Chapter 1: Observatory

“Those who withstood the sword, I laid low with ink.”
– Words carved into the tomb of Dread Emperor Terribilis I, the Lawgiver

I rarely used the council room these days. Under the Fairfaxes the King’s Council had been the greatest organ of power in the realm, closer to the crown than any and wielding influence far beyond that of the titles of the men and women having been appointed to it. I’d retained only parts of it, though, the ones I found useful. I had no need for a Chamberlain to see to the ‘royal household’, when mine was essentially me and whatever part of the Woe happened to be in Laure at the time. And even then I doubted Thief had slept in her chambers more than twice. She preferred prowling the city when she was there. Masego disdained his rooms as well, though for reasons somewhat more worrying. No, broadening the authority of the palace’s seneschal had been quite sufficient. Not that all old roles had been so easily disposed of. With Anne Kendall in the seat of Governess-General, Juniper as my Marshal and Ratface as my Lord Treasurer there’d been only on seat left worth filling: Keeper of the Seals. In the old kingdom, those had been tasked with overseeing courts of law and making sure the decrees of the crown were upheld across Callow. That seemed a glorified clerk’s position, until one remembered the way the kingdom had functioned under the Fairfaxes.

Though laws decreed in Laure held sway across the realm in theory, in practice the hair-raising labyrinth of ancient privileges and prerogatives held by most highborn houses made it a nightmare for any single decree to be uniformly observed. I’d been amused to learn that House Talbot, whose old demesne was now my own, had for several centuries been allowed to trade in lands directly held by the crown without tariffs as part of an old deal that saw a generous loan offered to a king so he could build a summer palace by the Silver Lake. I’d been even more amused to learn that said palace had been wrecked by Praesi within the decade when they attempted to invade the heartlands of Callow through an underwater invasion – orcs with gills, apparently – down the Pening river. One of the Malignants, that’d been, I was pretty sure. A Dread Emperor of the worst mould, incompetent at everything but murderously ensuring his rivals didn’t overthrow him. Regardless of historical curiosities, the Empire had actually allowed me to inherit a significantly more centralized realm in many ways. With Baron Darlington of Hedges and Baroness Morley of Harrow the only two remaining landed nobles in Callow, I didn’t have nearly as many powerful people barking about privileges and prerogatives.

What I did end up having, however, was my court’s first real power struggle. Now that the governors across Callow all answered to the crown through the Governess-General the office of Keeper of the Seals held a lot more direct power than it’d used to, with a lot less pushback to boot. Crown decrees had a lot more teeth, these days, and the Keeper had a great deal of latitude in ensuring they were upheld. Everyone and their sister had gone after the appointment, beginning the charm offensive the moment I was crowned. The only ones who’d stayed out of the fray were the Deoraithe, and I’d almost asked Kegan to send me a competent cousin just for that. Brandon Talbot and his tribe of old aristocrats had been the most ferocious, though the northern baronies had tried to muscle his people out – the fight between the powers in Laure and the distant northern nobles was an old one. A few eldermen in Laure had actually tried to bribe Ratface into putting in a good word for their candidate, banking on the Taghreb reputation for venality, and instead found themselves fined for the exact same sum and unceremoniously drummed out of office.

I picked a southerner, in the end, after tasking Baroness Kendall to find me a suitable one. After the massacre at Second Liesse, what had once been the duchy of the same name and even the region as a whole had been on the brink of collapse. It’d only been the reparations I obtained from the Empress and Hakram’s feverish work that kept the place from eating itself alive, and even now it was the most unstable part of my realm. A major city and over a hundred thousand people were gone form the heart of the south, it wasn’t something that could be healed in a year. Or even a decade. Binding whatever powers remained down there to the crown had been necessary, and my Governess-General managed to dig up a candidate that wouldn’t fuck up the duties that came with the appointment. Edith Westmore had once been a lady in her own right, before her liege lord took up arms in the Liesse Rebellion, and even after had remained a wealthy landowner. She had the reputation and the connections to be a capable Keeper of Seals, and though I wasn’t particularly fond of her as a person neither did she grate my nerves. It was no lifetime appointment, regardless.

Lady Edith was not here in my solar, not this afternoon anyway. I’d had the richly-panelled room furnished more to my tastes – which largely meant removing all the more ostentatious stuff and filling the new liquor cabinet to the brim – and these days I conducted most royal business in here. The comfortable surroundings helped allay the inevitable bouts of tediousness that seemed to accompany the work of making Callow into a halfway-functioning nation. My two companions at the table bathed by afternoon sun were the two members of my council I saw most often: Governess-General Anne Kendall and Lord Treasurer Hasan Qara. Who still insisted on being called Ratface, though he’d come to embrace the sobriquet of Bastard Lord as well. He got a kick of how much it horrified Praesi envoys.

