Interlude: Commanders

“When historians try to pin down Foundling’s methods they point to the Battle of the Camps or the Princes’ Graveyard, but those came later. After she’d learned her trade.  If you want to understand how she operated, look to the Battle of Four Armies and One – from the beginning to the end, she was playing an entirely different game from every other commander on the field.”
– Extract from “A Commentary on the Uncivil Wars”, by Juniper of the Red Shields

Nauk of the Waxing Moons was having an interesting day. He’d been woken up before dawn when the watch officers had been forced to break up a brawl between legionaries of the Fifteenth and the Twelfth: the enmity between Afolabi and the Boss had trickled down, and no one who’d been through Marchford and Liesse was inclined to leave any teeth in a mouth that talked shit about Catherine Foundling. The poor fuckers were lucky they’d not run into the Gallowborne when flapping their mouths: that grim collection of paleskins drew steel over things like that and didn’t sheathe until the blade was red. The legate had been in a mood when he’d stepped to the scene, but Hakram already had it in hand. The men from the Twelfth were handed to their officers for discipline – and with Marshal Ranker looking over Afolabi’s back no one was under the illusions they’d get off lightly – while his boys were dragged back into their part of the camp. Fighting among legionaries when in hostile territory drew sharper sanctions than just brawling: it would be a hard flogging for them. When Deadhand had said their punishment would be delayed until the return to Creation they’d smirked, but that had disappeared real quick when Hakram had added that to even it out he’d deliver the flogging himself.

Nauk fancied that the memory of his old friend stomping a fae noble by swinging a horse one-handed would scare them into acting like proper fucking legionaries for a few weeks at least.

“She made another enemy,” the legate grunted as he watched the last of them leave.

“He’s Soninke old blood,” Deadhand replied. “Was never going to be a friend. He’s more useful as an example regardless.”

The good thing about Hakram was that he didn’t believe in kissing ass. Never had. If he said the Boss’ decision to send a godsdamned general of Praes out of the room to clean her pipe like a misbehaving child had some sense to it, it meant he believed it. He wouldn’t have been afraid to disagree openly if he did – not with only Nauk around to hear, anyway. The legate spat to the side.

“If you say so,” he said. “The Wallerspawn weren’t moved, by my reckoning.”

The other orc’s brow rose. Nauk scoffed.

“She speaks with a Laure accent, Hakram,” he said. “She’s as much one of them as I am.”

“She’ll still smack you in the mouth if she hears you say that word,” he replied. “We have larger scores to settle than old grudges like that one. They’re our allies, at least for now.”

Easy for Deadhand to say. His grandfather hadn’t died taking a run at the Wall. The old scrapper had been too deep in the Red Rage to retreat when the Watch came out in force, and ended up with his head on a spike for it. It might still be there for all he knew.

“Deoraithe, then,” Nauk conceded in a grumble.

“Kegan’s hard iron, I’ll give you that,” Hakram conceded in Kharsum. “But she was watching, and she’ll remember next time she feels like pushing.”

“Politics,” Nauk snorted. “Glad you’re the luckless bastard stuck dealing with those.”

“Not that different from College alliances, when it gets down to it,” Deadhand replied, turning to gaze out into the night. “Everybody wants something.”

The legate grunted, conveying his general fucking distaste for Wasteland schemery.

“Grab what sleep you have left,” Hakram finally said. “Tomorrow’s a red day if there ever was one.”

Nauk of the Waxing Moons grinned, baring ivory chops to the night.

“Looking forward to it,” he said.

They got to the place by midmorning, and even as the rest of the armies dug in Nauk pawned off his duties to Commander Jwahir to study the grounds at his leisure. The Taghreb woman was a better hand at organizing, anyway. He’d picked her as his second for that very reason when he’d lost his brother so fucking senselessly at Three Hills. The same eerie road they’d used to get here continued to the north, supposedly reaching Aine and the seat of the Summer Court eventually. How long it would take to get there, no one had any idea. Apparently time was subjective in Arcadia, which sounded like the kind of shit the warlock’s get babbled about after a few cups. Not close enough for whatever was in there to reinforce the opposition in time, which was the important part anyway. There was no sign of the enemy for now, and they’d checked. The woods to the east were empty, and thick enough besides you couldn’t march in proper ranks through them. The hills to the west couldn’t be marched through from the other side, as far as the goblins could tell, but that meant fuck all when the opposition had wings. If Nauk was in a betting mood, he’d bet on Summer placing a nasty surprise in there to flank them where the lines were engaged.

At least this would be a defensive engagement. The kind of fight most of their host were best at. Wallerspawn liked to let the enemy come to them and they were heavy on bowmen besides, while Marshal Ranker’s gang of cutthroats had the sharpest sappers in all the Legions. As for General Afolabi’s Twelfth, their cognomen was Holdfast. They’d stopped a Callowan force twice their size from making it to the Siege of Summerholm, during the Conquest, by digging in and letting them die on their palisades. After losing a full kabili at the onset of the Liesse Rebellion and needing the Fifteenth to bail them out of the mess in Summerholm, those boys and girls would be eager to wipe off the black marks from their record. They’d fight with fire in their bellies no matter what came calling. The absence of reliable information about what that would be had been a stone in the large orc’s boot for this entire expedition. Apparently there was going to be some kind of princess, but what the Hells did that mean? The legate was more interested in numbers and those were still anyone’s guess. The almost thirty thousand assembled here were nothing to fuck with lightly, and Nauk would bet on them to handle up to twenty-five thousand Summer screamers no matter what nobles backed them.

Thirty thousand would be dicey, though. More than that and it was going to get bloody, and not in the way the legate enjoyed. The Fifteenth had been outnumbered before, at Three Hills, and outclassed at Marchford. But never both. Even the Boss would have a hard time pulling a win from that mess if it came down to it. Speaking of. Pretending he couldn’t see Jwahir looking for him with her report-face, Nauk legged it as discreetly as an orc his size could. Catherine was sitting on one of the decadent cushioned chairs they’d looted back at the fortress, lounging like a lazy cat with that dragonbone pipe of hers. Nauk occasionally wondered if she knew what even just this much dragonbone was worth: you could buy a mansion in one of the better parts of Ater for the gold it would earn at an auction. She blew out a stream of smoke as he rested his elbows on the back of her chair, the wooden frame groaning in protest.

“Nauk,” she greeted him.

She spoke his name the way it would be spoken in Kharsum. It was always eerie, when she used the tongue of his people. She had a flawless heartlands accent without having ever stepped a foot there – Name fuckery struck him as the guilty party there. The legate could the side of her face well, from this close. Sharp and high cheekbones that had gotten even sharper since she’d gone into Arcadia to exact her share of hide from Winter, tan skin had had gotten ever darker with all the marching in the sun they’d been doing of late. Whether she was pretty by human standards he had no idea – she certainly had her fair share of people panting after her, though she’d ever only given Kilian the doe eyes. Nauk knew better than to ask how that had turned out. It hadn’t escaped anyone’s attention that the two of them had been keeping separate beds for months and that they rarely spoke directly to one another anymore.

“Cat,” he growled back.

“Shouldn’t you be preparing your men?”

The tone was casual, but he knew to take it seriously anyway. The Boss was nowhere as much of a hardass as Juniper, but she liked to run a tidy crew. Even those who’d been with her since Rat Company were expected to pull their weight.

