Chapter 70: Reverb

“Six wars I fought since my coronation, so hear me when I say this: war may be fought for righteous reasons, but no war can ever deserve that epithet.”
-King Jehan the Wise, apocryphal last words

It was a cork forced into a leaking barrel, not a long-term solution. I hesitated to call this luck, because Black was nothing if not calculated even at his worst, but the damage had been limited. Destroying the array had freed the souls of the Deoraithe but there’d been an interval between that unleashing and the city smashing back into Creation. The wards Masego had promised held, keeping the dead shades from turning a third of central Callow into a haunted wasteland, but Liesse itself was beyond salvaging. The wights inside had gone wild, tearing apart everything that wasn’t nailed down and quite a bit that was. Thrice a ruin now, the old heart of the south. There was nothing inside left alive, not even the rebel forces who’d been dug in. That close to the flood of souls their protection had been about as useful a parchment shield. As far as my people could tell, the few that’d survived the initial onslaught had been killed by the rampaging wights. I’d been cheated out of my hangings, but it had been an execution nonetheless. Besides, there were survivors from the battle outside the city. I would settle my scores with Akua’s lot one way or another.

“It remains a major strategic liability so long as we leave it like this,” the Hellhound said.

I was avoiding the camp and he decisions that awaited me there, at the moment, but there was no getting away from Juniper. My general’s face was calm, but there was a subtle hunch to her frame she had once lacked. Like she was trying to fold into herself. Her mother had died, I’d been told, while trying to hold the right flank. He risen corpse had been hacked to pieces by her own legionaries and she’d had to be brought to the pyre in full armour to hide the marks. Juniper had put the torch herself, Adjutant said, while I lay half-conscious in a tent after crawling out of the ruins of Liesse. I might have died in there, if Thief had not come back for me. Black certainly would have, the backlash of his stand having put him in a coma he’d yet to wake from. Seated on an upturned stone, I watched the wreck of a once-great city and bit into mutton jerky. I offered the Hellhound a bite but got only a quelling glare for answer. Her loss.

“I’ll be putting Hierophant to work,” I finally said. “He believes the remaining wights can be brought under control.”

“That leaves the shades,” Juniper grunted. “I’m less than comfortable with having a jug of goblinfire in the middle of the supply line for the Vales. Much less camping by it. Those wards break, Catherine, and up goes two thirds of the remaining imperial forces in Callow. And you damn well know Duchess Kegan’s been making noise. Ignoring her won’t work forever.”

The necromantic nature of the powers backing the Watch was out of the bag for good, to no one’s pleasure. Procer would make something of that, no doubt. There were too many people on the plains who were seeing what was undeniably the souls of the dead for containment to be even remotely feasible, not that it was my secret to keep in the first place. And since the moment the dust settled the Duchess of Daoine had been loudly demanding her wizards be given access to the wards and the city so they could begin the work of weaving the souls back together into a gestalt. I’d had Adjutant’s people take a look at her forces: the Watch was powerless at the moment. Nothing more than well-trained soldiers. I’d refused to meet with Kegan until Hierophant could have a better look at Liesse, but around dawn today he’d given me his verdict: the weapon was broken. Not for good, but it would take several years and massive resources to bring it back to even superficial functionality and I could afford the costs in neither time nor coin. One word, that was all it’d taken, and just like that Black had smothered the last hope for my homeland being spared the Tenth Crusade.

“The souls go back to Daoine,” I told Juniper with a sigh. “They’re no use to anyone here, and I’ll need the Watch to take the field before long.”

“A start,” the Hellhound conceded. “Frankly, I believe we should torch the whole city with goblinfire. You’ve heard the reports.”

Soldiers near the wards said they glimpsed dead loved ones speaking to them from behind the boundary, begging to be let out. Some of the mages keeping Hierophant’s wards powered came back trembling and talking of whispers in their ears. Others lost track of time entirely for hours on end. I’d had to order the northernmost camps to be demolished and rebuilt south because the legionaries inside them were plagued with vivid and persistent nightmares. You couldn’t kill that many people in a place without there being consequences to it, and killing was only the first of horrors that’d been visited upon Liesse.