“We’ve another petition from Hedges,” Anne said, shuffling parchments. “On the subject of tariffs in Laure and Southpool.”

The silver-haired woman glanced delicately at my treasurer after speaking. Ratface seemed distinctly unamused, though the irritation was not directed at Kendall.

“They’re trying to flood the markets with wool,” the Taghreb told me. “They have entire warehouses going to waste, the Jacks confirmed it.”

‘The Jacks’ was a very fancy title for my ever-growing web of thieves, smugglers, spies and sundry informants. It was nowhere as unified and well-organized as the appellation implied, with Aisha’s network of kinsmen in Praes, Ratface’s guildsmen and Thief’s friends being different organizations entirely. Adjutant oversaw the whole mess of disparate reports and pieced it together into a coherent picture before bringing it to me. As for the name, well, it was known in some circles that the Guild of Thieves was now in my pay. Mutterings at my court about lowly knaves entering the crown’s service had been frequent in early days, and Vivienne had amused herself by picking a fucking pun she knew I’d despise but still have to use frequently – knave was another name for a jack, in Callowan card decks. Of all my companions, Thief was the one whose sense of humour always ended up screwing me some way or another.

“They would eat at their own profits if they did,” Kendall frowned. “Compared to selling to the crown they would be making a loss.”

“We’re not buying as much anymore,” I noted. “South’s mostly settled, all the notable tent cities are clothed and fed.”

“It’s a farsighted ploy,” Ratface told us. “They’re not after immediate profit here, they’re trying to put the local guilds out of business. After they’ve cornered the market, they can start slowly raising prices. Thalassina tried the same thing with the spice trade under Nefarious, it nearly started a war with Nok.”

“If they spent half as much time seeing to their own as they do thinking up ways to fuck with me, the north would be a godsdamned paradise,” I said through gritted teeth.

Baroness Kendall cleared her throat.

“Though I cannot speak as to the mercantile effects,” she said, “from a diplomatic perspective we have already done much to antagonize Hedges. A concession might be in order.”

“I prevented them from fleecing desperate refugees, Anne,” I flatly replied. “I didn’t exactly piss in their morning porridge.”

“All they see is expected gold never reaching their coffers,” my Governess-General said. “And I must remind you that our grasp on the region is still feeble. Fear will only get us so far.”

Fear was what had gotten us anything at all, I thought. I had no illusions about the loyalty of those two holdout baronies. I doubted they’d truly join the fold within my lifetime. Even confirming nearly all their old privileges – the right to mint their own coin being the largest abolished – and leaving their holdings untouched they still wanted more. Aristocrats. My growing exposure to the lot of them had done nothing to improve my opinion of the breed, save for a few exceptions.

“Quotas,” I finally said. “Enough they can get a foothold, not enough they can eat the whole cake. And make it clear to the right people that I expect positions on having observing Legion officers attached to their armies to… change accordingly.”

Kendall inclined her head, the touch of the sun on her locks rather fetching as she did. For a woman her age she remained strikingly beautiful.

“I’ll have a proposal drafted,” Ratface said. “Now, I know we’ve spoken of this before but…”

I grimaced, fairly sure I knew what was coming.

“There is too much Imperial coinage circulating in Callow, Catherine,” he said. “We need to start buying it up.”

Were I not Named, I might never have noticed the slight crease on the Governess-General’s brow when she heard Ratface refer to me by my given name. She and I had once been more familiar as well, but that had gone up in smoke since my coronation. Anne Kendall was a patriot to the bone: it didn’t matter how I’d gotten my crown, now that I wore it I was to be treated as loftily as any Fairfax.

“You’re my treasurer,” I sighed. “You know damn well we don’t have the funds for that. And the Empress might see it as provocation, which we really can’t afford at the moment.”

A year of regular reports had made it painfully clear to me that while Praesi troops might no longer garrison my cities or Praesi lords rule them, Praesi influence was far from gone. I’d spent so much time paying attentions to borders and armies that I’d never considered the Wasteland would still have a leash in the form of coin and commerce. Trade with Procer had pretty much ended after the Conquest, and trade to Mercantis had been dominated by Imperial governors. The wealth came from the east, these days, and there was precious little I could do about that at the moment. Not when it was the Tower’s gold that had rebuilt an entire third of my realm. I’d had to make concessions to ensure that materialized, too. We’d been keeping Callow afloat for the last year by gouging the High Lords scrabbling for grain through trade permits and set prices, but the Tower had been exempted from both. To an extent, anyway. I’d insisted on keeping large reserves in anticipation of the crusade.