“Jwahir has it in hand,” he said. “I’ll look it over later. There a reason you haven’t made the portal?”

“I expect that they’ll appear not long after I do,” she replied, amused for some reason beyond him. “Better we dig in first.”

“Gonna be a rough one, this,” Nauk grunted. “Might take us more than a bell and a half to retreat if we’re under fire the whole time. And the last ones to leave will be given a bitch of a fight.”

He’d been standing close to her long enough to start feeling the cold now. Whatever she’d done in Winter it had changed her. Worse temper, though she’d never exactly been a delicate flower, and nowadays wherever she stood was always a mite frosty. Nauk didn’t mind. It reminded him of home, of the Steppes in spring just after the snows melted. From his height he could see the corner of her mouth twitch. The blade-smile. Someone always ended up bleeding out on the ground before too long whenever she made it.

“Princess Sulia will be in command, on the other side,” Cat said. “She was described to me once as having a “beautifully simplistic view of things”.”

“Don’t need to get fancy when you can torch everything all the time,” Nauk said, admiration and disgruntlement warring for his tone.

“Dealing with someone like that is a lot like dealing with a hero,” the Boss mused. “She’ll enter the field thinking she knows the story ahead of her, because that’s all she’s ever known.”

“I’m guessing that’s not a nice story, for us,” Nauk said.

“It’s a story about invaders taking a beating as they try to retreat,” she said. “Most likely capped with a last stand at the gate to cover the last of us fleeing.”

“We taking the rearguard, then?” the legate asked.

Would be a fight to remember, that was for sure. He wasn’t fond of the notion of sacrificing his jesha to cover other Legions and Wallers– Deoraithe, better he use that even in his mind, he wouldn’t put it above her to be able to smell shit like this – but if that was what was needed to win the war he’d grind his fangs and take the reaming.

“Oh Gods no,” Catherine laughed quietly. “Summer’s going into this with the perception that our strategy is all about limiting losses. I didn’t come here to flee limping, Nauk. I’ve come for blood.”

Nauk felt his shoulders loosen and chuckled. Not because of the words, though they’d been reassuring enough, but because of the tone. Quiet. Catherine Foundling was always at her most dangerous, when she got quiet. Time to make that known across two worlds, he figured.

“The girl was right,” Duchess Kegan said.

Adair shifted on his feet, watching the same sight she was. Countess Foundling had opened her gate but a half-hour ago, not long after the goblin had finished her preparations, and already the host of Summer was arriving. They were coming from the north down the road, as had been anticipated, but Kegan doubted that was the only direction they would strike from. This Princess Sulia had proved competent enough to annex most of southern Callow: she’d have more subtlety to her intent than a mere battering ram.

“About the timing only. She was wrong about the numbers,” Adair said softly. “My men say over fifty thousand.”

The ruler of Daoine closed her eyes, allowing herself the weakness only because no one but her old friend was close enough to see it. More than fifty thousand. They could barely afford to fight half that.

“Summer must have mobilized its full might to crush us,” she finally said. “There cannot be anything but sentinels left in Creation.”

“The Fifteenth and the Knightsbane’s command were on the move due south when we crossed the gate,” Adair noted. “She might have meant for all of us to serve as bait while they take back Dormer and Holden.”

“Neither force is large enough to hold the cities, if Summer attacks afterwards,” Kegan said, frowning.

“She is young,” Adair shrugged. “And yet to be defeated. That breeds arrogance.”

“She is not a fool,” the duchess murmured. “Let us be careful to avoid the mistake of taking her for one. It would be a costly misstep to make.”

And oh, what delicate dance it had been to deal with that terrifying child. Where the Carrion Lord had dug up this monster she did not know, for surely the stories about her being an Laurean orphan were a smokescreen for the truth. Obscure Imperial wards did not go on to win the kind of battles Catherine Foundling had, not after two years. Twice heroes had died at the girl’s hand, devils and demons scattered by mortal men under her command, a resurrection forcefully snatched out of the hands of a descending Hashmallim. These were the signs of a legend in the making. If the Black Knight had ever been linked to one of the People, Kegan would have believed Foundling to be a child of his own blood raised in obscurity to avoid the knives of the High Lords. As this was not the case, she must have been found young and trained away from prying eyes to be unleashed as a weapon to suppress future Callowan rebellions. The villain’s foresight never ceased to chill her blood, schemes decades in the making coming to fruit at precisely the right time.

Still, it seemed his weapon had gone slightly astray. She was on her way to becoming a power in her own right, and that meant she could be negotiated with. Kegan had early understood the same truth that Ranker – that rotten old bitch – clearly did: to prevent Foundling from realizing the strength of her position, the stick had to be used with only a rare carrot dangled. It was a careful balance to strike, given what they were dealing with. The Duchess of Daoine still felt her blood run cold when she remembered that slip of a girl glancing at a general of Praes, casually mentioning she could Speak to him if she wished. The implied threat had been lost on no one at that table. Cross me and I will take away your free will, easy as snapping my fingers. Gods, barely eighteen and she could already use her Name to impose her will on others. Not even the Carrion Lord had been this precocious and Kegan knew the terror of the man better than most. Her own aunt had been left an arrow-filled corpse in her own fortress when the Duni was still but a Squire, swatted down like a fly in inside of the most heavily defended fortresses on Calernia. Praes was not to be trifled with, not without very good reason.

The gruesome mantle of the Calamities was being passed to fresh Named, and though yet young these monsters would grow as dangerous as the old ones.

Adair stirred again and it claimed Kegan’s attention. She followed his eyes and saw the host of the fae spreading across the plain, facing the fortifications. Around sixty thousand she counted, revising upwards the earlier assessment. There were knights on winged horses that the duchess anticipated to be trouble even if they could not use sorcery, which seemed unlikely.

“The hills,” Adair murmured.

There was, Kegan saw, a single person there. In a hooded cloak, leaning back against the slope as they sharpened a sword with a whetstone. At this distance, not even the Watch could get much more from eyesight. Whoever they were, they did not seem inclined to move from the height. A chronicler? Kegan wondered. It seemed odd for a scholar to be armed, or be here at all. She was debating sending scouts to make inquiries when movement emerged at the head of the army of Summer. Two silhouettes, both mounted. One pale and dark-haired with a perfect beard, wearing robes of woven flame and sunlight. A sword rested at his hip, no other weapon visible. The other was taller and there was no doubt about her identity: the Princess of High Noon was as the tales told, hair like fire and terrible to behold. Swirls of heat marred the air wherever she moved. The Princess Sulia was bearing a banner of truce, and rode halfway between the two awaiting armies before slamming the wooden shaft into the ground. Foundling’s right hand found them not long after, the imposingly tall orc with the necromantic abomination at his wrist. He nodded politely, and etiquette dictated Kegan return the same. She did so grudgingly.

“Lady Foundling invites you to join the party that will meet with Summer,” he said.

“Then I will do so,” Kegan replied flatly. “This is more than we bargained for.”

“It always is,” the Adjutant smiled, sinisterly baring teeth. “You’ve seen the person in the hills?”

“We have,” Kegan replied.

“She instructs they’re to be left alone,” the orc said.

“Why?” Kegan frowned.

“The exact words were “if that’s who I think it is, we really don’t want to get in her way”.”

“Quaint,” the duchess sneered, not allowing the uneasiness she felt to show.

