Chapter 17: Allegiance

“There’s a natural hierarchy to the world, Chancellor: there’s me, then my boot, then all of Creation under the boot.”
– Dread Empress Regalia

It felt good to be back in plate. It felt even better to know that I’d be facing opponents that could actually be deterred by armour – no more of this ‘fae blades cut through everything’ bullshit. It’d been like fighting a hundred less competent version of the Lone Swordsman, though admittedly with much less lecturing thrown around. Small favours. My cloaks swirled behind me as I walked down the stairs, the most recent addition to it glimmering even in the dark. How Hakram had managed to get his hands on a piece of the Duke of Violent Squalls’ clothes I had no idea, but the wind-like cloth had been added as another mark of victory to my name. A third of the black cloth was now covered by stolen banners of dead men. How many years, before there is no black left? At the rate I was making enemies, not many. If I survived the year, odds were Akua Sahelian’s would be joining the lot. There was a thought to warm my absent heart.

It was cooler, underground. There’d been two sets of goals in Marchford, before I’d taken the city back in the rebellion. The cells for petty criminals, near the centre of the city: the ones I was currently in. The other had been for highborn prisoners, in a wing of the Countess of Marchford’s manner. The very same I’d had Robber put to the torch purely to piss then-Heiress off. If I’d known back then I’d have to pay for rebuilding the godsdamned thing, I might have held off. The awareness that I’d ordered that manor burned followed me into the dark. The man I was visiting, after all, had once called that seat of power his birthright. Elizabeth Talbot did not have any children, but she had a whole tribe of relatives. Her designated heir was her brother’s son, Lord Brandon Talbot – who’d been among the rebels broken by Black but had managed to escape and survive.

From the fact that his head had not ended up on a pike in the following months, I assumed neither my teacher nor Malicia had thought him worth the effort of hunting down. With that in mind I’d expected to find a living example of every noble wastrel tale waiting down in his cell, but the reality was different. Brandon Talbot was a man in his early thirties, powerfully built with a thick beard and long hair held in a ponytail much like mine. He was seated on a stone bench in the back, managing to make the position look almost dignified even if his well-tailored clothes had obviously not been washed in some time.

“I was beginning to think I’d been forgotten down here,” the man said.

“No such luck,” I replied.

I glanced around. There was a table and seats meant for guards, under a pair of torches, and I claimed one of the chars. Turning its back to the prisoner, I straddled it and propped up my elbows atop it. He was staring at me, I saw, a strange expression on his face.

“Taking a good look?” I said.

He blinked, then shook his head.

“I mean, I’d heard,” he said. “But it’s another thing to see it. You’re so young.”

I hid my surprise. Usually, at this point, my enemies offered up banter. Or a denunciation of some sort. Maybe a dig at my height, which made stabbing them afterwards a sort of justice.

“Age stops mattering, when you become Named,” I said.

“Age always matters,” he disagreed softly. “There was a time this country didn’t make soldiers of its children.”

I smiled thinly.

“And then we lost,” I said. “A lesson learned.”

“Of all the things we lost back then,” Brandon Talbot murmured, “I think I might grieve that one the most.”

“Is that why you came here?” I asked. “To tell me of the past glories of the Kingdom?”

“The Kingdom died,” he said, tone sad. “Once on the Fields of Streges, and again when the Carrion Lord snuffed out the dream last year.”

“It was not a Callowan dream,” I replied harshly. “It was a Proceran one, bought with the First Prince’s silver.”

“Oh we all knew that, deep down,” Lord Brandon admitted. “That we were being used. But we glimpsed a world that was more than waking up every morning with the Tower’s boot on our throat. It was not a bad dream, Countess Foundling.”

“Lady,” I corrected. “Lady Foundling.”

He peered at me, dark bangs and darker shadows framing his face.

“Are you really?” he asked.

“To you?” I said. “Yes.”

The man laughed.

“You think I’m your enemy,” he said.

“I think you committed treason,” I said. “I’ve hanged men for less.”

“And yet here I am,” Lord Brandon said. “Without a rope around my neck.”

I smiled mirthlessly.

“It would be a very grave mistake,” I said, “to confuse curiosity for mercy.”

“But you are curious,” he said. “Most would have sent me to the gallows without even an audience. Your orc certainly wanted to.”

“General Juniper would have been well within her rights to give you a traitor’s death,” I replied harshly.

“I’m not trying to speak ill of your friend, Countess Foundling,” he said, waving away the notion.

Blue eyes considered me carefully.

“She is your friend, yes?”

“Something like that,” I said.

“And yet they say you fight for Callow,” Lord Brandon mused. “Most would think those two things irreconcilable.”