“So long as nearly half the coinage in Callow is from the Imperial Mint, the Tower can break the realm’s coffers at will,” Ratface said. “All the Empress needs to do is devalue her currency and the south goes up in flames. It’s a knife at our throat, Catherine. I understand the Hellhound is riding you about funding for the army, but another thousand men will make no difference if we can’t pay those soldiers.”

“Our own coin is slowly displacing the others,” Baroness Kendall pointed out. “Patience might be the wisest answer.”

The Taghreb shook his head.

“We’re replacing old Callowan coinages,” he said. “We barely touched the Wasteland portion. The Carrion Lord spent decades making certain Callow was dependent on Imperial coin for trade, it is not work that can be undone in a few years’ span. Not unless we plan and invest.”

“There has to be an alternative to just taking the Empress’ gold off the streets by emptying our coffers, Ratface,” I said. “That’d be as good as raising a banner in her eyes. There would be immediate retaliation.”

The handsome man wrinkled his nose, rather unbecomingly.

“Using Mercantis as a third party, perhaps,” he finally said. “It would be slower and costlier, and still have us vulnerable to foreign influence.”

I sighed.

“Draft-“

“A proposal, yes,” he finished amusedly. “Ah, the joys of queenship.”

“Don’t you fucking start,” I muttered. “Between this and learning all those godsdamned Proceran languages my eyes are going to fall off.”

Baroness Kendall delicately cleared her throat.

“Not to add undue burden, but there is one last petition,” she said.

“Go on,” I grunted. “As long as it’s not our man in Vale whining about granary distribution again.”

“Officials have presented a formal request that the court return to the use of the Alban calendar,” she told me.

I snorted.

“Yeah, that’s not happening,” I said. “The Legions all use –“

I heard the movement behind the door before the knock sounded. My ears pricked. Man, late thirties, fine health. He smelled of anxiousness, though well short of fear.

“Enter,” I called out before he’d finished knocking.

I felt the gaze of the other two on me. Ah. I really needed to stop doing that. It did tend to make people uncomfortable. It was a servant, who I did not recognize though the livery made it clear he was one of the palace staff.

“Your Majesty,” he greeted me, bowing low before offering shallower bows to the others.

He’d been slightly reluctant when it came to Ratface’s turn, I noted. There’d been a lot of that since the moment I first appointed the Taghreb. I raised an expectant eyebrow at him.

“There is word from, uh, the Observatory,” the man said. “Your presence has been requested. The Lord Hierophant allegedly spoke of a ‘major phenomenon’.”

Translation: Masego had summoned me while, again, forgetting you weren’t actually supposed to summon queens. I didn’t really mind, but his brutal lack of regard for etiquette did seem to unsettle the servants whenever they came in contact with it. I rose to my feet, pushing my seat back.

“We’ll reconvene in an hour to finish this,” I told the other two.

“You speak so queenly, these days,” Ratface grinned. “I haven’t seen you spit on the ground in months.”

“Yeah, well, I own all the carpets now,” I muttered.

We made our courtesies, some more courteously than others, and then I dismissed the servant who seemed intent on accompanying me. I knew the way to the Observatory: I’d paid for the damned thing to be built out of an uninhabited wing of the palace. I wasn’t keeping a mistress, or a husband for that matter, so luxurious rooms reserved for one had been more than a little unnecessary. It wasn’t a long walk, but I lengthened my stride out of impatience. Still took the time to greet the servants and officials I came across, though. Actually learning all the names was a daydream given their sheer number, but if I could get at least half right it’d be a start. Better than Archer, anyway, who just called them whatever she felt like at the time. Getting this damned thing built had been strolling right into a series of rows with most my closest advisors, Juniper and Ratface the worst of them. My former Supply Tribune had been appalled at the costs involved, especially since some materials had to be brought directly from the Wasteland, while the Hellhound had bluntly told me that for the same amount of coin we could arm and armour over a thousand men and that’d be a lot more useful in the long run. It was rare enough for the two of them to agree on anything that I’d seriously reconsidered my commitment.

It’d still been built, in the end, and Masego had proved that his work had value beyond gold or steel. Without the Observatory at least three heroes would have slipped into Callow unseen, and the results of that could have been disastrous.