An ally of Foundling’s? No, it couldn’t be. All the Named that followed her were accounted for. And if it was a Winter fae the army of Summer would have moved to attack them. It could not be the Wild Hunt, since this was not the seasons for it – only in Spring and Autumn did these entities come into being. Too many factors were unknown to her on this battlefield and Kegan did not like it in the slightest. She joined the rest of the diplomats regardless. The Countess herself and Ranker were all of it: since the other side had not cluttered the grounds, there was no need for them to do so. The goblin’s face was a mask, but the girl herself seemed remarkably at ease. Like they weren’t walking to treat with demigods in the fullness of their power. Monster, Kegan thought. Only a monster would be half-smiling as they approached the fae.

“Princess Sulia, I presume?” Foundling said.

“Duchess of Moonless Nights,” the creature replied.

It hurt to look at her for too long, Kegan found. Like staring into the sun.

“Word does spread fast,” Foundling drawled, tone amused. “Who’s the man with the sharp beard?”

“I am the Prince of Deep Drought,” the fae said, and though his face was beautiful the hatred turned it ugly. “We finally meet, pawn of Winter.”

The girl clucked her tongue.

“I’m at least a rook, really,” she said. “There’s no need to be insulting.”

Was she really unaware that every time she spoke the fae shivered with the urge to kill her? Kegan wondered with dismay. Why had she even come to treat if she was only going to taunt them?

“You wanted to talk,” Ranker interrupted.

It was adding insult to injury for Kegan to ever have to feel thankful towards the likes of that withered old prune.

“Surrender,” Princess Sulia ordered, and there was a weight to the tone that almost made Kegan want to kneel. “All of you may still swear yourselves to Summer. Only the broken thing wearing Winter’s seal needs to die today.”

“It’s always refreshing to meet someone who’s worse at diplomacy than I am,” Foundling noted, seemingly impressed.

The Duchess of Daoine gritted her teeth. Was the girl still pretending she’d not carefully used Kegan’s enmity with Ranker to get her way more often than not, baiting them to argument only to come in as a “mediator” at the last moment? Not even the Carrion Lord was this smug a manipulator – the Knight had the decency not to pretend he was doing anything but taking what he wanted from you. The Princess of High Noon ignored the Named, instead turning her eyes to the sole goblin.

“You need not die pointlessly, mortal,” she said. “The laws of Summer will shield you after you swear allegiance.”

The goblin’s burned hand clutched tight until her sharp nails drew blood on her own palm. She met the fae’s eyes with a grin full of fine fangs.

“I am a Marshal of the Legions of Terror, you pretentious tart,” she said. “I live by only one law: one sin, one grace. You want my surrender? Come and take it.”

The fae’s eyes turned to Kegan, and she’d steeled herself. She felt what Ranker must have, the crushing weight on her shoulders that wasn’t even an exertion of power – the Princess of High Noon did this just by sparing a mortal a sliver of her attention.

“I am a Duchess of Daoine,” Kegan replied coldly. “I answer to neither god nor men, much less the likes of you.”

“Quarter will not be offered twice,” the Prince of Deep Drought said, tone sad. “It is not yet too late.”

“Speaking of that,” Foundling said, popping her neck with a gruesome cracking sound. “If you want to avoid me beating you like a rented mule it’s not too late to make peace. I’ll need hostages and reparations, of course, but you can still get away with losing only a hand.”

We are going to die, Kegan realized with crystal-clear clarity. We are going to die because whatever the Carrion Lord did to teach this child broke her mind.

“Did you think we wouldn’t notice the Prince of Nightfall’s stench wafting from the woods?” the Prince of Deep Drought mocked. “He only had time to bring a third of Winter with him. You are outnumbered still.”

The duchess glanced east, where there was still no sign of anything in the woods. Had the fae been tricked, or had the scouts? There was a game at play here and she knew neither the rules nor the players.

“I’m trying to be merciful here,” Foundling said, and the lie was so insultingly blatant Kegan almost cringed. “Are you really going to spit on my goodwill?”

The Princess of High Noon did and the ground where she’d spat caught fire.

“Ah well, I tried,” Foundling grinned, and it was an unpleasant thing to watch. “See you soon.”

The fae held to the terms of the truce, the enemy army not beginning to move before the three of them had returned to the fold. A part of Ranker was sharply curious about whether they were respecting truce terms as they were held in Calernia or whether the concept of truce as known to Calernia had initially come from Arcadia, which was widely held to have existed before Creation itself. A matter for another time. She’d slip the question in her correspondence with Tikoloshe, the staggeringly ancient incubus might have an inkling. The Marshal had planned the defences of the allied armies without the knowledge of there being reinforcements from Winter inbound, if there truly were reinforcements inbound. She’d had eyes on Foundling’s little raider ever since he’d first come to Denier, and though her scouts had lost track of him after the fortress her people had noticed the large amount of mages who’d disappeared with him. Was that the Squire’s plan? Using the Count of Olden Oak and some unknown ritual to pretend Winter had sent troops, faking the presence of some powerful Winter fae. Wekesa’s son took orders from her, so he might have coughed out a few secrets before she set out on her journey north. That would be deep cunning and deep planning, however, and she’d not struck Ranker as that kind of villain so far.

If false, it was the kind of bluff that could easily be called. It might gain them some time, but not much and not enough to affect the outcome. The evacuation had already begun, with the supply – and loot – carts leaving first. The former Matron saw the logic in it. They’d have to be taken across eventually, and this kept as much military strength on the field as possible for as long as possible. The Deoraithe regulars were slated to go through next, with the rest of the order to be determined as the battle unfolded. Ranker had been watching the Squire’s movements carefully since it had come out she had some scheme in play, but gotten little information for it. After the gate out was opened Foundling had some of her few remaining mages scry across, and established contact for a few moments before breaking off. Her own mages had been listening in, and no words or images had gone through. Ranker, she-who-has-the-bearing-of-one-of-high-rank in the stonetongue and one-meant-to-stand-above-others-mercilessly in matrontongue, had been through more red days than any other goblin alive. She’d been warring in the Eyries when the Calamities were still in their cradles, she’d killed her way through the civil war and the Conquest and a dozen minor actions besides.

For the first time in many years, though, she felt like she was walking in deepest dark. The Squire was mad, this was obvious. All Named were, the successful ones merely managed to make that madness methodical the way Amadeus and the Empress had. And even with those two, one could could glimpse the cliff edge and the sharp drop that followed. Sadly, that meant Ranker genuinely could not tell whether Foundling has been taunting the fae royalty because she was confident in victory or because she was too far gone to be able to conceptualize her own defeat. Even if this Prince of Deep Draught – and Gobbler take them all, weren’t these titles even more pretentious than the ones Wastelanders jerked each other off with? – was correct and there were Winter fae in the woods, unless there were a great many more hiding than the twenty thousand implied this was still not a winning hand for the allied armies. The only visible unknown factor was that madwoman in the hills, and Ranker had needed no instructions from the Squire to steer clear of that. Putting aside that nothing good had ever come of an army picking a fight with a single mysterious stranger, Ranker had seen that ugly hooded cloak before.

There were some kinds of crazy not even goblins were willing to touch, and that one definitely qualified.

The Marshal’s general staff gathered around her as the fae began their march, questions painted on their faces. Aabir, her Staff Tribune, took one look at her and grimaced. He’d known her for a long time, long enough to read the truth off her if she wasn’t trying to lie.