“But not you?” I snorted. “If you’re looking for a pardon for that concession, you’re knocking at the wrong door. I’m eighteen, not an idiot.”

He did not entirely manage to hide his surprise when I mentioned my age. Oh fuck him, I thought. I wasn’t that short. I’d been almost an inch taller than Black before he left, it wasn’t my fault I was surrounded by godsdamned giants all the time.

“What do you want, Lord Talbot?” I said. “You had to know you’d end up in a cell if you turned up here.”

“I want you to save Callow,” he said. “While there’s still some of it left to save.”

“Always the cry of the highborn, isn’t it?” I laughed, darkly amused. “Bring it back the way it used to be! When everything was perfect because we were rich and powerful and we ran the fucking show.”

“This land was at peace, once,” he said.

“I keep hearing people talk about bringing back the Kingdom,” I said. “Like putting a crown on some Fairfax relative would magically fix this fucking country. You all act like everything was perfect before the Conquest, like it was some never-ending golden age. It wasn’t. I’ve read the records, and what you’re trying to resurrect never existed. All a rebellion won would accomplish is slapping a fresh coat of ruin over a bitter truth: all that’s changed is whose palace the taxes build.”

“If you hold us in such contempt,” he said, “why claim to fight for us?”

“Because there’s a difference between Callow and the Kingdom,” I hissed. “One is people. The other’s gilding. People I’ll draw my sword for, every time. The rest can burn. It’s not worth a single drop of godsdamned blood.”

“The people are dying, Countess,” Lord Brandon said.

“So they are,” I conceded tiredly. “And so I go to war again.”

“I don’t mean the fae,” the noble said, shaking his head. “Or even the butcher you gave Liesse to. Callow is dying. Our way of life. Another fifty years of this and we’ll be light-skinned Praesi, save for a few bitter enclaves.”

I didn’t reply, because he was right. I knew he was, and worst of all I didn’t have a solution. Because the monsters were as cunning as they were powerful, and they had been playing this game since before I was born. Winning it through schools and trade and the featherweight of apathy. It was one of the first thing Black had ever told me: he didn’t need people to agree, just not to care. And it was working, wasn’t it? During the Liesse Rebellion, no holding north of Vale has risen. So few soldiers had answered the Duke’s call that he’d needed to bolster his forces with mercenaries. The dream the noble said my teacher has snuffed out had been a feeble thing from the start: peasant levies ordered into the field, barely held together by household troops and foreign soldiery. And before the war was done those same levies had delivered the same nobles who’d called on them at the feet of Black, bound in chains. Fear, I knew, had driven them there. But also more than that: no one in that army had really believed they could win anymore. Some hadn’t even been sure they should.

“I know,” I admitted.

“But this is not your design,” Lord Brandon pressed, leaning forward.

His eyes were alight, almost fervent.

“I’m trying to find a path between destruction and rebellion,” I said.

“The let us be Callowans,” he said. “Changed, perhaps, but still us. There is still a spine under the boot, Countess. There’s still a flicker of the flame no matter how many times they stamp it out.”

“Those are pretty words,” I noted. “I don’t trust pretty words, Talbot. I trust practical measures. Tangible things I can work with.”

“Bring back the knightly orders,” he said.

I stared at him for a long moment. The knights of Callow, huh? Even over twenty years after the Conquest, their silhouettes were still branded behind the eyes of children who’d been born long after the last of them were disbanded. For a lot of people, the knights were Callow, just as much as the bells of Laure or golden fields spreading as far as they eye could see. They were also a basketful of military orders disbanded by order of the Dread Empress because they were a direct threat to Praesi hegemony.

“I don’t have the authority to repeal Tower decrees,” I said.

“Not lawfully,” the noble said very, very quietly.

It still rang loudly, in these rooms empty save for the two of us. Treason had a way of doing that. I looked at him, and finally understood what I was sitting across from.

“You’re not an agitator,” I said. “You’re an envoy.”

“So I am,” he agreed softly. “We’ve watched you, Countess. Seen what you preach more than empty words.”

I’d been playing this game for too long to be fooled by flattery.

“Don’t lie to me,” I said. “You’re not coming to be because you think I’m worthy. You’re coming to me because you’re desperate. Because in fifty years, we’ll be light-skinned Praesi – and if I die, you’re not getting another Squire who gives a shit about Callow.”

He did not deny it. I allowed myself to see it, for just a moment. Knights come again, and this time on my side. Not riding down my legionaries. With Summer and the Diabolist ahead of me, the thought was horribly tempting.

“How many?” I said, mouth gone dry.

“You have not agreed,” Lord Brandon grimaced. “You must understand that-“

“You’re asking me to cross Dread Empress Malicia,” I said, tone like steel. “If you think you grasp even a fraction of how dangerous that woman really is, you’re a fucking fool. How many?

