Chapter 7: Snares

“Petty thieves hang, the great wear crowns.”
– Proceran saying

“We’re being baited,” Juniper announced.

We’d cut loose the general staff for this particular meeting, at my insistence. The Arcadian Campaign had taught me that while the broader officer councils had their uses they also devoured time and focus that would be better spent on other matters. The Hellhound was my Marshal of Callow now, she had the clout to run those however she liked without my being at the table to back her up. There were advantages to formal rank and not leading an awkward coalition I had only nominal authority over. Only the bare bones of a council were in attendance, the people that would have direct relevance, and that meant three aside from me: Juniper herself, Thief and Grandmaster Talbot. I preferred to cut that latter out of these little evenings when it came to politics, but on campaign was a different beast. I could not have the head of my horse ignorant of the larger realities at work.

“That’s the theory, anyway,” Thief hedged. “There’s a few unprovable assumptions at work.”

“May I assume we are speaking of the Proceran vanguard?” Brandon Talbot asked.

“We are,” I confirmed. “The report you haven’t gotten to read yet states that, as of midmorning, five thousand Proceran horse has invested Harrow.”

The Grandmaster’s eyes narrowed. We’d given ground to the crusaders knowing they would take or pass through the city on their way south, but Talbot was a clever sort. He’d noticed, as the rest of us had, what the reports didn’t mention. Which was anything but a detachment of horse sent far ahead of the still-lumbering Proceran army.

“The Jacks could not get into the city itself, mind you,” Vivienne said. “But I had knots of people out in the country and they say the riders came alone. The crusader army is at least two days behind.”

Talbot smiled ruefully.

“Five thousand light horse,” he said. “We have number parity with the Order, and the strength of the Woe and the Hunt besides. Should we play it carefully, we could wipe out a significant part of their cavalry before it comes to a pitched battle.”

“We’re being baited,” Juniper repeated.

“Too good to be true, isn’t?” I agreed darkly. “I think we need to reassess how much of a threat Princess Malanza actually is. I didn’t expect that kind of sophistication from a Proceran commander, given the nature of the trap.”

The Principate was famous for rarely fielding Named, unlike Praes and Callow who usually had at least a handful on each side when the blades came out. And while it was an assumption, like Thief had reminded us, I was willing to put hand to flame that if we gated into Harrow we’d be walking straight into a carefully arranged heroic kill zone.

“Assuming this is her notion,” Talbot frowned.

“It’s not Milenan,” I said. “We know exactly what he’s up to, as it happens.”

The Grandmaster raised an inquisitive eyebrow, though he knew better than to request information he might not be cleared to know. I cast a look at Vivienne and nodded.

“Prince Amadis Milenan had a previously unknown agent within Hedges,” she said. “We know that now, because this morning the woman attempted to discretely get in touch with Baron Darlington.”

Talbot grit his teeth.

“He always did fancy himself ruler of the north,” the aristocrat unkindly said.

“We allowed it to happen,” Thief said. “While watching, of course, but we wanted to know exactly what he was after.”

“Land,” I bluntly said. “Land is what he’s after, as it turns out. Prince Milenan is already gathering support for the divvying up of Callow, and he seems to believe Darlington is the key to the north.”

“The man’s making a lot of promises, for someone without a field victory to his name,” Juniper growled.

Brandon Talbot, for all that his meddling got on my nerves, was not slow-witted. He understood what we were driving at without need for an explicit statement.

“Darlington’s been promised the north as his own principality under the First Prince,” he deduced, visibly appalled.

“Mostly right,” Vivienne said. “There’s a prior change of throne involved in that promise coming true. Amadis is a little more openly ambitious than we’d previously assumed.”