I felt the outer wards long before I arrived at the end of the corridor. As the only way in or out of the Observatory, it was now the most scrupulously protected part of the palace. The full line of legionaries guarding the corridor saluted as I went by, and I nodded back. Hakram’s people, these. The amount of soldiers and bureaucrats under Adjutant’s direct command had steadily increased along with his responsibilities. My blood was keyed into the outer wards, which were more trap than boundary, and so I got to the bronze gates with only a mild headache to show for it. I rapped my knuckles against the metal, careful to moderate my strength. There was still a dent left from the one time I’d forgotten. The bronze doors opened after a few heartbeats, and behind them stood a dark-skinned woman. She hastily knelt. Fadila Mbafeno had been one of Akua’s minions once, before I spared her at Hierophant’s request. She’d since served as an assistant in his mage’s tower, and now effectively ran the Observatory. On parchment Masego’s word was law here, so long as I did not contradict him, but his utter disinterest in the logistics of the place meant all the responsibilities were in the Soninke mage’s hands.

I disliked her, though not enough to do anything about it, but I would not deny she was extremely competent. Diabolist had always picked the cream of the crop, when it came to minions. Not that it’d ever stopped her from sacrificing them at the drop of a hat.

“Your Majesty,” Fadila said. “I invite you within.”

Nothing changed, visibly at least. There was a subtle current of power beneath her words, but even trying to feel it out would disperse it. I knew better than to think that’d been an empty sentence, though. I still vividly remembered the searing pain that had followed trying to pass the threshold without explicit permission.

“Rise,” I said, and strode by her.

Passing the threshold was not painful, per se. It was more like being squeezed through a very narrow gap, a temporary constriction of my being. Once inside the room proper there was a sense of relief, but I knew from experience it would be short-lasting. A bigger cage was still a cage. The inner Observatory was warded up something fierce, some of those defences specifically against fae. They were deeply unpleasant for me, but I’d deal with the discomfort if it meant Larat couldn’t ever set foot in here. Falida rose as bid, and followed three full steps behind me a little to the left. Wasteland etiquette, I thought sardonically, though in all fairness Callow had its fair share of little quirks as well. What had once been a full wing of the royal palace had been ripped out of even load-bearing walls, discreet arcs instead supporting the weight of the domed ceiling now. It was a single massive room and awake with quiet activity. Circling at the feet of the walls a boardwalk of granite made an outer ring, linked to pebbled paths that made up the spokes of a giant wheel from a bird’s eye view. Within those spaces pools of dark water lay still, save for when mages stirred them to life with whispered spells. Scrying pools, particularly powerful ones.

Getting the mages to keep them manned had been difficult, since the Army of Callow was already short on spellcasters, and ultimately I’d had to draft a few competent officers then draw heavily upon the now-disbanded Guild of Hedges. Getting Masego to teach those middling sorcerers how to scry properly had been a rough conversation, but he’d ultimately conceded than an empty Observatory would rather defeat the point of raising it in the first place. The legal status of the sorcerers had been a thorny matter to handle even after they were trained. They could not part of the Army of Callow or the Legions of Terror, as Juniper was still a general in the Empress’ employ as well as my marshal and that would give Malicia a degree of influence over them. I’d not wanted to give the court any sway over them either, but placing them under my direct authority would meant the moment Hakram and I went on campaign they fell in a legal morass. I had to be careful about things like that, these days. Taking the crown had brought nearly as many complications as it had solutions. As an awkward compromise they’d been made into a guild, approved by my seal, the head of which was Masego. In his absence it was Fadila who ran things as his appointed second, with just enough independence she could do whatever needed to be done while the fact that the Observatory was the crown’s property meant Anne Kendall had enough authority to step in if things got out of hand.

I pushed aside the thoughts as I tread one of the pebbled paths to the centre of the room, where Masego awaited. A second smaller ring of granite had been laid there, but it could hardly be seen. From the dark waters grew a massive alder tree whose roots spread into every pool and whose summit rose to touch the ceiling of painted runes and night sky. There was nothing natural about it, from the overly pale bark to the almost crimson leaves. Growing from the trunk a handful of branches formed a structure halfway between a bed and a seat, and before it a depression in the trunk made room for an item pulsing with power. It didn’t look like much to the naked eye, a wide bowl of baked clay whose supports were shaped like men and devils supporting the rim. It’d taken Archer the better part of a month to find it and get it out of the ruins of Liesse, but I’d never seriously considered leaving the scrying artefact of the Sahelians among the wreck no matter the difficulties. Once Akua’s discreet trump card, it was now the heart of the Observatory. In the wooden seat before it, Masego was laying down and looking half-asleep. I could see his pupils moving beneath the black eyecloth, but aside from that Hierophant was eerily still.