The man studied me in silence for a long time.

“Two thousand,” he said. “More may emerge if you don’t butcher us in our sleep.”

Two thousand. Gods be good.

“The Duke of Liesse didn’t even have that much horse,” I said faintly. “And Black had most his knights killed in their sleep.”

“Those of us that rose with Gaston of Liesse went to die, Foundling,” the noble murmured. “Reaching for that dream, one last time. It was the old, the tired, the despairing. The rest of us stayed hidden. To teach old ways to the young, and wait.”

Half the houses in the city will have swords and spears stashed under the floorboards or hidden away in the attic, I’d told Juniper the first night we spent in Marchford. Because this was Callow. Because we’d carry a grudge for ten generations, if that was how long it took to even the scales. Because those who wronged us always, always paid the long price no matter what it cost is. And now I’d just been told that two thousand knights were hiding in the countryside, biding their time. Under Black’s nose, for years. Pride in my countrymen warred with horror at the thought of what could have happened, if they’d all risen. Praesi thought they knew about patience but they’d only been invaded the once, and not like us. We’ve had wolves at the gate since the First Dawn. It taught us hard lessons and oh,look  how well we’ve learned them. I was more moved by the thought than I cared to admit.

“How quickly can you gather them?” I croaked.

Lord Brandon kept his face calm, but his eyes betrayed him.

“Two, maybe three months,” he said.

“You’ll be part of the Fifteenth,” I said. “Under General Juniper. Anything less is declaring war on the Tower.”

“It is a lesser yoke,” the dark-haired man said, “than the one currently choking us.”

I rose to my feet, feeling faint. I could feel the Beast’s head leaning over my shoulder, its warm breath heating my cheek. It was grinning.

“I, Countess Catherine Foundling of Marchford,” I said, “do order the creation of the Order of Broken Bells and charge Lord Brandon Talbot with gathering men under its banner.”

The man looked about to weep, and softly nodded.

“You’ll be out within the hour,” I said. “Get me knights, Talbot. Before it’s too late.”

“I don’t like this,” Juniper said.

It was almost noon. Leaving the orc to hover behind me, I put a hand against the glass and tried to feel warmth. Nothing. I was so cold to the touch these days that my breath should come as vapour. I stared at the sun and idly thought that the conversation that I was about to have would have better fit the night.

“Are you listening, Foundling?” the general growled. “I don’t fucking like it, this inner circle shit. We’re a legion, not a gang. Officers of the same rank get the same briefings.”

“What I have to say isn’t for everybody’s ears,” I said.

“Hune should be there,” the grim-faced orc continued as if she hadn’t heard me. “She’s my second, not Nauk.”

“I trust Nauk,” I replied without turning. “Hune is a blank slate.”

“Then have one of your little talks with her,” the general said. “Like you did with Ratface and Aisha.”

I snorted.

“Jealous we never had one?” I teased, sounding more light-hearted than I felt.

“Please,” she dismissed. “I already see too much of you as is. Couldn’t stomach more.”

Before I could summon up a reply, my ‘inner circle’ began piling in. They’d come as a group, it seemed. Only officers for this one: Masego was holed up in his tower, seeing to the experiments he’d left in the hands of the assistant he’s stolen from Diabolist, and Hakram was keeping Archer busy in the sparring yard. Leaving her to her own devices would just lead to more property damage I couldn’t afford to repair. Nauk was the first in, from the sound of the steps. Robber and Ratface came in bickering about ‘misappropriation of Legion resources’, which I’d probably have to look into at some point, and Aisha’s presence could be deduced from the dainty sigh that followed them. Pickler was light-footed and silent, but my ears were more than mortal now. Kilian wasn’t here. I owed it to her to tell her when it was just the two of us.

“Boss,” Robber called out. “Do I not even get a ‘good murdering, you filthy goblin’? I really feel like I’ve earned it.”

“The filthy in particular,” Aisha commented.

I turned to look at the officer’s I’d had at my side since the College, who’d followed me through a rebellion of my own making and bled in my name. I did not manage to smile.

“Oh shit,” Ratface cursed.

He’d always been a perceptive man.

“About an hour ago,” I said, “I committed treason.”

There was a heartbeat of shocked silence, then the room exploded. Aisha’s face had gone blank, Juniper looked furious and Pickler somehow managed to be bored in the face of a blunt admission of sedition. Nauk was grinning and thumping the table. Ratface’s face was darkly pleased and the noise covering all the rest was Robber’s loud, shrill laughter.

“If I may request specifics, Lady Catherine?” Aisha politely asked.

Well, I wasn’t back to Lady Foundling or Lady Squire. That was something.