“I’m not committing to that until I get assurances it won’t worsen the situation,” I said. “But as soon as I get back to Laure I’ll make it an official decree that the area as far as two miles outwards is forbidden territory. Markers will be placed.”

“There’ll be adventurers heading in there even then,” Juniper said. “Looters with more balls than sense.”

“My options are limited, Juniper,” I told the orc flatly. “I will not compound ruin with disaster. Ratface has a blade to the throat of half the Dark Guilds and Thief has her own people – I’ll have to count on them to keep the situation as much under control as it can be.”

“Heroes-”she began.

“Are coming,” I interrupted. “I know. Marshal Grem still holds the Vales, that should ward off the worst of it, but I’ve already ordered a watch on the Hwaerte. The Smugglers will know if anyone tries to sail up the river. If we’re lucky the first wave will only hit us with the crusade and we’ll have winter to prepare unhindered.”

“When have we ever been that lucky?” Juniper bitterly said.

The death of Istrid Knightsbane had changed her, I thought. Tempered her in some ways, but as in all things at a price. She’d always been sombre but her mother’s passing had put out some ineffable light in her. It’d cut close to home in a way the rest of our campaigns had not, I supposed. More than once I’d thought of reaching out, but her grief was not something I could truly understand. I was an orphan, after all. Aisha would pick up what pieces she could. I scarfed down the last of the jerky and licked my fingers clean.

“There are going to be changes,” I said.

She looked at me for a long time, then sighed. She gestured for me to move and I made room on the stone. The orc sat by my side, over a head taller and twice as broad. I studied her face and was surprised at how young she looked, even after all this. The Hellhound was such a force of nature it was easy to forget she was only a year older than me.

“What happened in the city, Catherine?” she asked.

No one had who’d not been in that room knew exactly what had gone down, not even Thief. There had been no order to arrest Black while he was unconscious forthcoming from the Tower, but I knew better than to believe the matter was at an end. I suspected the Empress would have tried it, if there wasn’t a real risk the legions around Liesse would have refused and raised banner of rebellion around my teacher’s sleeping form. That I could see no move on her part did not mean they were not being made.

“Lines were drawn,” I said. “I’m still deciding on which side I’m falling.”

“Are we rebelling?” she bluntly asked.

After a heartbeat of hesitation, I shook my head.

“Not for now, anyway,” I admitted. “But we can no longer be dependant on the Tower for protection. Right now the situation is… fluid.”

A year ago, I thought, I would have backed Black against the Empress without hesitation. Maybe even a fortnight ago. But not after today, not when he’d consigned thousands of my countrymen to death for a point of pride.

“We can’t afford a civil war with Procer at the gates,” Juniper growled.

“I doubt it’ll come to that,” I said. “But there was a break. The blades might be sheathed until the outside threat is dealt with but they’ll come out eventually. I will not allow Callow to be the field where that struggle is settled, and that means an army giving them all pause.”

“You want me to head it,” the Hellhound said.

“You already are heading it,” I replied. “Your responsibilities will just expand.”

“Raising an army without the Tower’s permission is treason,” Juniper reluctantly said.

“I have permission,” I said. “Or had. I will proceed regardless of whether that’s confirmed. Like you said, the Empire cannot afford a civil war. Much less one fought against me.”

“Callowan recruits, I assume,” she said.

“I’d grab every legionary in the country if I could,” I said. “As it is I’ve had Adjutant working on the Fifth and the Twelfth. The orc now in interim command of the Fifth has been… open to overtures.”

“But not the Sixth,” Juniper said, dark eyes studying me.

Her mother’s legion. No, I’d not crossed that line. I would have liked to say I’d made that choice out of consideration for the feelings of a dear friend, but the truth was not as pretty. I’d refrained because Juniper in command of Callow’s army was worth more to me than a chance of pulling into my orbit the remains of the Sixth.