He’d lost weight again, I saw as I got closer. Even now that Fadila was under strict instructions to make sure he ate he still spent most hours of the days and night in that seat and rarely moved unless he was forced to. I almost hesitated to touch him, for he tended to be confused for a bit when wrenched out of his scrying. The decision was made for me, in the end. The branches above rustled, and someone casually tossed a sloppily sculpted wooden duck at his forehead. He wrenched back to Creation with a yelp as Archer emerged from the foliage dangling upside down.

“Evening, Cat,” she grinned. “Congratulations, you’re getting invaded.”

I considered this, then smiled back.

“Evening, Indrani,” I said, and wrenched her down to splash noisily in a pool.

Eyes turning to Masego, who looked only half-here even now, I sighed.

“Tell me everything,” I ordered.

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88 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Observatory

      1. letouriste

        killing hitler is a bad idea anyway, what he and his crownies did,others would have done too.they set a precedent and humanity got a little better as a result…maybe.

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            1. N/A

              Nah, Stalin didn’t actually kill as many people as Hitler. Probably crippled a lot more, but the gulags were legitimately work camps, not death camps.

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              1. Hitler racked up 6-10 million deaths, Stalin killed as many as Hitler did in 1932-33 alone during what is called the Holdomor. He racked up another 30 million minimum between the dissidents, the German prisoners they never returned to Germany after the war and forcing out people of German descent from Eastern European countries. Most credible historians range the total number of deaths under Stalin from between 25 – 60 million placing him as number two on the all time mass murder list only behind Mao.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. TeK

                  Highly offtopic, but Holodomor was a starvation that occured on most of USSR territory, for legitimate and natural reasons. Also, blaming one person for all of this is stupid. Also also, the count ranges from 8 millions to 61. Also also also, can we all please stop?

                  Liked by 1 person

          1. letouriste

            never heard of the hitler paradoxe? you can’t kill him or everything is destroyed, the man is too important in our history=> every person in the world right now has been at least a little influenced by him (indirectly).
            also,this is not a matter of how many people died^^ but more of why they have been killed and how.
            i agree staline was no better though

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        1. Personally, I think it would be a bad idea because I consider it possible that he would be replaced by someone who would harness the anger and frustration of the German people as effectively and then not prove to be such an inept warleader. Not saying it was a guarantee or even super likely, but people like Hitler get ignored or treated in a functional and happy society, and for all that WWII was horrific it only killed about 2% of the world population and the survivors didn’t end up ruled by a world-spanning tyrrany. Even a small chance of an actual victory for Hitler doesn’t seem acceptable to me in exchange for possibly preventing WWII from happening at all. Especially since without the lessons of WWII it’s possible that preventing it would still just lead to an even more horrific war a few decades down the line.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. If lots of Jews went back in time to try to kill Hitler (and all failed because of paradoxes and such), then from Hitler’s perspective, Jews have been trying to kill him since his birth, and suddenly the Holocaust seems like a pretty reasonable reaction…

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      3. Amoonymous

        I’d be too afraid to change history to go back in time. I’d save up as much money as I could, throw it in as long term/high interest assets as possible, then jump into the future.

        Not to mention, like you said, all the novel updates.

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    1. Rook

      Although, half the desperation seems to be patching the country back together while the other half is desperation to get away from the ink and bureaucracy. A problem that’s solvable by shoving steel into it until it stops moving is probably a welcome diversion at this point, especially considering most of the time skip was spent trying to forge callow into said sharp piece of steel.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. To me. She is still Cat. Her view point has not changed. She just got where she wanted to be decades ahead of where she had planned. And two orders of magnitude more powerful than when she began. But she is still the smart, doing what is necessary, pit fighter from the first.

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  1. Highwayman

    Good touch with the issue of money, EE; really drives it home that Callow is on shaky ground. All the Tower has to do to wreck them is it print more cash, slowly squeezing Callow with increasing interest rates and inflation. Yay to macroeconomics! *grumbles*

    Liked by 6 people

    1. JackbeThimble

      I’m not sure how realistic this is. Prior to the widespread adoption of paper money the value of coinage would mostly have been based on the metal content rather than the backing of a government. I’m not an expert but most of what I’ve read indicates that medieval traders probably didn’t care very much about the provenance of their coinage.

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      1. The issue is that one side has reserves of gold and precious gems for a rainy day, while the other is already minting coin at its maximum capacity to overtake the markets. If Empress starts changing the amount of gold in her coinage now, she can shake everyone else something fierce.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. Hombre del Sur

            To remint it, you still need to own it. Hence the problem of having to aquire it first, which also costs money that they don’t have yet.