“She still hasn’t told us the plan,” he said. “This is madness, ma’am. How can we be expected to fight when we don’t know all the forces at work?”

“It makes sense, in a way,” Kachera Tribune Saddler said more cautiously. “We do not know how well fae can scry in their own realm. We cannot leak a plan we are not aware of.”

Ranker raised her black hand and was granted immediate silence.

“As as I see it, there are two options here,” she said. “One, Black’s Name rotted his mind and he went the way of the Old Tyrant, appointing a raging imbecile as his successor. If that’s the case, even if we’re not dead today we’ll be in a few years. There’s other wars around the corner.”

Procer, she did not need to say. They all had the rank to be in the know.

“And two?” Saddled asked, eyes blinking sleepily.

He was getting old, wasn’t he? And to think he was merely forty.

“Two, the Squire is the kind of brilliant that walks hand in hand with crazy and stupid,” Ranker said. “I’m choosing to put my faith in Black. Make your own choices, but whatever they are get ready for a hard ride. The fae mean business – expect to have two sorcerers on par with the Wizard of the West pounding us.”

Dangling a bit of hope, appealing on the worship of Amadeus that had become as much a part of the Legions as the singing and the drills and then an immediate threat to prepare for. It should be enough to keep their minds on the battle. Ranker wished she could be so easily distracted, but she was too old to fool herself. She climbed onto the platform she’d had raised to get a decent view of the battle, her bones protesting the indignity before she settled on a cushion. At her sides messengers, mages able to scry and signal officers stood ready for orders. Afolabi would have a similar set up on his side of the fortifications, and he was enough of a professional his grudge against Foundling would be put aside for the battle. You poor fool, she thought. You should be more worried about her grudge against you. The girl’s Callowan, they gnaw on those like bones. She dismissed the thought and turned her eyes to the battle, to Summer on the march. Ranker had prepared the plain for a hard battle, and today she would get to see how fae died.

The allied camp consisted of two ringed wooden palisades, with the gate in the centre. There was an avenue with smaller movable barricades going straight through, punctuated with two sets of rough but solid wooden gates. Ahead of the first palisade she’d had her sappers dig a trench ten feet deep with spikes at the bottom, which had unfortunately limited how much work she’d been able to order on the plain. There were weight-triggered demolition charges buried according to the Third Delay Pattern she had herself designed during the civil war, but she didn’t expect to see much death from those. The lily field was what would blood them, closer to the trench. An array of pits three feet deep with a sharpened stake at the bottom, hidden under branches and dead grass. The prince and princess had retreated into their ranks for the offensive, warier than the Marshal would have thought. The chit in the south must have bled them at some point for them to be this careful. Might yet work out to her advantage, Ranker decided. The first line was the same infantry they’d seen earlier in their expedition through Summer, and it kept advancing until across seven points in that line demolition charges blew.

The spray of blood and flesh had long ceased being exciting and turned into cold mathematics, coin put into tools that killed men but could have been spent otherwise. The assessments in her unspoken records shifted with every battle. Though the damages had been minimal, the enemy could only guess at the concentration of charges and it stopped them from advancing. Right out of the farthest bow range they’d shown at the fortress, as she had meant them to. The wings of the three first ranks of the fae lit up and Ranker glanced away, their trajectory already happening in her mind. The winged cavalry in the back wasn’t moving, as she’d guessed it would not. The Watch was being kept in reserve to deal with them, but it seemed that her assessment that the knights would only strike after the fight was engaged was correct. Ahead of her agonized cries sounded, so Ranker deigned return her attention closer to camp. Two for two, it seemed.  The Princess of High Noon had only figured that there would be demolition charges ahead of the trench, and so sent a first wave to clear them and gain a foothold. Instead they’d gone straight into the lily field and were bleeding out like stuck pigs with the sappers on the outer wall tossed sharpers to clear out those who’d landed on solid ground.

Now the fight began, as the second wave that had taken flight moments after the first landed in the shreds of meat and bone that were their comrades. The lily patches had been revealed, so they managed an actual landing this time. If Princess Sulia had meant for them to then attack the walls Ranker would have called her a fool, since they could have directly assaulted the walls. But that wasn’t the intent at all, was it? The third wave, right behind the second, was the one to assault. The second was bringing up bows, finally in range to use those devastating fire arrows that had harassed the allied camps on the march here. The Legions fired their crossbows straight into the bowmen in good order, while the Deoraithe standing between the first and second wall sent a volley into the sky at the fae headed for the wall. A costly trade off, Ranker saw. Legion crossbowmen took their toll but the enemy fired back and fires bloomed across the palisade, hurriedly put off with sand and dirt. There were damned holes in the outer wall, and when the enemy infantry came marching in they would have breaches ready for them. As for the bloody useless Deoraithe, they barely killed a hundred. Shooting fae in the sky was like trying to shoot a fish in the ocean.

The melee at the outer palisade began in earnest, but Ranker wasn’t worried about that. The legionaries would hold steady against numbers that low. The other waves in flight were more worrying, one to back the bowmen and the other the vanguard. But most worrying of all was the dozen fae that rode out of the ranks in a scattered line and raised their hands. A rolling wave of flame swept across the plain and the Marshal’s dead hand twitched. One after another, her charges blew from the sorcerous heat. A field full of potholes but clear of dangers ahead of them, the fae infantry resumed their advance. The Marshal felt a grudging sliver of respect for the Princess that was her opponent. She’d been willing to send a few thousand into the grinder just to keep the enemy busy while she prepared a clear way forward for the rest. That was the kind of decisiveness that won battles. Not, however, if she could help it. Ranker gestured for one of her mages to come closer.

“All mage lines,” she said. “Wave fireballs to knock the fae out of the sky before they land on the outer palisade. Steady, constant.”

The order went across smoothly and the broad balls of flame that bloomed got the situation under control. Trying to kill Summer fae with fire was like trying to drown a salmon, but the impact was enough knock them down. Those that try to fly above instead ate arrows as the Deoraithe finally began pulling their weight. Outer palisade was in hand, for now, but the fae army was hungrily devouring the distance as it charged forward. That was, Ranker saw, when Winter struck. The darker half of the Fair Folk did not come announced. It moved in silence, a tidal wave of warriors adorned with dead wood and black stone that struck the eastern Summer flank like a snake. At their head a one-eyed man rode a horse of shadows, the spear in his hand glinting of murder. They were impressive to watch, but the Marshal did not care how fucking impressive they were. She watched for numbers, and found only the twenty thousand the Prince of Deep Drought had sneered at. The same numbers pulled off the flank of Summer in good order, slowing the assault some but not by enough. If these were all the cards Foundling had to play, the battle was a loss slowly crawling to them.

The wave of infantry hit the outer palisade and the legionaries buckled. Deoraithe reinforced them, but there was only so much room and the fae kept coming. Ranker could see the rest of the battle play out in her mind. They’d hold, at least until Winter began to break. Then the pressure would strengthen and they’d lose the outer palisade. And then inch by inch they would die, painting the ground of Arcadia red. Summer would lose half its army, she thought. But it would win, and only wisps of the army that had come into Arcadia would escape through the gate.

“Marshal,” her Senior Mage’s voice whispered urgently.

She’d not heard him coming to her side, deep in thought as she had been.