“No,” I agreed. “Not the Sixth.”

She closed her eyes.

“I’ll talk to Legate Bagram,” the Hellhound whispered. “I know him well.”

“I’m not asking you to,” I told her, wanting to be exceedingly clear about that.

“I have already chosen the side I fall on, Warlord,” Juniper replied, eyes opening and flashing with anger. “My words were not lightly spoken. Do not bring dishonour to us both by coddling me.”

Only an orc, I thought, would find offense in someone respecting their grief. Best not to linger on this, and as it happened I had no lack of distractions to offer.

“The Fourth and the Ninth are the real wildcards,” I said. “Precarious as their position is.”

It had not escaped anyone’s attention that the only senior commanders to survive the battle were both goblins and Matrons. Rumours of betrayal were already sweeping through the camps and in truth I’d done nothing to stamp them out. Adjutant had given me a report by voice only that I’d ordered him to never repeat: Istrid Knightsbane had been killed by poison, not sorcery or undead. He’d told me the cut that killed her was too clean to have been made with anything but goblin steel, and that raised questions. All legionary weapons were made with the stuff, straight out of the Imperial forges of Foramen, and the High Lords had definitely gotten their hands on some of it. Yet I very much doubted this was Diabolist’s handiwork. The timing was off, and I suspected she would have gloated about it when we fought if it was her doing. If only to make it plain she had more support among Praesi than I believed, even in the Legions. It shouldn’t be Black’s either – General Istrid had been one of his most vocal loyalists. That left three likely culprits in my eyes, the ones who had the most to gain from that death.

First was the Empress, who’d had to know when considering her scheme that Black would stand opposed to it. Had she begun cleaning the upper ranks of his most loyal before the insurrection was over? It was unlikely she’d get an opportunity to make a kill this quiet for years. She was not to be dismissed as to practical for this, not after the flying murder fortress gambit she’d tacitly allowed. The second was the First Prince. Assassinating senior and famous commanders before an invasion was right up her wheelhouse, from what I’d heard of her. I found it hard to believe she’d managed to place an agent in the legions without the Eyes noticing it, but then she had shut down major imperial operations in Procer before. With the home front settled, she might be looking outwards. The last I hesitated to even think, because if it was true the Empire was done and this entire house of cards was going to fall down on my head.

It might be the Matrons. Isolationist as they were said to be, Robber had told me enough about the crones ruling his people I knew taking a few scalps to better position commanders of their own kind was not something they’d think twice about doing – if they thought they could get away with it. And if it was them… Suddenly it no longer felt like a coincidence I’d been offered desperately needed coin in exchange for a goblin settlement in Marchford. It felt like a calculated move to secure an ally before an uprising could be started. It might be I was being paranoid in thinking this, but in Praes the question was never if you were being paranoid or not. It was if you were being paranoid enough.

“General Sacker would not have a hand in my mother’s death, no matter the rumours,” Juniper sneered. “They were like sisters, Catherine. Their bond was decades in the making.”

“I don’t believe it either,” I replied, only saying half the truth.

Goblins just didn’t think the way humans or even orcs did. To them betrayal in the name of advancement was no betrayal at all. Still, I suspected that if there’d been an agent of the Matrons at work here it would be Marshal Ranker. She was the one who’d been left the senior commander here by the deaths, and though the rumours were impugning her reputation no one was daring to question her authority. Not even me, as she’d stepped lightly knowing that a Named outranked even a marshal in the eyes of the Tower if push came to shove. But neither had I helped her any with my not inconsiderable clout: as long as her reputation was in the gutter, I had an in with anyone who bought the rumours. And I needed the men, needed them badly if I was to give any of the jackals fighting over Callow’s bleeding body any reason to be wary. The Fifteenth wasn’t enough for that, not with the nearly one thousand men the fucking Warlock had left stranded on the wrong side of the Hellgate. If the villain had been here to deal with, we would have had words on the subject. The legionaries going in had known it was a possibility they would never come back, but the blow was still being felt and I doubted the bastard had done anything to try to save them.