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            1. You could always do what “ancient” England did. All coins have a date stamped on them and are only good for three years. All coins could only be reminted at licensed “minting stations” (I don’t remember the name, but I believe they had three gold balls above the door). Out of every 10 coins reminted, 1 was sent on to the king — this was how taxes were collected. If a goldsmith was ever found to be shaving coins or cheating the king, the goldsmith’s arm was taken and the license to remint was lost.

              Something like this would turn “your coins” into “my coins” by the value of the metal, and if they aren’t going by the value of the coin anyway then someone could melt down one set into the other type and make the arbitrage value, so it’s best to go by the metal value anyway.

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          2. Except that the Empress would consider that war. While the story is set in sword based combat that evokes the middle ages, the political aspects are not middle age. Remember the Tower has been around for thousands of years something no IRL kingdom or empire ever enjoyed, not even in China. They have learned a thing or two over that span and if just buying up their coin gets the Empress coming down on you, just imagine what happens when just start melting it down and re-minting it. Oh btw yes the country it does come from matter, because a country that is sound will not debase the coin and this was lightly touched on in the Prologue from Monday . If you go back and re-read it where the Stalwart Paladin was buying supplies the cost was based on the which country’s coin it was, especially since the merchant didn’t have a scale to weight the coins.

            He was paying with silver fidi from Mercantis, one of the few coins no merchant in Calernia refused, and he was not certain how it compared to Imperial coinage. The merchant’s smiling admission he had no scale to compare the weights did little to inspire trust…

            Not a mintage he recognized, Iason noted. It could be worthless for all he knew.

            “Don’t look at me like that, son,” the merchant snorted. “That’s from the Royal Mint in Marchford, not Harrow trash like everyone else is trying to offload. Call it my kindness of the day.”

            https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2018/04/09/prologue-4/

            As can be logically deduced from those paragraphs, debasing currency is not unheard of and in day to day transactions not everyone is going to be running around with scales and carrying their own set of weights to compare with. Never trust the other guys weights they are easy to fake, you have to have your own known good set to compare to his. With that being the case the reputation of the mint it comes from is your only source of how sound the coin is as seen in the quote.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Big Brother

    ArcherxHeirophant is still my favorite ship in this story. They work so well together, even if they bicker a lot.
    (I’m still hoping for Akua to become Cat’s next follower, bound by Masego to some manner of construct designed by Pickler. Maybe something humanoid if she’s lucky.)

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    1. If you read the last few chapters closely, you will find that Akua has been bound into the collar of Catherine’s murder cloak. Now known as the Cloak of Woe. The ramifications and uses of this are so far unclear, but she was at the very least on hand for the most recent “Catherine tells angels to shove it” debacle.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Big Brother

        I am aware of this. Cat had Hakram sew Akua’s soul into the cloak after the events of Liesse. I’m just sitting here hoping she makes some sort of comeback.

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            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              Right idea, but we need a proper stand name Since somehow “in Dread Crowned” is not a name of a western band or song that I can find, I’d propose based on her power’s sphere of influence we name her 「Beyond Creation」

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  3. So this is the way that Cat keeps Heroes out of Callow. Interesting. Does Masego basically have a birds-eye view over all of Callow while he’s sitting in that spot? It would certainly explain his lack of eating recently. This Observatory is pretty sweet, though. Forget needing the army of spies – with an artifact capable of peering through dimensions, I’d be shocked if anywhere in Calernia was beyond Hierophant’s gaze. I do worry about what that might do to his health, though . . .

    Liked by 3 people

        1. grzecho2222

          Black: Are you a real viilain?
          Cat: Well technically…
          Black: Have you ever killed a Good guy, like a real Hero?
          Hakram: “Shakes head”
          Black: Have you ever tried a disguse?
          Masego: Nah…
          Black: O right. I can see that I will have to teach you how to be villains!
          Woe: We are Villians!
          Hanno: “Does cartwheel in background”

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  4. Well, there’s some good news for Catherine. The Stairway is directly facing the lands of the two problematic nobles which have given her so much problems lately…a Proceran invasion on their door is a certain way to tell them they should better obey her royal orders. Unfortunately, them not having many men to Legion standards is guaranteed to screw Callow somewhat…

    The restored kingdom has big money problems, this is not a surprise. At least the Empress subsidies meant they had the money to rebuild the kingdom…but now they’re deeply in the Tower’s debt.
    I wonder if most of the Procer Princes have considered this little problem. Should they triumph, the Principate will have to invest huge sums of silver in the economy if they want to administer the region…

    And of course there’s the revelation of the Observatory – aka the anti-hero’s device – and the revelation the invasion has begun. We have the confirmation the Dread Empress and Black have certainly noy warned the Woe of the onslaught coming this way…now the big question is what forces Callow has which can answer in time.