“I’m listening,” she said.

“Lady Squire’s mages scryed across the gate again,” he said.

Ranker licked her teeth.

“Same as last time?” she asked.

“Just a contact, then nothing,” he agreed, then flinched and turned west.

The madwoman was still sitting on her perch, the former Matron saw. No, what had drawn her officer’s attention was the gate that had just opened in front of the hills.

“Kolo, what is that?” she said.

“A gate, Marshal,” the Senior Mage replied.

“I can see that,” the goblin snarled. “Where is it from?”

“Creation,” he whispered.

There was a sound then, that Ranker had not heard in twenty years. A horn, but not the large horns the Legion used. The kind of blowing horn that someone could carry in hand. Once, twice, thrice the call went out. All knights charge, it meant. That call had not shuddered across a battlefield since the Fields of Streges, and the Marshal was not ashamed to admit she felt the age-old shiver when the knights of Callow charged through the gate, killing lances down as they whistled through the air. The banner she did not recognize, a bell of bronze with a jagged crack through it set on black. Three thousand of the finest cavalry Calernia had ever seen ploughed into the western flank of Summer and Ranker began laughing.

“Oh, you conniving bitch,” she said breathlessly. “You never intended for us to evacuate, did you?”

Eyes bright, one of the only three Marshals of Praes rose to her feet.

“Orders,” she said, facing her mages. “My dears, do I have orders.”

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141 thoughts on “Interlude: Commanders

      1. Dainpdf

        It’s just serendipitous that it would be her. Also, someone crazy enough that Ranker would know nor to mess with them, and powerful enough to go to Arcadia… Not that many options.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Dainpdf

        Would you really put it past her? Also, the figure was described as a chronicler and scholar. I agree that Ranger is the more credible possibility, but I still maintain that Scribe is not 100% out.

        Like

      3. Letouriste

        That could have been a ranger student but the way cat put that in her message is totally hinting to ranger herself:) I think she will visit the summer queen and force the end of this war on them

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Theo Promes

        1. Ranger likes to mess with the fae, which is why the Prince of Nightfall is repeatedly one-eyed.
        2. Ranker knows that “ugly old cloak”, and she is old guard and knows all of the clamities.
        3. Archer was around when the whole fae debacle got started and has stuck around afterwards to mess with summer, so Ranger would be informed of events.

        Really, who else would it be? Bard doesn’t even carry a sword, and Ranker wouldn’t recognize her clothes, as we know she even changes appearance.

        Like

      5. Why the hell would it be scribe? That doesn’t make any sense. Ahe has no reason to be there, and if she did, she wouldn’t be there sitting in the open.

        Why aren’t you acting like it’s Assassin? That’s just as unlikely. Much less unlikely, in fact. It’s still wrong though

        Like

      6. Dainpdf

        Hard to know whether Scribe has reason or not to be somewhere. Assassin would not be in a battlefield, though. Not his style.
        Scribe fits “crazy”, “dangerous”, and “not immediately recognizable by Duchess Keigan”. Unsure the last applies to Ranger. She is pretty famous.

        Like

      7. Duckie

        Its for sure not Scribe, Scribe isn’t a fighter name. She more of the spy name the one who knows everything. It also isn’t assassin, because no one knows what he looks like besides very few, so I highly doubt even Ranker knows what he wears. Also the only name we know sides Black that loves to play with the fae. The only name we know that every year takes a journey into the fae to attack one of the most powerful titled fae for his eyes to put in jewlery. Is only Ranger. I gurantee Ranger is there to probably to play with the Princess of Summer. Maybe she want’s a princess’s eye to accompany her Prince;s eye?

        Like

  1. Kingbob12

    Oh man, the pure difference in perspective is amazing. Catherine is sort of aware of what she’s doing politically, but considers it the bare minimum, not this amazingly well done coercion of everyone she ends up against. Truly she toes the line between Brilliant and Insane.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. BryceWilliam

        it is defined entirely on success. if you fail your a madman, if you win your a genius. even if the strategy is the same

        Like

  2. pyrohawk21

    This is why Catherine is so utterly terrifying to those who see.

    Because she does not act like they believe a Named should. Instead of using her actions to craft a story, she plans her actions to achieve a result she wants. And it is the results of her actions that together weave a story. There is no one hand that is guiding the story, but many…

    Everyone is looking for something that is not there, and because it must be there, they fool themselves into believing that it is there, the signs have just been concealed.

    Oh, and Kegan? You are so very wrong with your assumptions…

    Now all we need to learn is who the fourth army will be. We have 3 of the four, and the One, just need that last one to turn up.

    And who’s the woman in the hooded cloak upon the hill? I’ve been thinking it was the Bard, but I’m unsure… Especially if Ranker’s seen that cloak before…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hardric62

        That. And the one is the Ranger, aka that dear psychopath who can invade realms all by herself for fun or a bit of jewelry. Can you think of anybody else deserving to be considered as A One Woman Army, or rather One?

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Hardric62

        @Jakob you know what? I can almost see this happening. It could also make the Prince’s day when it happens. I mean look at the poor guy.

        “Prince? You look… distressed.”

        “My eye is back, Nameless Grunt, you know what it means.”

        “Maybe it will be different that time.”

        “No, I’m doomed.”

        “Prince, you’re the Prince. You cannot mope like that. Think of the image, the smiles of the Summer Faes…”

        “You know what, you’re right, nameless Grunt, this time, things will be different

        *One psychotic Ranger later, with the Prince in a corner, sobbing*

        “Well that was different… I didn’t know corpses were that good of a sleigh.”

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Akim

        I count the Deoraithe as part of Squires Army. You could count the Two Legions as single Armies. But as Ranker noticed even with Winter and the Knights they are still outnumbered.
        Even if Ranger gives the Princess a spanking there is still some equalizer missing

        Maybe the Knights are only the vanguard of the fourth army.
        Maybe Apprentice and Juniper will join or maybe the Lady Diabolist uses the opportunity and tries to backstab the Fae and Cat.

        As for Catherines reputation … for a Evil Named she has a reasonable and achievable goal that Black has allready prepared for.
        And following his goal to rip destiny from the cold dead hands of Fate just for the sake of it is just how it has to be done.

        Like

  3. Wombat

    I really love all these outside perspectives; not only do they highlight just how scary and powerful Cat has become, they help to hide Cat’s true plan effectively, building up the suspense only to slam it down on us in the last few moments. Those last few paragraphs were delightfully crazy, and I nearly shouted when the reveal happened.

    Also, that cloaked woman is Ranger isn’t it? Wow at the fact that even goblins, who are slightly insane, are wary of dabbling with her.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. metalshop

    That was such a good reveal, I have chills. The existence of Catherine’s Knights has been foreshadowed for chapters, more than once, and it still took me completely by surprise. Well done.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. metalshop

      Just did a second read through, and I think I cought something interesting. It looks like Ranker is freakishly old for a goblin. She mentioned fighting when the Calamities were in their cradles, but Black is specifically mentioned as being pretty old himself. Besides which, she was taken by surprise at her subordinate getting old at 40, which has been mentioned as a fairly advanced age for a goblin. Combine that with the fact that she’s called different things in different things in different goblin languages, and I think it adds up to her being one of those hidden goblin Names we’ve heard about.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dainpdf

        It has been mentioned before that she helped bring the goblins into the Tower’s fold in exchange for, among other things, life extending rituals.