“They may retreat to Summerholm,” Juniper finally said. “Without Lord Black to mediate or the Tower ordering otherwise, that is the safest hold for them to wait out the mess.”

“It’s not happening,” I told her flatly. “The don’t get to garrison one of my fucking cities anymore. If they want to go east, let them go all the way to the Blessed Isle. The Empire can supply them there, because it sure as Hells won’t be my granaries coughing out the goods.”

The Hellhound stared at me, frowning.

“You are establishing borders,” she said.

“I am,” I acknowledged.

“That is too large a territory to cover for a single host,” Juniper stated. “You mean to raise several armies, then, and that is beyond the writ of a general’s authority. My command extends only to the Fifteenth.”

“You would need to be a marshal,” I agreed.

I’d had Hakram take care of the physical aspect of that last night. A marshal’s baton was traditionally made of wood from the Wasteland, usually ebony, but I didn’t have any on hand. The elongated stick I took out from under my cloak and handed to Juniper was stone, rough granite. It’d been sculpted, but where was no mandate from the Tower in formal Mthethwa to be read. Among the traditional relief of legionaries in arms was set my own heraldry, the scales with the sword and the crown. The detail did not escape the orc’s considering eyes.

“They will never promote you to marshal,” I said. “You’ve been with me for too long, your loyalties are suspect.”

“Then this is a mere bauble,” she said.

“It is the regalia of the Marshal of Callow,” I smiled thinly. “It’s not actually illegal for a serving commander to have other titles, you see. I had Aisha look into the legalities.”

It wasn’t nearly that clean-cut, no matter what I said. Lords and ladies of Praesi who served in the Legions had to renounce their claim to any noble title for the duration of their service. But that was landed titles, and what I was granting her was not. There was even a precedent, though a distant one: Dread Empress Maleficent II had showered her successful commander in the Free Cities with local honours, since those were much less expensive than rewards at home.  As a client state under the Tower, Callow currently fell in the same areas as the subjugated territories down south the ancient empress had taken. It was a fairly thin excuse and the High Lords were bound to howl, but Malicia had a lot more to prove than I did at the moment. If she couldn’t even finagle her way through this, what point was there in backing her? Juniper’s thick fingers clasped around the stone.

“I dreamt of holding a baton, as a girl,” she said. “But not like this.”

Isn’t that Praes in a sentence? I thought. Everything you want, just not the way you want it.

“You’re now the highest commander in this kingdom,” I told her. “Your rank of general is irrelevant. The Fifteenth, while remaining a legion, is also the first division of the army of Callow. Congratulations, Juniper. You’re the youngest marshal in the history of this empire.”

“I am not,” she said darkly, “an imperial marshal. I can live with that disappointment, if I hold the command regardless. But if I am to be your second, Catherine, I will need my hands unbound. There will be conscription, even if limited. I will need forges to make what the Imperial ones in Foramen will no longer provide, and granaries to feed the soldiers.”

“And you’ll have them,” I promised. “I will have this country ready for war, when it comes.”

The Hellhound suddenly snorted.

“I suppose I should kneel,” she said. “Are there no ceremonies to be observed? Should a blade not be laid on my shoulders?”

“That’s for knighting,” I told her. “It would also involve me slapping you across the face as hard as I can, and no offense but I’m not sure you would survive that.”

“Then we do this the way of my own people,” Juniper said, and rose to her feet.

She unsheathed her sword and bared her arm, cutting across leathery flesh. I rose and did the same under her expectant gaze.

“Under the gaze of That Which Lurks Below, I make these oaths,” the Hellhound said, tone heavy. “I will make war for you, and be true in the shedding of blood. In lean seasons I will offer meat from my table, and in bountiful days be granted the same from yours. Your foe is my foe, your kin is my kin. I swear this by iron and salt, by grass and wind and the death of men. In ruin and glory, our threads are bound. Let they who would sunder this pact be devoured ‘til not even bones remain.”