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      1. Rook

        Well if the stairway interlude was any indication they care a hell of a lot about looting it at least. That’s a pretty major problem when your economy is about as healthy as a skydiver that had their parachute fail

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  5. nick012000

    Fixing the money problem is easy. Seize the Praesi coin in exchange for issuing government debt, melt down the coins, cast the metal into Callowan coins in her new mint, then use the shiny new Callowan coins to pay off the debt she got buying them in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. TeK

      Coins should cost more than their metal, should they not? If denarii cost more then you’ll be losing whatever difference there is in cost, plus as you seize more coin, the deflation kicks in, and you end up with empty coffers. Or am I missing something? The new coin will be nowhere as reliable as praesi one, given that they got trade only with praesi now, and Tower can easilly flood the markets with now highly valued coin again, putting situation to relatively same position, except you are broke and your coins worth shit. I really don’t know economics, so would like a heads up.

      Like

  6. Gunslinger

    You speak so queenly, these days,” >Ratface grinned. “I haven’t seen you spit on the ground in months.”

    “Yeah, well, I own all the carpets now,” I muttered

    I love this series

    Liked by 6 people

  7. naturalnuke

    “and followed three full steps behind me a little to the left.“

    Omg being a minion has proper etiquette, that’s villain posse position right there.

    Like

      1. Snowfire1224

        Yes, but it’s possible, and would be smart of her, to not use aspects unless she absolutely needs to, that way no one knows what her aspects are.

        Like

  8. a23fG6e123

    “You speak so queenly, these days,” Ratface grinned. “I haven’t seen you spit on the ground in months.”

    “Yeah, well, I own all the carpets now,” I muttered.

    Priceless. And here I go cleaning my screen again.

    Like

    1. SilentLurker

      That is incorrect. Proper grammar requires the addition of “be” after “not”, instead of after “could”.
      In other words it should read, “They could not be part of the Army of Callow or the Legions of Terror”.

      Like

  9. Reveen

    I’d had the richly-panelled room furnished more to my tastes – which largely meant removing all the more ostentatious stuff and filling the new liquor cabinet to the brim

    What the fuck are you doing? STOP!

    You’ve gone from wine and now this… Muthafucka I’m not a teetotaler but you’ve been drinking two years tops and you’re already at the point where people need to keep you isolated from flammable objects.

    Like, this had better be a subplot of how bad an idea regular drinking is or the writer is seriously fucking naive.

    Like

    1. Digitize27

      She’s a Named, different standards apply. They basically can’t get ill/die via normal means, and villainous Named don’t even age. Cat can drink as much as she likes, and as long as it doesn’t become narratively relevant (See: Wandering Bard) it will never negatively impact her.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. TeK

        Actually Named can get drunk, earlier chapters imply as much. I think the truth is burried somewhere along the fact that Cat is not a human.

        Like

        1. Metrux

          Drunk, yes, but it is alot harder than with common man, and she can burn a little juice to take all the alcohol (and most poisons) out of her body, remember that Black teached that? So, in truth, compulsory drinking will only bring problems to her, or any Named who knows what he is doing, if the let it or if the Story has a place for it.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. TeK

            Well, it’s still shows that she is under much stress with all this governing, she goes further and further into drug abuse. Alcohol, wakeleaf, I shudder to think what next.

            Like

      2. Reveen

        Negatively impact her? Like spending an entire day getting shitfaced on wine alone in her tent instead of dealing with a bad situation? Because that was her first response to the trashfire at Liesse. Drinking isn’t just a matter of health of physical addiction, but of bad habits and self medication. That she responds to stress and bad situations by reaching for a bottle is not a good sign even if it doesn’t really effect her because it says bad things about her priorities, her sense of responsibility, and her vulnerability to indulgences.

        Like

    2. Keep her isolated from flammable objects? “Ostentatious” doesn’t mean flammable. They removed all the gold-covered and lacy frilly things. They made her room more Spartan. And if that wasn’t what you were referring to then you quoted the wrong part.

      Like

      1. Anastas

        I don’t think that was a misinterpretation of the word “ostentatious”; I think it was a hyperbolic joke about Catherine’s blood and breath now containing so much alcohol that she’s become an enormous fire hazard.