        Like

      2. Darkening

        It was thrown around in the story that there was a rumor black had her life extended with blood magic, but it’s unconfirmed.

        Like

      3. Dainpdf

        Oh. I had thought it was a pretty much certain thing, especially since there has been no mention of Catherine sensing any vibes from her… But I guess she could have a villain Name, in which case she’s probably something of a Calamity herself.

        Like

      4. OldSchoolVillain

        I believe the reason that Goblin Life expectancy is so short is because they’re constantly backstabbing each other, so it’s unusual for any who get old to avoid being murdered by the next generation. Thus, Ranker is so old simply because she’s the scariest Matron out there.

        Like

  5. Hardric62

    …Evacuate? Avatar of the Queen of Escalation, Marshal. She wouldn’t have left Summer without an appropriate trophy. Like this Princess’ head. Funny to see how they see Catherine too.

    Still, a slight nitpick. There are three thousand knights mentionned, and they talked about two thousand before. Typo?

    Like

    1. esryok

      3.17 – Allegiance
      [Lord Brandon] 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 was the lower bound.

      Like

    2. OldSchoolVillain

      “Two thousand, maybe more” were the actual numbers that Cat gave to Black. They could only give an estimate because the cells were so scattered and meant to recruit on their own, thus the extra thousand.

      Like

      1. Dainpdf

        I’m pretty sure spending fae like that was a result of Akua’s father’s research. I don’t think Cat will have access to that, especially not before defeating Diabolist. Also? Killian would probably be insulted if Catherine tried to get her back with an offer or power. Their split ran deeper than that.

        Like

  6. DocTao

    Awesome.
    Saw the cavalry coming from the foreshadowing in the chapter, it didnt diminish the impact, well done indeed.
    I reckon its Ranger aswell, but you never know 🙂
    All the players have entered the field now, unless the cav counts as part of Cat’s army?

    Like

  7. Sean

    I’m really looking forward to see how those knights perform. 3,000 elite heavy calvary is never a joke, but one wouldn’t think they’d be enough of force to change the tide in a battle against 60k fae (40k if you subtract out the 20k who split off to deal with Winter. Nor, for that matter, is 3,000 elite heavy calvary enough to convince Cat to create so much tension with the Empress.

    I suspect the narrative might of the calvary arriving is quite powerful. Yet it still seems like the Callowan Knights must be something /special/. I mean, for gods sake, Cat seemed to consider them shock troops that are equivalent to the Watch.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dainpdf

      When something is called the finest cavalry in a continent which includes all sorts of loopy stuff like Named, Procer and the Legions of Terror, it’s probably something strong.

      Like

    2. Ed

      Ranker, the blood soaked, methodical, by the numbers, shrewd, calculating Matron shivered when she heard that horn.

      I suspect that they are not just something /special/ they are that and aided by the story itself.

      Like

    3. esryok

      I suspect the knights aren’t the only thing coming through. Last time Cat made a portal she was described as being a fairly burnt out. Spending her name to create *two* portals in 30 minutes seems like a bad use of her power, especially since this looks like a Role battle. Though maybe this is what she used the Count for…

      Also if Cat’s mages were making scry-calls to the other side, there are probably Praesi mages with the knights, which suggests either a legion or Masego/Archer. I’m betting the 15th is there, which might pull in Istrid’s 6th (’cause narrative) and that in turn makes you wonder about the 6th and 9th legions.

      Numbers aside though, I think you’re onto something with the cavalry’s narrative might. If everything in Arcadia is “name stories turned up to 11” then the goal for this battle is to make yourself the protagonist. On the bright side, Cat has a ragtag coalition of allies going against a massively superior monolithic army, *and* she’s already had a Big Damn Heroes moment with the knights. Downside, her force is still comprised of professional soldiers and murderous nonhumans, *and* she’s a foreign villain who is fighting an army of righteous warriors after invading their home…

      Now I’m worried about the Bard doing her own narrative wrangling.

      Like

      1. Dainpdf

        I doubt Catherine has the pull to get another two legions involved. The knights of Callow seem to be a very mighty cavalry, since she compared them to the Watch, and the narrative impact they bring is pretty great. Also, never underestimate the power of a well timed heavy cavalry charge.

        Like

      2. 1shot4living

        A last minute save from a long prepared, hidden Chivalric Order to Avenge their homeland? Very much the makings of an epic tale, so I think it more than covers for the fact that the Knights are allied to Praesi indirectly via Cat.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yitzi

        There is also a lot of narrative force in historical enemies (in this case, Praes and Callow) allying against a common enemy.

        Like

      4. Sean

        The knights could have even more of an out sized impact on the battle especially if they hit the detachment of Summer fae sent to deal with the reinforcements from Winter. If that detachment can be wiped out quickly enough, such a move would free up the Winter army AND the knights to refocus on the main host of Summer.

        Like

      5. I don’t think Cat created the second portal. She made a scry-call to the other side, then a mage on the other side opened a portal. I’m guessing it was Apprentice, since he’s in Creation in about the right spot.

        Like

      6. stevenneiman

        Not only is there the not inconsequential military power that a cavalry force would have even in reality, but they are part of a ragtag band of armies working together to defeat a common enemy, and mighty forces come to the rescue at the last minute are generally called “The Cavalry”.
        Also, we’ve yet to see what kind of kookiness they bring in to be considered the equals to Praesi modern legions and flying fortresses. I’m sure it won’t disappoint, especially when they’ve got so many stories putting them right in the seat of power right now.

        Like

    4. sheer_falacy

      I think the tide of battle will be helped when Ranger comes to get a second, brighter ring to pair with her first one. You can’t just mail order Princess eyes, after all.

      Like

    5. I’m also not sure how much help can they be given that they don’t fly and that armor is useless against fae.
      I also wonder if Cat is going to spring the story of Princess of High Noon losing a fight for Summer hostages against a Duke of Winter.

      Like

      1. Dainpdf

        Well Cat did compare them to the Watch in terms of value as an ace in reserve. Doesn’t matter that you can fly when your flank is getting hit right now.
        Also, Ranker has her mage shooting down fliers, and the more bodies in the air the easier it’ll be for the Watch’s bows to hit.

        Like

    6. KageLupus

      I don’t think that you need to look too much further than basic military tactics to see why this would be such a big swing in the tide of the battle. You aren’t pitting three thousand cavalry versus all of the forty thousand fae that are left. You are adding them to your existing army to even things out.

      And the way they get added to Cat’s army? She is bringing them in as a complete unknown and will have them charge head first into unprepared infantry. That is basically a commander’s wet dream for heavy cavalry like this. They are going to tear through that fae infantry charge like wet tissue, which will stall it out and give the ranged support even more time to screw with them.

      There is no need for narrative causality to come into play here. This is brass balls and strong tactics making opportunities which the rest of the army can turn to their advantage.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Byzantine

        The Narrative just means the fae are going to be even more dumbstruck than average humans – according to the Narrative when the Knights of Callow charge infantry are left broken, trampled, and in awe. And fae are slaves to the story,

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Sean

        If this was a normal mortal army, I’d agree. The shock value of a supride calvary charge alone would result in a massive loss of morale and cohesion. But these are fae soldiers with supernatural discipline and motivation, not to mention physical ability.

        They still are decisive, especially if Ranger takes on the summer princess.