She offered her bleeding arm and I met it with mine, crimson trails staining us both. I did not know her people’s customs, but I knew those of mine. Not from teaching, for etiquette lessons had never covered the likes of this, but from old stories. From days when this land of mine had still be a true kingdom.

“Gods be my witness, and strike me down should I break this solemn oath,” I said. “Honour granted will be kept, homage rewarded by sanctuary unbroken. To she who is faithful and true I will be the same. She who loves me I will love, and shun all that she shuns. No injury or slight shall go unavenged, be they the work of the great or the small.”

“I name you Warlord,” Juniper grinned sharply. “Willing and hungry.”

“I name you Marshal of Callow,” I replied, “and in my own blood anoint you.”

The baton was touched with red, when she took it, the both of us having shed droplets. Fitting, I thought.

There would be more to come.

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75 thoughts on “Chapter 70: Reverb

    1. Are you sure she’s not presently Squire? She explicitly outranks a Marshall on the weight of her name, and she would have said “because they think I have a name,” or “because I’ll soon have one,” if that were the case. She might not be in the full of her power as Squire, but I can’t imagine her without any Name at all

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      1. RoflCat

        My guess is she’s in the middle of a pivot right now.

        Her Name will depends on whether she sides with Black or Malicia.

        But until she make her decision, she can just work on making the Fifteenth into her proper army, and for that we have her promoting Juniper in this chapter.

        Like

    2. stevenneiman

      Unless they lose their Name and then get another one in a separate event, Transitional Names stay with their holder right up until they upgrade to a keeper Name. Take Masego for an example. He went from Apprentice to Heirophant in an instant once the conditions for the new Name were met, and there certainly wasn’t a transitional period where he was just Masego before he was ready to start dissecting miracles.

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  1. Stormblessed

    A nice interlude and piece of falling action after the harrowing events of last chapter. I was almost afraid to read this chapter because I was scared of what happened to our villains. I just really want Cat to point out that Bard was there watching Black and to suggest this is all Bard’s plot to sow division amongst the villains.

    Also Juniper remains extremely awesome. I’m glad she can still talk openly with not-Squire (maybe-Squire?). I’m also super excited for her to be taken off the reins and leash and given more authority. I want to see what she does with it. Can a character with Juniper (or some other legion general) get a a name? Or is what she does as a general so unname-like that she can’t get one? Would Juniper recieving a named be a bad thing character wise? As in, lessen how awesome her character is/be a cheap way to provide character drama/character development?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. B

      I don’t think Juniper will get a Name, simply because it would be *too* good for Cat. Hakram being the first orc to get a Name since their race was conquered shows how much of a badass he is. A *second* orc getting a Name that *also* serves under Cat shifts the focus away from Hakram being a badass to Cat being a granter of Names to Orcs. It cheapens Hakram & Juniper’s exploits while elevating Cat to essentially being a God of the Orcs.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. soonnanandnaanssoon

        Yeap, agreed with your point about it being too good for Cat. Also, I don’t know if it’s a foreshadowing or a Chekhov’s Gun but one of the Quote of the Day was a commentary by Juniper of the Red Shields, but was not preceded by any Name. Might be a hint that Juniper doesn’t have a Name.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. Engineer

        Keyword in my sentence was “sounds”.

        The weight of the scene, the oaths spoken and the fact that the Ruler of Callow in all but Name just promoted Juniper to the highest rank in her army (basically Callow’s answer to the dynamic between the Black Knight and the Dread Emperor/ess) makes it easy to think Juniper just got Named.

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    1. BryceWilliam

      if she was going to have gotten a name, it have been now. the narrative weight of this moment is one of the strongest turns in the 2’s relationship. Jun just swore to follow cat before the tower, she already was, but there is weight in oaths. extra so when replied to with “I name you..”

      no, jun’s shot at a name has passed, this being her best bet.

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  2. Aeon

    I’m expecting Cat’s new Name to be the Black Queen or something. Maybe something a bit more specific than that, but I definitely expect her to become a Queen, rather than a Knight. Her goals and motivations are too different from Knighthood.