“Yes, Foundling,” the Hellhound barked. “Tell us more about the forveala’sak treason.”

I didn’t know the Kharsum term she’d put in there, but by the look on Nauk’s face it must have been truly filthy.

“I’ve founded a knightly order,” I calmly said. “And released the former Countess’ nephew to fill its ranks. I’m told we should have two thousand riders within three months.”

Not a single hint of her thoughts touched Aisha’s face. Ratface leaned forward, face eager.

“Are we rebelling?” he asked.

“You shut your fucking mouth,” Juniper shouted. “We’re not rebelling.”

“Not unless the Tower forces me to,” I replied frankly.

“Fingers crossed,” Nauk laughed loudly, like I’d just handed him a bag of rubies.

“How many cousins and uncles do you have in the Legions, Nauk?” Aisha asked him, tone emotionless. “Think for once in your life.”

“Now,” Juniper interrupted, turning to me. “Now you choose to pull this shit, when the horde is at the gate.”

“That is the best time to pull something like this,” Pickler clinically said. “The Tower can’t afford to antagonize us. Not if it wants to hold Callow.”

“So we’re going rogue,” Robber grinned malevolently. “About time. I was getting tired of playing nice.”

“I will not see the Fifteenth turn on the Empire while I breathe,” Juniper said and her voice was like bedstone.

That killed every smile in the room. There was no longer any anger in her voice, I heard. She was beyond that now. She was looking at me and I’d ever only seen her with eyes that cold when she was thinking of how to destroy an enemy. I’d learn to read orcs, since my days in the College, but even if I hadn’t I’d know exactly what I saw on her face: betrayed. She felt betrayed, by someone she’d thought a friend.

“Juniper,” Aisha spoke softly into the silence. “Listen to her. Don’t assume.”

The Hellhound shook her head.

“Is that what this has all been leading to, Catherine?” she asked, and the genuine grief in her voice tone cut me like a knife. “Recruiting Callowans. Subverting officers.  Gathering Named Were you trying to ease us into treason before we ever began?”

Her voice shook.

“Was it just so you could carve yourself a kingdom?”
“Hellhound,” Nauk said, and for once his voice was soft. “We all knew this was coming. From the beginning.”

“Not like this,” Juniper said. “Not like this.”

“I’m not rebelling,” I told her, meeting her eyes. “I’m not asking you to fight your mother, Juniper. Or you your family, Aisha. But things can’t continue as they’ve gone on. Not anymore. Not after all the lines they’ve crossed.”

I clenched my fingers, then unclenched them. Gods, why did I have to feel so cold? My gaze swept across the room.

“There’s something sick in the Empire,” I said. “You’ve all seen it. Some of you have felt it first-hand. Merciless Gods, the people ruling the Wasteland  think half the people in this room are cattle.”

“And you think raising a banner will change that?” Pickler said, eyes hooded. “You’re good at killing, Foundling, but you can’t kill a thousand years of hatred. Your sword is of no use there.”

“If the people in power can’t even stop killing their own,” I said quietly, “why are they still in power?”

I felt the shiver go through the room. Was this what William had felt like, when he’d first spoken to his rebels behind barred doors and shuttered windows? That weight, power and responsibility both. It would kill me, if I was not careful, like it had killed him.

“We’ve taken oaths,” Juniper said. “All of us, and you too.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “I swore. To the Legions. To what Praes says it is.”

I stared her down.

“Do you think the High Lords live up to those oaths?” I asked. “I look south, and I see the highest among them rebelling for the second time in two years. Twice she’s walked away with a warning, free to bleed us again. How many of us do they get to kill before we say enough?”

“They’ll never stop,” Ratface whispered fervently, addressing everyone and no one at all. “You know that. They’ll never stop unless we make them.”

“And how many people will die, for that better world?” Aisha asked quietly.

“Mountains,” I replied. “But for once, it won’t be us doing the dying.”

The beautiful Taghreb closed her eyes, let out a deep breath.

“Emperors rise,” she said. “Emperors fall. The Tower endures. Gods forgive me, the Tower endures.”

I did not allow myself to feel joy. This wasn’t over yet.

“Beautiful things, ideals,” Pickler said. “But I’m a goblin, Foundling. You can’t eat principles. You can’t carve a tunnel with them. They don’t win wars.”

Robber let out a whisper of a laugh, and my eyes immediately went to him. I’d never heard him a noise anything like it in all the time I’d known him. It had sounded, I thought, almost wistful.

“They kill us,” the Special Tribune smiled, “for sport.”

Pickler turned to face him, face flickering with dismay.