        Liked by 1 person

    7. You know this is a work of fiction, right? And that the author knows what’s going to happen because he or she is writing it?

      I don’t mean to criticize the story, but the fanboyism in the comments is nauseating to me, and unfortunately detracts from the actual story for me

      Like

      1. Dainpdf

        People like to theorize about works of fiction. It’s a big part of what the comments section is for.
        No one is forcing you to read these. What’s wrong with lettinh people enjoy?

        Liked by 1 person

    8. Jabes

      Look on YouTube for the Rohirrim’s charge, where the horsemen of Rohan charge the flank of the orcs attacking Minas Tirith. Having spoken to a few friends of mine that are historians/history buffs, the movie is quite accurate on what a medium cavalry charge would do to medium infantry….here, we have heavy cavalry.

      Like

  8. Dainpdf

    You know you’re cunning when the ancient Goblin Matron calls you a conniving bitch.
    Felt to me like that was Scribe, but Ranger does sound more likely now that I think about it.
    As for the Duchess’s guess, does she not understand the narrative power of Orphans, as well as see the obvious signs in the missing member in William’s troupe? The turned hero is a very powerful villain concept.
    Honestly, milady, genre blindness can be lethal.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Darkening

    Huh, I didn’t expect Winter troops to actually be there, I figured they were sensing Ranger’s jewelry when they mentioned the prince. Great chapter.

    Like

  10. Dimensional

    Well Well. Not exactly Unexpected but awesome no the less.

    Thoughts.
    This is all about perspective. Kegan completely miss read Cat, based on her assumptions going in. (The diplomacy thing is I suspect Ranker manipulating Kegan and Cat because Cat really is A Blunt direct instrument, and Ranker is Twisty enough to know that Kegan will oppose anything she supports so she set’s up Cat to force the ‘Moderate’ position she actually wants).

    Summer thinks this is the standard winter/Summer Story (with a new Twist ) and play’s accordingly. But Cat has managed to take a Heroic Story and make it hers:

    ‘The Queen (or at least ruler of Callow), in a time of Crisis when beset by multiple enemies Risk’s herself to confront one enemy and beats their champion and forces them to ‘help’ her. She returns home triumphant to find her Capital in rebellion. She routs the rebels and Unites her Allies while again convincing a previously misguided Rebel Hero to Join Her, While rallying the symbol and greatest Strength of Callow to her Banner. She then gathers up a rag tag group of Allies who would rather fight each other and takes a desperate March through the heart of enemy Territory in an attempt to reach The before their Plan can succeed. She is opposed on the way and her 2nd enemy reveals just how villainous they are crucifying her dead in an attempt to Intimidate her, and yet she is able to show mercy(we sort of). and now the hosts of her enemies assemble to stop her before she can reach the city where the final confrontation must take place. Outnumbered, facing superior troops, even her allies doubt that she can win, She takes the field…’

    and this story ends with Akua gloating at Cat about how she is to late etc. and we all know how that will end.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Cat does seem to have some political ability. She just doesn’t use them calculatedly, relying instead on instinct and Black’s education. She did have a Learn aspect for a while.
      I do agree that Ranker probably had a good deal of influence on how things developed, however.
      Also, Cat may have always come in as the mediator because that’s generally how she sees herself – the Only Sane Woman in the Room.

      Like

      1. Sean

        In a way she’s Trump-esq*. She’s too hot headed and impatient for normal politics, so she acts erratic to shake things up and level the playing field. She relies on instinct and improvisation.

        There’s this quote from Mark Twain, you used to see it a lot in people’s little signature all over various forums: “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

        Cat is far from stupid, but it’s still a good approximation of Cat’s political MO. She uses her power and force of personality to short circuit normal political wrangling.

        *This is neither an endorsement of Trump and the real life repercussions of how he acts, nor an indictment of Cat.

        Like

    1. OldSchoolVillain

      Absolutely. Matrons become and remain Matrons by being the biggest conniving bitch in an entire package of conniving bitches, if my read on the story has been accurate.

      Like

  11. bob mcbob

    I loved this, the charging knights are going to hit the Fae like a hammer and then I bet Juniper and whatever men she gathered with her are going follow behind to clean up the rest, maybe with Apprentice and Archer as well.

    Like

  12. Summer Be Like:
    This is our homeland, you invaded us, and while you flee, we shall kill you.

    Cat Be Like:
    You invaded us. You massacred us. So, I united erstwhile enemies to rise to defend their homeland. We may be under-numbered, underpowered, but we have right on our side. The Knights reaffirm my righteous cause. We are in here for freedom, to end the war. (I already sent the loot back, so this is definitely not about that 😛 )
    I will not run, I will not be defeated. This is my LAST STAND. (Which works only in stories, and stories work very well in Arcadia)

    And the story is inverted. We see that stories have weight when other people ascribe weight to them. And this is fae weakness, they are a slave to whatever story is dominant now. If Cat is able to convince Summer host that story is whatever she weaves, she gets Heroic Points.

    ********

    Looking forward to next update, I am guessing the Extra Double update would focus on Free Cities again 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. stevenneiman

        To some degree, it’s probably echoes of the story that was “supposed” to happen. Fate is basically a railroading GM, who figures out exactly how he wants things to go and throws a tantrum if they don’t, say because he completely misjudged one of the players and they ran their character different than expected. He just keeps on trying to bribe Cat back to the campaign he wrote for her with hero goodies, and she just keeps on finding ways to snag them without making any real commitments.

        Liked by 2 people

  13. Nastybarsteward

    Awesome chapter. Sent shivers down my spine, in the good way. Really enjoyed seeing Cat back to her wonderful dastardly self! So. Much. WIN. 😀

    Like

  14. four arnies and one, the legions, deoraithe, winter and summer, and cat’ knightly order or ranger
    but ranger is only interested in fighting monsters like the queen of summer so no idea, really
    great chapter, waiting for more

    Like

    1. Shequi

      I think we’re all assuming Ranger is here for The Princess of High Noon. After all, if she can reliably take on the Prince of Nightfall, a Summer (season of War) Princess is going to be an even greater challenge.

      Like

  15. Great job cleaning up the typos this time, there are only a handful, including:

    “The exact words were “if that’s who I think it is, we really don’t want to get in her way”.”

    The quotation marks are wrong here. There are more than one right way to correct it, but I prefer using single quotes inside double quotes

    “…Carrion Lord had been this precocious and Kegan knew the terror of the man better than most.”

    This one isn’t quite clear. It’s almost saying that Black is an inherently terrified person, which isn’t right

    Like

    1. Dainpdf

      “the terror of the man” sounds clear enough, especially in context.
      “the terror of x” meaning “the terror caused/generated by x” is not that uncommon a construction.

      Like

    2. stevenneiman

      the second one is saying that Kegan knew the terror of his company. It’s worded a bit ambiguously in an “I shot an elephant wearing my pajamas” kind of way, but the context makes it pretty clear in my opinion.

      also:
      “The legate could the side of her face well, from this close” I’m not actually sure what this was supposed to say

      “swatted down like a fly [in] inside {one} of the most heavily defended fortresses” alternatively “the most heavily defended fortress”, if it really is number one

      “but the impact was enough {to} knock them down”

      “Those that [try->tried] to fly above instead ate arrows”

      Like

    3. There are a few more typos:

      The legate could the side of her face well, from this close.
      Add “see” after “could”.

      though she’d ever only given Kilian the doe eyes.
      Change “ever only” to “only ever”

      swatted down like a fly in inside of the most heavily defended fortresses
      Remove “in”

      whether Foundling has been taunting the fae royalty because she was confident in victory
      Change has to had

      unless there were a great many more hiding than the twenty thousand implied this was still not a winning hand for the allied armies.
      Add a comma after thousand.