    In other words, keep up the good work. I love this story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Big Brother

    Honestly, I DON’T want Juniper to get a Name. Like B said, it would cheapen everything she’s done. She’s made a name for herself as a brilliant commander despite being un-Named.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Felix Joseph Baumann

    Does nobody else here in the comments notice the insanity of Cat as a currently unnamed villain swearing to the Gods (above), while her Marshall swears to those below? I can not even fathom the possible consequences of such an unorthodox oath, but I assume them to be quite cataclymic.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thenre

      I think she swore to both Above and Below, maybe hinting more towards a neutral Name and place in Creation. I mean the whole reason she’s a Villain is the inability to accept the helplessness of leaving your fate in the God’s hands, and that includes the manipulations of the Gods Below and Fate.

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      1. In Chapter 13:Forgery, she set herself against both sides rather fantastically:

        *”When heroes and villains come knocking in the name of fate,” I spoke, tone calm and measured. “When they try to drag us back to where we were by force with a Choir behind them or the host of some howling Hell – I’ll kill them all. Every last one of them.”*

        She’s thwarted the host of a howling Hell. After weathering a crusade we’ll see if she can establish a neutral zone.

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  5. burdi

    i just realise maybe cat will have no Name at all, she already got Winter power which super strong…she killed akua soo easily, without a Name means she is not evil nor good…a new path.

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  6. satoshikyu

    So what exactly IS Cat’s Name now? Like it seems fairly clear she’s broken free of Squire, but no actual Name has been given. She’s embraced Winter, so is she Winter Queen? Gotta get an actual Name at some point, the guessing game is ridiculous.

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    1. Anastas

      “Squire” is hanging on by a thread; it’s firmly on the way out, I’d say, but I don’t think Cat’s firmly grasped or formed a replacement yet.

      Like

  7. Ed

    Damn dude you have several chapters that are a fantastic story but just a fantastic story then you hit chapters like this and remind me there is POWER in your writing, excellent thank you.

    Like

  8. Un-Metaphorical Grapevine

    Typo thread!

    some ‘the’ and ‘her’ are missing their first letter.

    Also, sometimes during action scenes in previous chapters, I have to scroll back up and figure out what had happened. For example, when Akua’s necklace with the phylactery was removed I didn’t realize she had died. Also, during the throne room scene, I thought Cat was planning her attack with the ice not actually doing it.

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  9. Vortex

    One thing I love about this chapter is it highlights the contradictions and parallels of this story.

    Although Cat was originally an orphan with heroic tendencies, she became a power hungry, ruthless villain.

    Although Juniper is an orc, she is one of the most honorable and intelligent characters in the story, and is far more principled and outspoken than Cat.

    Although Juniper’s oath is savage and bloodthirsty, while Cat’s oath is formal and righteous, they are saying the same things deep down inside. It gives me chills down my spine how perfect this is.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. lennymaster

      Yes, it struck me too how the essence of their oaths is the same despite the difference in wording.

      “Under the gaze of That Which Lurks Below, I make these oaths, I will make war for you, and be true in the shedding of blood.”
      “Gods be my witness, and strike me down should I break this solemn oath, honour granted will be kept, homage rewarded by sanctuary unbroken.”

      “In lean seasons I will offer meat from my table, and in bountiful days be granted the same from yours.”
      “To she who is faithful and true I will be the same.”

      “Your foe is my foe, your kin is my kin.”
      “She who loves me I will love, and shun all that she shuns.”

      “In ruin and glory, our threads are bound. Let they who would sunder this pact be devoured ‘til not even bones remain.”
      “No injury or slight shall go unavenged, be they the work of the great or the small.”

      The only part that has no direct equivalent is: “I swear this by iron and salt, by grass and wind and the death of men. In ruin and glory, our threads are bound.”. And that part is probably more decorative after having already sworn on the Gods Below.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. werafdsaew

      Cat being ruthless? More than before, but still less than the likes of Diabolist or Black.
      Cat being power hungry? Maybe she will be in the future, and maybe that’s how she’ll fall, but right now no at all. Her goal since book 1 has been to get power, and use it to fix Callow, and she hasn’t deviated from that yet.