“Listen to me, Pickler,” Robber said. “No, actually listen for once. The Matrons, the High Lords, the whole fucking lot of them. They’ve had the crown for centuries. They’re fat, now. Lazy. They think they own it. You know what that means. You’re a goblin, right? They don’t get to play if they’re not willing to bleed.”

“We can’t win this. We can’t beat them,” Pickler hissed angrily, but her voice broke after. “I will not let us die doing the right thing. We are going to grow old, all of us. I will not – I don’t-“

“We can,” I said softly. “You know that already. It’s what scares you. No shame in that. I know what’s ahead better than any of you, and I’m terrified. It’ll be blood and mud and grief, but don’t think for a moment we can’t do it.”

The Senior Sapper took her hands of the table brusquely, to hide their shaking.

“It’ll be to the death, Foundling,” she said, amber eyes flicking away. “To the death. Do not start this lightly.”

She sagged in her seat afterwards. Ratface’s eyes sought mine and he chuckled.

“I always thought I’d die railing at them, you know,” he said conversationally. “Just another corpse for the pile.”

He paused, body shaking with nervous energy.

“I was brought into this war when they tried to murder me in my bed,” he said. “You never needed to ask.”

My eyes went to Nauk, who’d gotten up to lean against the wall. His arms were clasped and there was something hungry in his gaze.

“To the end,” he said, fangs bared. “I made my choice before I knew it was a choice, Callow. To the bitter fucking end.”

And just like that, there was only one. Juniper was close, had been this whole time, but she’d not moved in a while. She came closer to me, spine straight but shoulders tight.

“Swear to me, Catherine,” she said hoarsely. “Not my mother. Not any of them. That they won’t be the enemy.”

“I swear,” I told her, and offered my arm.

For the second time in our lives, she took it.

“Warlord,” she whispered, and it sounded like an oath.

It should have felt like a victory, I thought. All I felt was cold. Gods, all I felt was cold.


76 thoughts on “Chapter 17: Allegiance

    1. WirelessGrapes

      I think it’s sorta kinda treason to prevent a future war. Cat’s playing the long game now, similar to how Black did it. Take them now, to prevent them from rising up later.

      Honestly, if Black can see what Cat’s doing, with the continued ‘cutting out the rot of Evil’, I can see them letting it go. Not joining, gods no, but letting other people fight them. If they have to fight the Calamities, it’ll be a while now.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. sheer_falacy

      It’s not just getting her cavalry. It’s getting her cavalry that would otherwise fight her later, so it’s net 4000 cavalry. And as Pickler points out, it’s at the perfect time, for the same reason that it was the perfect time for Diabolist to pull off her bullshit. Praes is distracted, all of the other legions are busy, and there are multiple enemies of both Catherine and Praes that desperately need to be dealt with to the point that they can’t really fight someone who is fighting those enemies.

      Still very dangerous, and I’m surprised at the treason happening now since it hadn’t really come up until the meeting with this noble who she didn’t like very much.

      Liked by 4 people

    3. Sean

      Its not “some” cavarly, its 2,000 of the most elite heavy calvery in the world. It will earn her fierce loyalty from all Callowans and serve as an INCREDIBLE bost of morale. The 15th is some 8,000 troops, those 2,000 are a 25% bost in man power.

      More importantly, they’re essentially comming from nowhere. Throwing off all her opponents calculations.

      Thats not even getting into what those knights represent.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. stevenneiman

      It’s not just the cavalry, though two thousand mounted knights for her rather than against her is certainly nice. It’s about what it was always about for Catherine, which is making Callow into part of the Empire, and a valued and respected part.


    5. nipi

      2000 highly trained heavy cavalry used correctly might be as good as 20 000 infantry.

      As I understand it resisting chavalry charges required tight ranks and a strong nerves. Chavalry truly shined when the enemy ranks broke. Cat has goblin munitions and mages to help that along.


    6. raudhbjorn

      You make the mistake of this King that this isn’t what Black and Malicia had planned all along. The Empress NEVER steps down. Someone HAS to topple her off the throne and in order for their plan to succeed, it has to be Cat that topples her and that means if HAS to be treason.


    1. H.

      No, we’re well into them already.

      1. Liesse rebellion
      2. Free cities war
      3. Wolof uprising
      4. Cat, for Winter & Callow vs. Summer

      Also, these aren’t war *yet*:
      5. Diabolist
      6. Daoine is mobilizing
      7. Cat defying Malicia by accepting knights
      8. Ruling council coup in Laure

      And all of them civil wars.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. RoflCat

        @Shequi: The Uncivil Wars related quote from Aisha’s memoir was about the seed they sown in Liese (Heiress)

        Three Hills was forging Fifteenth into the unit it will needs to be to face what to comes in Marchford.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. danh3107

      She was calling Cat Warlord, as most of the Orcs do. It’s incredibly significant because it’s one of the few times Juniper doesn’t call her Foundling or Cat.

