what is going on and then formulate a plan for it. The Big Reveal in the last book (sword in stone story) seems to have come off by a combination of asking Masego behind the screens and Black pumping her with stories to lead her along to understanding of how stories work — and thus how they might get used and/or influenced or even transcended. I don’t see her actually having done that on her own or doing it on her own in the future, as of yet. Way to go, Cat – but … way to go. And a good thing that is. Progression should take time. Character development should not simply come along in fits and starts and via deus ex machina, tadaa, she suddenly can… a bit of that strewn in here and there is fine, but stories live on coherence and believability, after all. Too much of it and there goes your belief, replaced by stopping out-of-story and “what!?” and “OP” comments. 😉

        Like

      2. Morgenstern

        So far, Cat has been presented more as “thriving on chaos” and only LEARNING to actually plan (much more so: longterm), besides her one or two great ideas, which … well.. remain(ed) in cocoon stage so far. Her ideas should unfold into plans and the giant awful badass “butterfly” with her, imho. Big term plans are still in the hands of other characters and/or well they SHOULD be.

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  13. I forgot:
    Magic stones in the bellies of Bellephronese diplomats, activated by mental command…done via simple mages and not Named? I think the way the spell works is they get the diplomats to swallow a stone, the Diplomat BELIEVES they know what the stone does because they’ve witnessed it splatter so many other Diplomats, or heard of it splattering them.

    The spell uses the belief of the Diplomats in the ability of the kaenanas to cause their death to actually cause their death. If the Diplomat stopped believing the stone could kill them, the magic isn’t there to actually kill them.

    Erratic, care to comment?

    Like

  14. Morgenstern

    Instant side thought: If all murderers get hanged in Callow… what about her own? Thinking of Robber and his crew murdering travellers on their way to Akua, anyone? 😉

    Like

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