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  10. Letouriste

    I…I don’t follow:o cat is already making moves like all politicians do but she doesn’t know if black and malicia will really fight each other or just make up.sure black was pretty decisive there,i expect him to crush the trueblood and malicia to try to reinforce her position…but isn’t a little too soon for mustering what is pretty much a rebellious army? she doesn’t plan to fight that out but the message that give to people can’t be good

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  11. Seabornia

    I utterly want Cat’s new Name to be connected to Apocalyptic myths in one way or another. It would be fitting to story narrative to sidestep Good vs Evil confrontation. Probably Black will transcend his name too, as currently his powers backlashed on him.

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  12. thespaceinvader

    Anyone else feeling Cat getting the Name of Warlord?

    It wouldn’t be what’s been teased recently, but I believe it’s been mentioned as a historic Orc Name, and it would fit her better than a LOT of other names at the moment, especially as the events of last chapter seem to have closed off Black Queen which was a name in the rising until Black Knight Destroyed the array.

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    1. Names are mired in history.
      What defines a name is what people think of it and the traditions that follow it.
      An orcish Name given only to the chief of all clans will only be given to an orc.

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    2. werafdsaew

      According to Black in Chapter 15: Company, Warlords are “mostly known for their propensity to put entire villages to the torch and take back their inhabitants to the Steppes as thralls.” Does this sound like Cat? No.

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  13. Jerick

    The assassinations were the work of the Empress I’m sure, yet I don’t think they were aimed at reducing Black’s hold on the legions. I suspect instead they were aimed at removing high ranking officers that would refuse to side with Cat if she were to ever rebel against the tower.

    Now that seems insane but it was when Cat brought back the orders of knights that it clicked just what it was that the Empress wanted, what her endgame was; Suppressing Callowan culture simply will not work long term. For as long as competent leaders are there to guide desired cultural changes and suppress undesired ones Callow will stay under the rule of the tower. But that needs an broken string of very capable rulers which is impossible. Ineffective rulers are an inevitability and it just takes one taxing Callow to the bone, one allowing them to die in droves, one being a mad Tyrant to stoke the fires of rebellion and start the wheels of story moving towards a free Callow. Cultural suppression is purely a short term solution and both Black and Malica sought a true long term victory.

    But how to do that? Well there is one idea that holds the diverse Empire together. One idea that keeps it functioning when backstabbing and self interest should make it fail. The quest for the tower. If they could imbue the Callowan people with the quest for the tower then it would shift their response to being oppressed by a poor ruler from pulling away and freeing Callow to climbing the tower themselves to replace the ruler. If Black and Malica could do that Callow would remain part of the empire for countless generations. But in order to create that cultural shift they need a Callowan to climb the tower, they need a Callowan Dread Empress.

    Cat’s banner projects a message she never intended and I sense Malica’s subtle hand in that. The rumors and talk by Callowan people about Cat standing up to the tower quite possible is something the Empress is seeding and encouraging. In the end Malica will give Cat everything she wants, just not in the way she wants it.

    However the Wandering Bard has managed to successfully throw a wrench in the plans and the rest of the world is not sitting by while the Empire does its thing.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Nairne .01

        There is too much speculation about Cat shedding the name of squire and not getting a new name, or that her fae powers somehow prevent a name. She said that she is close to getting a new one, but not just yet, she is in the middle of a transition.

        Also, Cat is not fae, not really. Sure she might have a lot of fae power behind her, but she didn’t become fae. She is a warlock said something else, neither human nor fae.

        Like

    1. werafdsaew

      I agree, except I think it’s more likely that Black Knight is the one pulling the string. His desired outcome from chapter 55 is for Cat to replace him and work with Malicia, so he needs to ensure that his followers would side with Cat when he’s gone. Since Istrid has no personal loyalty to Cat, she might decide to side with Malicia rather than Cat when Black’s gone, and that is why she has to go.