      At her sides messengers, mages able to scry and signal officers stood ready for orders.
      Change sides to side

      and he was enough of a professional his grudge against Foundling would be put aside for the battle.
      Add “that” after professional.

      Ahead of her agonized cries sounded, so Ranker deigned return her attention closer to camp.
      Add “to” after deigned

      but the impact was enough knock them down.
      Add “to” after enough.

      Those that try to fly above instead ate arrows
      Change “try” to “tried”

      Like

  16. Shequi

    One other thing that’s interesting, on rereading; we’ve generally been assuming that Kilian is descended from a Summer Fae, but Duchess Kegan’s musing on the “mysterious cloaked stranger” on the hills reveals otherwise, because Black once told Cat that;

    “Kilian of Mashamba. Her grandmother rode with the Wild Hunt until encountering her grandfather.”

    And Kegan says the Wild Hunt only exists when Spring or Autumn bring it into being.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dainpdf

      Speaking was never an aspect. She had Learn and Struggle (her third would have been Seek but a demon took it).
      Speaking is a basic application of her Name, like necromancy and the shadow spear.

      Like

    2. stevenneiman

      As I understand it, Speaking is powerful but only works on someone who is in a narrative sense your lesser. The times that we’ve seen it used have mostly been on subordinates (Black on Cat, Cat on traitors of the Fifteenth, Malicia on her own guards), and the one case I recall that wasn’t was Cat Speaking to the Bard, whose Role is to be powerless but affect the outcome anyway. If there wasn’t such a limitation, every Named battle would just be a contest of who could say “kill yourself” faster.

      All Named seem to have the power to Speak when the circumstances are right, though it’s mentioned that the Bard may just have the “soft Speaking” ability that allows her to taunt her enemies and manipulate her allies active all the time.

      Like

      1. Dainpdf

        There does seem to be some sort of power difference requirement. I seem to recall Malicia was quite proficient at it, so much that anyone who ever was in her presence must be considered compromised.

        Like

  17. The quote on this page is, “It could not be the Wild Hunt, since this was not the seasons for it – only in Spring and Autumn did these entities come into being.” Cat can bring Fall, but there’s another way to get the Wild Hunt here.

    https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/chapter-2-might/ says:
    “I knew the Empire was in diplomatic contact with Refuge, but I honestly had no idea how that contact was maintained. Scrying that close to a gate into Arcadia would basically be sending a written invitation to the Wild Hunt but surely they couldn’t be sending messengers on foot every time?”

    And what was Cat doing? Scrying really darn close to a gate into Arcadia. Yeah, that was probably to communicate with her knights, but still… there may have been yet another reason for her actions.

    Like

  18. Nicole

    The whole time I was trying to figure out why she wasn’t interested in fighting Summer when her heart is on the line. This whole chapter makes me very happy 🙂

    Like

  19. amc

    ” If the Black Knight had ever been linked to one of the People, Kegan would have believed Foundling to be a child of his own blood raised in obscurity to avoid the knives of the High Lords. ”

    oh shit -> That’s more belief for the ‘Black is Cat’s father’ story. And, Cat’s prophecy of choice was patricide…

    Like

    1. Metalshop

      Even worse, her prophecy choice was patricide of a real father, followed by killing an adoptive father. If we assume the ‘real father’ killing was covered by beating the Duke and lying about their relationship, that still leaves her with meeting her father-figure in battle. Given that Black has less than two years left, the degree to which everyone thinks she’s his daughter in all but name, and the fact that they are both apparently trying (and failing) to keep their relationship from trending in that direction…

      Like

  20. amc

    Also: I don’t think that we’ve seen every trick from the Battle of Four Armies and One. Because, bringing in a surprise reinforcement to flank, seems like a standard – if difficult – military tactic. But, Cat’s specialty is bringing in things from *way, far* outfield. (Undead suicide goats, anyone). the Bo4A+1 his doesn’t have that kinda WTF feeling yet.

    And, the quote at the top implied that this would be even more epic than we’ve seen before.

    (Way to set the bar high!)

    Like

  21. Blinks

    I suppose from Cat’s point of view she’s got to deal with the armies of Summer at some point and of her two main foes. Heiress and the Summer Court they’re the more martially inclined. Taking them out when her armies are as ready and able as they’re ever going to get is kind of the best time.

    Like

    1. Black plays the long game. What you don’t know is that virtually every orphanage in the entire known world contains 2 or 3 of Black’s children. He checks in on all of them from time to time to see how they’re going and whether any of them look like they might become a hero, or a villain. Cat was far and above the “best” (for certain values of the word “best”). This is why Black choose her. It’s also why it’s not really anything special to have Black as a father.

      Like

      1. Sashimi

        It’s also why he split up with Hye: she was tired of birthing babies. Even with aspect-driven over-perfection at popping them out, she could only bear so many…

        Liked by 1 person

  22. The charge of Cat’s Knights is even more effective than I believe some here perceive. It’s described as the portal opening, and the knights “ploughing into the west flank.” There is a profound difference between cavalry moving to flank infantry (depending on situation may allow said infantry time to at least begin to turn and form up to face the charge), and line(s) of infantry being struck by surprise in the flank of their current formation.

    All military doctrine of civilizations at this level of technology pretty much says lines of pikemen are deployed as defense against a cavalry charge, with dense formations of archers firing in support of the infantry being a major plus. Infantry simply smashed into from their left while the lines are facing forward? Many a rout has begun in just such a fashion.

    IMO, that gives the Knights twice the narrative weight. They’re the literal Cavalry, riding to the rescue at the last minute. Then they’re the sort of force that, in a narrative sense, is “supposed” to cause panic and disorder in the infantry’s ranks, rendering them ripe for being routed.

    As others have already stated, Cat’s coalition-force has the story high ground. They aren’t the rapacious invaders that need to be beaten back by the rightful inhabitants of the lands they’re trampling. They’re the disparate and often prone to internal conflict forces, brought together by a determined and charismatic leader who has united and is leading them against a terrible common enemy. Summer’s unprovoked invasion of Callow has robbed Princess Sulia of her accustomed role as righteous leader of her Queen’s host.

    Choosing to face them in Arcadia instead of Creation is a brilliant, albeit incredibly risky, gambit on Cat’s part. In Creation the battle would be almost entirely about the hard-and-fast military realities of the situation. Number and quality of the troops on each side etc etc. Here in Arcadia, Summer could have them materially outgunned, yet still lose if Cat can weave a strong enough narrative out of the events occurring.

    That kind of victory is also Cat’s best chance for a win that doesn’t leave her with a significantly depleted force to them go up against Diabolist with. It’s classic Cat: Going “All In” once she’s got things aligned just-so.

    Like

  23. ArkhCthuul

    Amazing insights into how.cqt.is.perceived.

    Called that she would get the Knights, was.surprised she actually got Winter to.act this early.
    Can’t wait for the next chapter…luckily I don’t have to!

    Like

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