And he was gathering allies for his bid. I’d let Talbot into the loop for the Darlington play, but for now there was no need to tell him that Prince Milenan was also sending men towards the Silver Lake as quickly as they could ride. The Observatory had picked them out two days ago, and I agreed with Thief’s assessment of their ultimate destination: Daoine. The crusaders were trying to get Duchess Kegan on their side before moving south. I could see why he’d assume there was room to negotiate there: the last time Callow had come under Proceran occupation, the Duchy of Daoine had remained out of the fray in exchange for concessions and effective independence. They’d even fielded armies alongside Procer’s, when the Empire began the Sixty Years War by trying to invade occupied Callow. Both Praes and the Old Kingdom had come out of that ruinous war on the brink of collapse, but Daoine had gotten off light. It always did. House Ismail had a well-earned reputation for knowing when to strike its banners and cut its losses. Unfortunately for Milenan, I’d cut a deal there long before he’d thought of opening negotiations.

“Regardless of all that, I think we can safely discard the possibility that the crusaders don’t know about the fairy gates and the Hunt,” I said. “The trap doesn’t work otherwise.”

Without cutting through Arcadia, it would take my men weeks to get close enough to Harrow for a battle. Long after the rest of the crusader army caught up to the vanguard.

“And that puts a lot of their behaviour up until now in question,” Juniper grunted. “I’m having a hard time reconciling a general clever enough for this kind of snare and one who’d willingly take her army through a bottleneck – especially one she knows we might have been able to seize the end of.”

To be frank, trying to hold a narrow pass against a company of heroes would have been godsdamned ugly work. But I had the Named and the trump cards to be able to make a solid try at it, and if we did manage to hold then the entire invasion plan collapsed. Which meant, most likely, that we’d missed something.

“If this trap is not Malanza’s own notion,” Talbot tried. “Then your estimation of her competence might be…”

“Believe me,” I interrupted quietly. “I’d love to have an idiot in charge on the other side. But that’s genuinely not feasible, not with Hasenbach running the show in Procer. She doesn’t want this army to do too well, but she’s still banking on a victory. That means whoever holds the reins of the soldiers knows what they’re doing.”

“Without alleging incompetence, the information they’re using might be imperfect,” Thief said. “There’s not a lot of reliable witnesses outside our most loyal for how quickly we can move through gates. She might have been under the impression that even by Arcadia you wouldn’t be able to arrive in time to hold the pass.”

“If we’re lucky, that’s the case,” Juniper said.

“If we’re not – and let’s be honest, when have we been that lucky? – I think we have to proceed under the assumption that they’re sitting on something that would have blown us away at the pass,” I said.

“Proceran sorcery is nothing like the Wasteland’s,” Talbot said.

“Sorcery is the least of our troubles,” I said. “This is a crusade. The Choirs aren’t shy about stacking the deck even when it’s just skirmishes between Named. For something of this magnitude they’ll have taken out the good silver.”

That saw grim looks bloom across the table, with good reason. No one had forgotten the kind of threat the Lone Swordsman had been able to cause in Liesse with just a few days and a singe angelic feather. And Masego tells me Contrition isn’t exactly head of the pack when it comes to the Choirs, I thought. If Judgement or Mercy gets involved, this will be a whole lot nastier.

“It goes without saying we have to reassess a lot of our engagement doctrine,” Juniper announced bluntly. “Which is why I think we need to dust off Headsman.”

“It’s not going to look good abroad if we pull the trigger on that,” I grimaced.

“I made it clear when we killed the plan that I considered it a measured and reasonable response,” Talbot noted. “The Dread Empire has signed no treaties barring the targeting of officers, and while the Principate has they’ve never enforced the terms unless it suited them.”

“If we want a seat at the table by the end of this, people, we can’t act like Praes,” I reminded them. “There’s a reason we didn’t spend the last year scrabbling for every destructive artefact and ritual we could get our hands on. We start using shit like the Dark Days protocols and the only peace we’re getting is after one side has been pounded into dust.”

“No one’s dumping alchemy into rivers,” the Hellhound said. “We’re talking two hundred dead at most, including projected collaterals.”

“We made those projections before we knew how many heroes there’d be on the other side,” I pointed out. “I’m not refusing out of hand, Juniper, but if we start using assassination campaigns then we get a reputation that might cost us more in the long term than we gain in the short term.”