      It also has immense significance for Orcs, as the Warlords were almost like walking divinity to their people.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. I’d argue for a transition into Green Knight, especially with her recently becoming a literal force of nature, if it weren’t for the fact that she’s part of the Court of Winter.

        Actually, now that I think about it, If she manages to kill the literal fucking King of Winter, it’s not unimaginable that she forges a Spring Court from the ashes or in preparation.


  1. Kingbob12

    The Orcs and the Goblins are so wonderfully vicious and loyal. Goddamn do I love each and every one of them. Robber and Nauk above them all though. Those two are fucking amazing.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. HandyCapped

      Goblins? Loyal? The goblins under Cat are special cases under the Special case, with the capital S. Normally, their only ‘loyalty’ is directed to the Grey Eyries, and even that is represented only in the hierarchy in their vicious power struggles of cloak and dagger.


  2. vietnamabc

    Hey Mr.E, any chances you have been playing Tyranny? Because I think Malicia is relying on Catherine to rebel because it is impossible to achieve her and Black’s goal by obeying, therefore by rebelling she will stay loyal. Not by molding Callow to Praesi but rather adopting Callow virtue to Praesi.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. obsidianorangutan

      Alternatively, Foundling killing off the bluebloods gives Malicia plausible deniability. If she succeeds great, one of the biggest oppositions to her rule is eliminated. If not, then Kat was a illegitimate rebel who she can condemn

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dragrath

        Aye good argument you two, I think that puts things aptly. They need an outsider to pull off a role they could never reach as for a villain to win they need to even more blur the bounds of good and evil which is hard to do when Moreover she can succeed where they can’t because she isn’t just yet another Praesi but a Callowan that has adapted to the Praesi.
        And agreed on the plausible deniability. as it really is a win win situation from Malicia’s point of view. Granted that seems to be the kind of machinations she goes for so it is to be expected.


        1. HandyCapped

          Remember, everybody, that Cat was never in on the machinations of those two. They were grooming her to be the autonomous ruler of the vassal state of Callow under the curtain of Praes all along, and what is a better way to achieve that, but to revive the greatest representation of Callowan pride and to interconnect that with the might of Praes? Callow will retain it’s fire, but march under the “correct” flag.

          Considering this and the grudge with the antagonistic system, that the two schemers harbor, in addition to Cat’s own disposition, the future of her being transitioned into the role of a Grey Knight seems all the more likely, despite my suspicions against the exact wording of it.


  3. nehemiahnewell

    Was that a term of respect, or did Cat just graduate from Squire? With her cloak woven from portents of fallen, or maybe conquered, enemies, it would fit.


  4. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
    Oh wait, we are Evil, and the whole point is to Do Wrong Right.

    An excellent chapter as usual, with character reinforcements. Also, we get to see a new character, I wonder how would Lord Talbot would fit in “inner circle” of Kat.


    Some typos:

    There’d been two sets of goals in Marchford, before I’d taken the city back in the rebellion –
    Goal –> gaol

    I claimed one of the chars –> chairs

    I know what’s head better than any of you, and I’m terrified –> head – ahead

    The Senior Sapper took her hands of the table –> off the table


    1. stevenneiman

      “There’d been two sets of [goals->gaols] in Marchford”
      “And Black had most {of} his knights killed in their sleep.”
      “I turned to look at the [officer’s->officers] I’d had at my side”


  5. Naeddyr

    Ooooh shiiiiit.

    Well, I think this is still part of Black’s and Malicia’s or Black’s or Malicia’s plan. They’re pragmatic.

    But man, this really shows the corrosive and corruptive nature of the temptation of Good. To turn Cat so easily, within five minutes of talking! Brandon is a silver-tongued rogue.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oshi

      If you think for a second Cat’s done any of this wirh Good in mind then you’ll be surprised when the knife is in your throat. She chose the path she has always been on. The knights are just another set of tools. She will be Empress.


  6. The quietist

    Making a really long term prediction is that start of this book/end of the next one sees Callow more or less resurrected but Hasenbach getting her crusade unable/unwilling to admit its validity.


  7. Naeddyr

    Rereading this chapter slowly actually gave me chills, twice.

    Now, what will the Order of the Broken Bells wear as their color?

    White? No, that won’t do at all.

    Black? Possibly. Show them which side they’re on now.

    Or… Green?

    I still think Catherine is bound to be the Green Knight, the fae knight who goes to a wedding and gets her head chopped off in order to win a bet and get the other guy’s head chopped off.


    1. Naeddyr

      Another prediction: Catherine is totally going to subvert Thief. That role just seems perfectly suited for twilight-allegiances, and she seems like a pragmatic lass.