      Like

  14. Gunslinger

    Things are really looking bad. A crusade on Callowan soil will devastate the country so badly there won’t be much for Cat to rule once everything is done.

    Not to mention Black is gonna be leading a crusade of his own against the high lords and Cat’s going to be against him (maybe)

    Then there’s the wildcard Tyrant with his puppet Hierarch. Ohh boy are we in for a ride.

    Finally considering Cat didn’t talk about it and from her assuming the role like she still had Malicia’s authority means she’s still going to be the Black Queen. I’m assuming her actual transition will happen during the coronation or something

    Like

    1. Riaan Theunissen

      Don’t forget Thief.

      She’s plainly stated there’s somethings she won’t stand for. Her current view of Black and Malicia hasn’t been given yet, but it must be… interesting, was done, revealed and hinted at in the last few chapters regarding the two of them.

      Like

    2. Anastas

      I wouldn’t call Hierarch a “puppet”, exactly. He’s refusing to do anything out of principle while the Tyrant uses his silence and the other Cities’ respect for the Name and their inability to understand the Hierarch’s zealous egalitarian democratic qualms in order to push his own designs through what passes for the League’s decision making body.

      I’d say Anaxares is more like a paperweight. He doesn’t really *do* ANYTHING, but getting actual work done would be *so* much harder without him to hold it all together.

      Like

  15. naturalnuke

    An oath sworn to the gods above for Callowan tradition to match the oath said to the gods below in the orcish way.

    As William once said, “that has a shape to it”

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Snowfire1224

    I’m not sure who Cat should side with, Malicia or Black. I get bad vibes from Malicia, although I’m not sure why, but I can see where it would be good story wise to haveCat fight black.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nairne .01

      Supposedly, but really just supposedly, she has always been winter-like. Even the Winter King said that “its like she was born of winter” (the wording might have been different, but I hope you get my meaning). So what changed is probably the winter-like hunger urges got stronger, but for now, she is not visibly succumbing to them.

      Like

  17. Dawn

    Was Black’s plan to eventually replace Malicia with Cat? Cos now I think she’s more likely to side with Malicia given what he did. I mean what was his plan doing that? If Thief hasn’t saved Cat, then they’d both be dead. Sounds like he’s completely lost it.

    Like

    1. Thea

      Black knows Cat knows The Song. We know basically nothing about the ramifications of knowing The Song in person, neither requirements nor consequences, but chances are it puts Cat’s path at odds with Malicia’s life… and Black still supported Cat.

      Like

  18. Shequi

    Cat’s logic in thinking Ranker might have been responsible for Istrid’s death is… off.

    Ranker was already the senior officer of the Legions. Istrid’s death doesn’t benefit her seniority among the Legions at all – only Grem and Nim equal her, and only the Named outrank her.

    Like

    1. Nairne .01

      Except it might have been to make herself (Ranker) indispensable as Marshal for Cat, you know the upcoming Crusade and what not. That seems a little weak though, so maybe you are right. I would not bet on it though as we have too little information.

      Like

  19. alegio

    So…. Cat will side with Malicia and then after Malicia dies/gets betrayed she will become Dread Empress? If this happens AND Black survives to become Cats Black knight I will be Happy.

    Like

  20. Random Internet User (tm)

    Cat totally has a name! Protagonist.

    It’s just that noone from any side dares mention it, or else they’ll be the next to get steamrolled. :>

    “Oh, hey look- it’s the protagonist. Let’s kill ‘er!” Then the weight of the story comes and squishes them flat, muahaha.

    Lovely chapter, by the way.

    Like

  21. I’m late reading this, but just wanted to point out that I’ve been calling her Warlord Catherine for a long time, even over Word of God (author)’s postulation that she wasn’t fit to become Warlord.

    Warlord Catherine the Squire, Queen of Callow, Duchess of Moonlit Night.

    Like

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