“If you have another way to shake them before battle, I’m listening,” she said. “Look, I don’t give a damn about the politics of this. I’ll own that. But I think the hole we fall in if we lose is a lot deeper than the one we dig with Headsman.”

She wasn’t wrong about that, even if I didn’t like it. Hasenbach would have absolutely no interest in negotiating the kind of peace I was after if she had me on the ropes.

“Talk with Kegan,” I finally said. “She was never eager, and it’s not a given she’ll still be willing. There’s risks involved for her people. If she agrees, though, start laying the groundwork. But we’re not going through with it until I give the word.”

“Chances of success improve significantly if we don’t wait,” Thief said, tone mild. “Especially given the amount of heroes they’ve got floating around.”

“It also kills every other option than pitched battle to get the crusaders out of Callow,” I flatly replied. “I’m not committing to that unless I have no other choice.”

“As you say,” Vivienne shrugged. “That still leaves our little problem in Harrow.”

“I realize we’re dealing with a trap,” Talbot said. “That said, Your Majesty, if we don’t thin their horse soon we’re going to have trouble.”

I raised an eyebrow at Juniper in silent invitation.

“He’s right,” she admitted. “If Malanza moves against us with the meat of her host and peels off a few thousand horsemen just before, the only assets we have to check them are assets we’re going to need in that battle.”

“What kind of damage are we looking at?” I grimaced.

“If Darlington flips, or even just stays out of the way, they’ve got free rein until Southpool,” the Hellhound said. “If they move quick enough, they could possibly hit central Callow before Adjutant manages to force a battle. Our forces just aren’t deployed to block raiding parties coming from up north. Even if I pull the garrison from Vale tonight, there’s no guarantee it’ll get there in time.”

“We have watchers on Darlington,” I told her. “He’s not changing sides anytime soon.”

“I understand we are worrying about the devastation the riders could cause in the countryside,” Talbot said slowly. “Yet it occurs to me there is another possible target for a detachment. The Red Flower Vales.”

I almost dismissed him out of hand. A few thousand horse wasn’t going to worry Black in the slightest, considering the kind of forces he had at hand. On the other hand, what if they didn’t fight Black?

“The supply lines,” I said.

“It would be risky,” the Grandmaster said. “Hostile territory, and they’ll be within our scrying net – though they might not know about that yet, at least not for certain. But the Carrion Lord is already heavily outnumbered, Your Majesty. Can he afford to detach the men to keep his supply lines clear?”

“He’s been stacking food, munitions and steel for almost a year now,” I said, but it was half-hearted.

“We lose the Vales, our entire defence collapses,” Juniper said. “We have contingencies in case they lose, Catherine, but none of them involved fighting up here at the same time. None of us saw the passage coming.”

Shit. I hadn’t thought of that. Which was exactly the point of these councils, I supposed.

“Juniper, I know this is a lot to ask but I need…”

“You need me to get close enough that if this is Malanza’s intent she will send off the horse, then avoid battle until you’ve dealt with the threat,” the orc said.

“Is it possible?” I asked.

“You did not appoint me Marshal of Callow because I look good in furs,” the Hellhound grinned, slow and savage. “You will have the margin you need.”

I’d made a few good decisions, over the years, but none that’d paid off quite as much as offering her that draw back at the War College. I smiled gratefully at her, not that she seemed particularly moved by that gratitude.

“There is one last matter to address,” Vivienne said.

I nodded.

“Prince Milenan attempted to arrange a meeting with Baron Darlington through his envoy,” I said. “That means I’ll be away from the army for a while.”

“I don’t follow,” Talbot frowned.

“He wants to talk to a Callowan?” I smiled thinly. “Well, he’s going to get his wish. It’s about time we had a closer look at the opposition.”