    2. I think she can manage it if she’s able to put a literal end to winter and forge the Court of Spring from its ashes. Better still, if it means Summer petering put into Fall (not Autumn, Fall. Names have power)


  8. Renasma

    I have so much hype for that one word. It is the best title. There’s so much implication. I squeed.


    Nauk was the only one more outspoken about his allegiances: the other orc had decided that Cat was the warlord of their generation, and as far as he was considered that settled the matter. Every matter, really. Good orcs did not question their warlord, though they ripped out the guts of anyone who did.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Letouriste

        She try to uproot the nobility so queen is out for me.dread do not suit her much right now….maybe a mixte of dread and a good thing+empress+her speciality(something like defying,visionary,selfless?^^ probably not the last one:D)

        But the way that go,I expect something akin a republic but with less bureaucratic bullshit and the tower still there but changed.more power for communities too…an assembly looks good,something akin what cat already tried for callow but with all sides represented this time:goblins,orcs,daoine,trolls etc…

        Liked by 1 person

  9. cmcd

    “The people are dying, Countess,” Lord Brandon said.

    “So they are,” I conceded tiredly. “And so I go to war again.”

    What an awesome line. Well done :).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Just how did Hakram stich a piece of wind to Cat’s cloak? I can buy that he Found the piece that had a sliver of her power in it, but then what, whistle in the needle?

    Also, nice job calling all the officers that are confirmed not to be a spy and then folding them in one by one to peer pressure Juniper. This oath better not be in vain, or EVERYONE will remember it.


  11. Dianna

    Something to note. Cat wondering how long it will be before there isn’t any black left in her cloak. Like she is becoming less and less black, or perhaps, less like Black. I personally don’t think she will become Black Knight, her story is too much treading the line between good and evil. In her first trip inside her name, she didn’t side with either the Good or the Evil versions of herself.

    Also, the Fea are bound by the stories of creation, good and evil in constant battle, summer, and winter in constant battle. It would seem to make sense that to make a peace between them, you would somehow make a peace between the Good and the Evil. I am also on the ally with Thief train since it would only help the whole making a peace idea.


    1. nehemiahnewell

      Eh, I’m pretty sure she’s solidly evil. I suspect a moment of waver, a time when it becomes uncertain, but that she recommits.

      That said, I do expect her to take a different path then the Black Knight.


      1. Moginheden

        Her name is Squire. That is a transitional role that can become the White OR Black Knight. She was recruited by Evil, but nothing in her Name or Role is forcing her to be evil. When her name backlashed against her, it was because she was setting up a narative where she was destined to fail, not because she was doing good, or even switching sides to Good.

        Black and the Empress would have an issue with her switching to Good, but her Name and Role would be fine with it. (I also think Black and the Empress would be fine with bringing back the knights as long as their loyalty can be chained to thw Tower. They might have to take action agaist Cat due to politics though.)

        Personally I see Warlord as her eventual Name. It is an Orc Name, but if enough Orcs believe in her, she might get it anyway. (Names are linked to belief and people repeating the story)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Kilimandaros

        Black and Malicia’s main problem with knightly orders is also important reason why Catherine choose to establish one – they are essential symbol for people of Callow. As long as Foundling’s story of rebuilding Callow (not as a Kingdom, but part of Praes) is still on, Order of Broken Bells is acceptable (even if not exactly legal). Of course it’s passable only because current situation is quite dire, but in the overal view they are problem because they could delay or even stop transformation of Callowan into fair skinned Praesi.

        About Cat becoming Warlord, Erraticerrata directly stated that it’s orc Name and thus Catherine can’t become one. It’s like no Praesi mage can become Wizard of the West. And even if collective faith of orcs could elevate non-orc to Warlord title it would need some more than few hundreds orcs in Fifteenth. I very much doubt that in the Steppes or even other Legions Catherine Foundling is thought of as Warlord.


      3. KageLupus

        As soon as this book started off with the Black Knight going off to fight the White Knight, I thought it was pretty obvious that Cat is getting set up with a choice. The Squire graduates to become a Knight after the old Knight dies.

        So Black and White end up offing each other nearly simultaneously, and then the Squire has two paths laid out before her. Follow in her mentor’s shadow (heh) and promote the Praesi ruling of Callow, or become the shining beacon of the people that Callow needs and try to turn the table on the Empire.

        But Catherine is not known for accepting choices thrust on her if they don’t suit her plans. So she tells all of Creation that there is a new page in the book, and she will make her own story. A Black Knight that uses institutions and cares for people. A White Knight that sets aside pretty ideals in favor for practical concerns.