        Like

    3. First strike.

      You’ve been walking the line of flaming and trolling for a while now, and that one was over it. Be civil or don’t comment. I’m honestly puzzled as to why you keep reading a story you’ve been quite vocal about despising, considering there’s quite literally hundreds of other free access works out there.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m most curious about the trip Thief took to meet Cordelia. There has to be a play there – Callow is still being invaded, so what did Cat negotiate for?

    Like

  11. Feel like I should point out something,
    Someone mentioned awhile back that Cat essentially only had Fall as a sort-of Aspect now. Which was claimed to be more about her Fae title/magic than Named stuff.

    One, when Ratface called Catherine by name, Cat’s PoV stated “If I hadn’t been Named, I wouldn’t have noticed the slight crease in (Anne Kendell, I forget what part or how she actually used Anne’s name) brow.” So, Cat herself still at least believes she’s Named in some way.

    Two, when Cat confronted Akua, her PoV said “I had no Aspect left but one, and that one had gone far beyond what an Aspect should be.” Then Akua used *Call* and the result after Cat responded/countered was:

    “A bundle of power inside her unfolded under my patient eye and I flicked my wrist. Ice spread through it, cracks spreading as she flinched. Ah, I thought. Devoured but not gone. The corpse of her aspect I took for my own, let the winds and the snow bury it. It would await my purposes there.”

    *Fall* has completely INCORPORATED *Take* into itself. Which makes complete sense, given the nature of Winter and the narrative of Winter. The hunger of Winter always lead them to take, and take roughly from Summer, which had always lead to Summer reacting violently to the taking. As the last true scion of Winter, to Take is basically Cat’s inherent “right” in a story sense.

    I think this also relates to what Cat said to the Angels of the Choir of Endurance concerning the Stalwart Paladin. About his having been “CLAIMED fair and square.” Supporting this IMHO is the fact that while Cat drove a knife into his belly, she drove a spike of frost into his skull to kill him. With the knife already in hand, why change to a weapon made of her power for the deathblow when she could as easily have driven a blade through the Paladin’s forehead with her Fae strength?

    I believe that something of power was taken from the dying/dead Paladin in that moment. Either, as others have speculated, that Cat is going all Dead King and it’s essentially a powerful “echo” of the Paladin himself in his dead entirety buried beneath the ice and snow to await Cat’s purposes…OR, Cat was essentially doing an upgraded version of what she’d once done to the Lone Swordsman and her Fall-Take essentially scooped out the Aspect she felt like devouring as the Stalwart Paladin’s Name left his dying body.

    Ultimately, whatever Cat’s Named-status, Fall and the rest of Cat’s Winter power is at least as varied as the three Aspects of a conventional Hero or Villain.

    Personally, I hope Cat snagged the Stalwart Paladin’s *Discern.* It would make such beautiful narrative. The Paladin had only developed Discern moments before falling, due to the pressure he was experiencing. Providence/The Heavens had tried to cheat as they always do with a last-second power-up for the Hero to try and eke out a win for Stupid Good. Only to have the 2.0 version of Practical Evil defile and devour their power-up, and repurpose it to serve Cat’s cause.

    As for the Stairway, we’ve finally seen an example of the Augur not being 100% accurate. Wasn’t the Stairway gambit supposed to go undetected according to that Named?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think it was as simple as incorporating Take into her Winter powers. The domain, previously activated by Fall, is still here, and changing Names hopefully means that it will evolve (my bet is that it will remain a moonless night, but will gain stars to represent the people she has to protect in her duties as the Queen of Callow).

      But the devouring of Call may just be a thing related to her high rank as a Winter fae. Remember, fairies can make objects out of people’s souls, like the invitation to Skade in the extra chapter Fletched, or the barrier in the citadel of Dormer. Given that she’s now a queen forged of Winter, she may have made the absolute ownership that this Aspect used to grant a part of her authority over her otherworldly subjects.

      Like

      1. Blue

        Great to see this story back.
        Catherine is essentially Fae now and she offered the heroes a deal when they entered her domain. A deal they rejected, which I assume has all sorts of consequences for them related to ‘claim’.
        I have a feeling anyone entering Callow is going to be subject to consequences given it is now the domain of the Winter Queen.

        Like

  12. SilentLurker

    “Were I not Named, I might never have noticed the slight crease on the Governess-General’s brow when she heard Ratface refer to me by my given name.”

    Is this authorial confirmation that Cat has a new Name, Erraticerrata? It was never made clear, and while we have seen people refer to her as Named still, what that is if it exists hasn’t been said.

    Like

      1. SilentLurker

        “Were I not Named, I”
        I am referencing this part which is from Cat’s perspective. See the capitalization of Named, not just her having a name but a Name.

        Like

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