It took three weeks for the meeting to become feasible. Three weeks where we watched the crusader host slowly move south, camp at Harrow for a few days and then resuming the march when it become clear my own army wouldn’t march to meet it. They were still at least a month of march away from Hedges, at their current pace, but we wouldn’t be letting them get that deep into Callow unchallenged. The border between the baronies was the battlefield Juniper had picked, and I’d seen no reason to gainsay her on that.  We had scouts out on the green to find us the kind of field that would best play up our advantages, but for now the location was still in the air. It’d been tempting to grab and interrogate Prince Milenan’s envoy, for a plethora of reasons. The strongest among them that if Milenan hadn’t known about the pass – and we were reasonably sure he hadn’t – then he’d sent that envoy months ago and trusted her judgement enough she would have been able to negotiate in his name without being in contact afterwards. Plenipotentiary authority was not something Procerans gave lightly, and she would have been a treasure trove of information. But that would have been giving the game too early, so instead Baron Henry Darlington was given strict instructions and arranged the meeting where and when I wanted it.

He wasn’t going himself, of course. The envoy had not requested as much, understanding that with my army camped outside his city his absence would not go unnoticed. Instead he’d sent his nephew, an anointed knight who stood fourth in the line of succession for Hedges and was young enough to be unmarried. The other diplomats were people Thief had gauged we had enough leverage over they wouldn’t speak up, including a small escort. Of which I was part, riding a still-living horse for the first time in quite a while. The possibility of heroic presence had meant it was necessary for me to take some additional precautions, but those wouldn’t come out of the woodworks unless blades left the scabbard. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that. We were fewer than twenty all in all, and dawn found us out in the wet plains waiting for the other side to arrive. The nephew – Julian Darlington – had insisted we get a fire started for cooking before the Procerans came and I’d declined to speak against it.

I sat on a hollow log I’d dragged by the fire, surrounded by men too visibly scared of me to attempt conversation. I didn’t particularly mind, since I was in not in a talkative mood myself. Milenan’s envoys arrived half a bell later, riding in on tall steeds. I raised an eyebrow at the Darlington nephew and he hurried to raise the truce banner as we all got to our feet. The anointed knight stood behind a pair of guards but positioned himself clearly as the leader for our side while the Procerans approached. I watched them as discretely as I could. The one in the gilded armour seemed in charge, and from the looks of his nose I could guess why. The Jacks had gotten their hands on a few sketches of Amadis Milenan’s likeness, and the resemblance was noticeable. A kinsman, then. The Prince of Iserre was taking this seriously. Most the others were soldiers, with only one woman bearing a scrivener’s kit over her back. Only one man wore entirely unadorned clothes, a loose grey robe that seemed almost a priest’s garment. I kept my face schooled into mild boredom.

If that wasn’t the Grey Pilgrim, I’d eat my hand.

Julian Darlington greeted them warily, and was answered by the man who confirmed himself to be highborn – and a Milenan, too. Likely a cousin or a close branch family. Elaborate courtesies were offered by the Proceran side while the Callowans offered stilted greetings in return. It wasn’t long before they got to the meat of the meeting, as I suspected neither of them were comfortable speaking in the open like this. The Proceran envoy and Darlington strode off away from the rest, standing side by side and speaking in low voices. No matter. I could hear them well enough from where I was, back sitting on the log as the soldiers all stood down.

“-the duty of all children of the Heavens to deliver their fellows from the tyranny of the Tower’s get, of course. Still, there are practical necessities to be addressed.”

“May I?”

The Grey Pilgrim stood before me, hand gesturing at the log.

“By all means,” I replied.

Did he know? It shouldn’t be the case. I was wearing leathers and mail with a Callowan-forged longsword, nothing out of the ordinary for a retainer. And without drawing on Winter or him actively looking for it, he shouldn’t be able to tell I bore a mantle. Assuming he didn’t have some sort of trick that allowed him to see through those things, anyway. Something I was less certain of by the moment. The old man gingerly sat at my side, warming his hands by the fire. It was my first time seeing a Levantine, and I had to admit they really did look like the cousins of Taghreb. This one was darker in skin, though, his face tanned and leathery. But the limpid blue eyes were sharp, and for someone as old as he allegedly was he displayed surprising vitality. The few tufts of white hair on his head made a makeshift crown, but his face was either hairless or very closely shaved.

“Nothing quite like a fire on a cool morning, is there?” he sighed.