        Pragmatism made flesh and steel. A Grey Knight, willing to sink to the depthsto achieve her lofty goals.


      4. Dianna

        Beautifully put, that last bit, and a very good argument. I must have missed where it was stated Cat couldn’t be Warlord. We will see what she becomes.


  12. Gunslinger

    Nearly missed the chapter, still not used to Monday releases. And what a chapter it was!! Fantastic stuff. Junipers oath at the end was the killer.

    Also typo corrections:

    goals should be gaols
    Manner should be manor
    All a rebellion won > All a rebellion win
    Seen what you preach more > Seen that you
    gathering Named Were > gathering Named. Were


  13. Author Unknown

    “Is that what this has all been leading to, Catherine?” she asked, and the genuine grief in her voice tone cut me like a knife. “Recruiting Callowans. Subverting officers. Gathering Named Were you trying to ease us into treason before we ever began?”

    Now Hellhound, that’s just uncalled for, Cat doesn’t make long term plans, or plans in general unless ‘wing it’ counts as a plan.


  14. Naeddyr

    Letouriste, I earlier had an amusing thought about republics and Cat. I would love poor Anaxares becoming part of the party and cynically showing off how the Power of the People Is Not Bestowed From Above and so forth to nudge her, even if just a bit, towards a republican form of Callow.


  15. Blinks

    Two thousand heavy horse, now there’s an interesting thing though making use of them could prove tricky. Cat has spent most of her time as an infantry commander and utilising cavalry is it’s own special set of skills never mind integrating them with the rest of her command.

    Name wise i expect her to make her own.


  16. Komploding

    The story seems to be set at a turning point in this worlds history, i.e. The stories about which life revolves in this world are heading into uncharted territory.
    This is shown by black and Malicia taking the empire in a new direction (deviating from traditional evil), Heiress transitioning into a new name (Diabolist) and most recently by the Winter court itself. (The fair courts are said to follow grooves worn into existence since the dawn of existence itself, never deviating or halting, and yet now, Winters Duke (who is a keystone in Winters narrative) is dead and his seat of power claimed/given by/to a mortal.
    This strongly points towards Cat getting a new and unprecedented name as she seems to be the main linchpin in all of these events.
    I find it likely that her full name will come to reflect all this, Perhaps she will become a knight and then transition yet again, after all why not something unprecedented for a new age? Maybe it will have something to do with ushering in a new age? Founder perhaps rom foundling?
    She (Cat) has the true loyalty of Orcs and yet is not one, only Black has done this, the Goblins want to trade and at least interact with her (I imagine this will be expanded on in later chapters), she (Cat) is tied to the Tower, the epitome of Evil and yet is doing something morally Good (saving the people and soul of Callow), also she has been noted to look vaguely Deorithe on top of being figuratively tied to the King of Winter with a story interacting with Summer (as a bonus her paramour has summer fae blood). So to recap, she has ties to Good, Evil, Orcs and Winter. Ties to Summer, the Deorithe and the Goblins have been hinted to come/be expanded on in future.
    If this isn’t entirely unprecedented in this worlds histories I don’t know what is
    I don’t know what is.

    Sorry for the long post, I started writing and got carried away, thoughts?


  17. Dylan Tullos

    It’s important to acknowledge when you’re wrong, and I was wrong.

    I said that Catherine couldn’t possibly convince Callow to trust her after her Praesi allies backstabbed her. I said that there was no way to recover after failing to keep your promises.

    I was right to say that recovery was impossible. A Ruling Council that includes Praesi nobles is now completely impossible. But Catherine didn’t try to recover, to restore the previous bargain. She escalated.

    By declaring war on the Praesi nobility, Catherine is showing Callow that she’s strong enough to defend her country from outside threats. By restoring a Knightly Order, she’s also showing Callow that she’s determined to protect her country’s culture and traditions.

    Callow will never be reconciled to Malicia or Black. They could never be loyal to a woman who was merely Black’s apprentice. By declaring war on the Praesi nobility and resurrecting a knightly order, though, Catherine isn’t acting like a puppet of the Tower. She’s acting like a Queen.

    Callow has a Callowan ruler right now, the Fifteenth is mostly composed of Callowans, and they’re going to war with most of the Praesi nobility. If Callow is finally rid of Praesi occupation, a more lasting alliance might be possible. As long as the Praesi don’t have direct control over Callowans, I think most people could live with a distant overlord.

    How do you sell Callowans on the idea that there are “good” and “bad” Praesi, rather than just bad Praesi? You fight a war against the Praesi, which is always popular, and you recruit “good” Praesi to help. If they get practical independence, knightly orders, and a chance to kill lots of Praesi, I suspect that Callowans will forgive the fact that Catherine is still technically sworn to the Tower.


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