“One of the little pleasures in life,” I agreed.

Or it had been, before Second Liesse. Nowadays neither heat nor cold made much of a difference.

“The truce banner,” the Grey Pilgrim said mildly. “Is it genuine?”

My fingers clenched. So much for being unnoticed. And he’s distracting me from overhearing what his people are saying to mine. I’d have to let that go, irritating as it was. This was the more important conversion of the two.

“It holds,” I said.

“There have been rumours you care little for such arrangements,” he noted.

I grimaced. Three Hills, when I’d had the Exiled Prince shot.

“I was younger, then,” I said. “And no banner was raised.”

He hummed, and did not disagree.

“Then your friends in Arcadia will not be joining us?” he politely asked.

Well, shit. So much for that remaining quiet.

“No unless that is made necessary,” I replied.

“It won’t,” the Grey Pilgrim said, with bedrock certainty. “Shall we have a talk then, Catherine Foundling?”

My eyes narrowed.

“We’re about due,” I agreed.

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86 thoughts on “Chapter 7: Snares

  1. Antoninjohn

    It’s not evil to burn cities to the ground and kill all the people in the country if it is self defense, after all your action to protect against those who would not accept peace

    Liked by 1 person

    1. . . . nope. That’s textbook evil in the form of Disproportionate Retribution. The nonevil act would be to defend your borders and hit them hard with truce terms that will keep them pretty economically crippled for a few decades when you’ve driven them back into their own lands.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Decius

        It’s not evil to starve the residents of the cities through economic damage while leaving the people who made the decisions in power. As a bonus, the cities are intact when your merchants buy them in a generation.

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        1. Rook

          I feel the line of capital E – Evil for that type of situation is drawn where you punish a populace for the crimes of their leaders. Practicality aside, there is a vast world of difference between acting directly against your opponents – violently or otherwise – versus harming third parties as a tool to indirectly affect your opponents.

          Not to mention, there’s way way too much parallel with the kind of methodology Heir and Heiress were using previously to be of any comfort. Genocide by zombificaton or starvation is still genocide, and it’s more than a small line to cross to start appropriating tactics that you previously abhorred so much that the last person to do so had their soul sown into your cloak as punishment.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. The point of said economically crippling truce terms would be to make sure that they can’t shell out the funds to raise another army before you’ve had a chance to recover and repair your own country. It’s NOT to starve the populace, just make money tight enough that it goes towards things like food instead of soldiers. Even the biggest army can’t do anything if it can’t eat.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. The thing about economies is that they’re kind of important to surviving–let alone living well– in a society. Cripple an economy and you have just personally directly wronged every member of the relevant society. The balance you describe striking is a delicate, tenuous one, and I’ve very little confidence that anyone could do it reliably.

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            2. Decius

              You have to make there not be enough food to go around before the army can’t afford food.
              You have to make there not be enough metal or smiths to go around before the army can’t afford swords.
              Those things cause poor civilians to starve or be unable to afford plows BEFORE they cause the army to be unable to eat or get swords.

              The fact that it’s a means and not an end matters to those who need justifications.

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          2. Decius

            When the fight is between nobles over who will claim the crown, it doesn’t make sense for the victor to massacre the serfs of the loser.

            When the fight is social and not personal, like “Will the wasteland have a secure food supply or will Callow be independent?”, the political goal might involve reducing the civilian population.

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          3. Vortex

            Where do you think the leaders get their army, food, and weapons? Does it magically fit rain down from the sky? Of course not, it comes from their populace. If you want to punish a leader yet you do not control their populace, another threat will pop out in a few years and come at you again.

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        2. nipi

          Good and Evil are points of view. The gods points of view. Wonder if the gods in this story have disagreements over what is or isnt good/evil?

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        3. Fern

          From what I can tell about PGE’s morality so far:

          Stupid Good is all about being right because you’re right. See: Shining Prince, (implied) Good King Edward, WIlliam, etc. The /morality/ of your choices doesn’t matter so much because you’re fighting for the Gods Above, and as long as your fighting Evil it doesn’t really matter what ethical lines you cross. Naturally, this also means Stupid Good stands for the status quo. After all, if the only people who try to make changes are Evil, why bother rocking the boat? Unless that change is putting a Good polity back into power, of course.

          Practical Good is all about actual morality, and using smart methods to make life better for everyone, see my good bitch First Prince Cordelia. She seems to be much more interested in peace than her own nation having power over others (I’m guessing that if Prince going-to-die-in-five-chapters took the throne, he’d be more interested in amassing power to strike down Evil, i.e. getting those pesky rebellious colonies back under the righteous banner of the Principiate.) Practical Good sees looming threats and hordes it’s grain, sharpens it’s swords, and uses every asset available to them to achieve lasting peace (in a show of Grand Strategy that must be rather uncommon, at least in the late-mideival Calernia.)

          Stupid Evil, as has been explained to us in-story, stands for change (you might put this under chaotic evil, but i don’t like D&D morality) and complete freedom for the great to do what they want. The logical end point of that great man theory of historiography that was popular for forever. We have a super small sample size for this – just the Dead Kingdom and Praes – but that seems to be the aim overall. Great Men/Women are Great, and therefore everything and everyone besides themselves is an asset to be used. The most successful Stupid Evil villains – Trimegistros, Triumphant, and of course Akua – are a good proof of this. Each of them had a design, and used everything around them as ruthlessly as possible to achieve their aim; whether that was dominion over death, the hells, or all of creation.

          Practical Evil is similiar to Practical Good, but they use intelligent methods to achieve their goals, instead of making life better. Of course, Practical Evil is going to make life better (when people like this take the reins of 80% of the continent, the standard of living is going to go up for everyone), but this is mainly a byproduct of them putting their plans into action in the smartest way possible. Black and Malicia, as always, represent this perfectly; Black wants stability in the realm and Mailica wants a legacy, and they both use the most ruthless cunning possible to achieve this.

          When you view PGE’s morality like this, it’s easier to see how Cat might have /started/ as Practical Good, but is now much further down the chart. Her aim at first was simply to put Callowans in control of their own lives, but has now evolved to achieving control over the whole of Callow. She stopped being Practical Good the second she stopped justifying her actions, once she decided that the only way to keep her people safe was to assume complete control.

          Of course, this isn’t even taking into consideration the Gods Above & Below, and how their machinations change the nature of the game. The Gods make Heroes that much more righteous, and Villians that much more cunning. I imagine it must be infuriating, to be forced into these roles by a literal cosmic force. Pity the characters dancing for our amusement, I guess.

          MAN I really like how complicated this shit gets when you think about it, can you tell?

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Those last lines sent a chill down my spine. Well, well done. Cannot wait for the next chapter. Also feeling a bit cockblocked, because that was a particularly volatile cliffhanger to end on. As long as Catherine isn’t the one to break the truce, though, she should be fine.
    Also, Milenan is tipping his hand too soon. You don’t send your nuclear deterrent alone with the first wave of talkers. This delegation should have had at least one or two junior heroes with it, not a monster like Guideverse Gandalf.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. ______

      He implied he knew about the forces that followed through Arcadia, so he may have some kind of backup. Besides, if Catherine decides to attack, the Pilgrim will have a leg up, narratively speaking, and his presence was already known to her

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    2. “You don’t send your nuclear deterrent alone with the first wave of talkers. ”
      Why? Cat went with “the first wave of talkers” too, and if they knew that beforehand (I don’t know… maybe through that clairvoyant hero? I forgot her name, sorry) then it’s reasonable to “send a deterrent”.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Catherine went specifically to talk/get a measure of them, and specifically went incognito. I somehow doubt that Amadis sent the Grey Pilgrim for the same reason. I might be wrong, but he hasn’t seemed to be the savviest guy on the field so far.

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      2. Also, while the Augur *could* have forseen Catherine being there, I rather doubt that Amadis was in the know on that. If Cordelia were aware of him arranging this little meeting, I don’t think that she would be supporting his attempt at a coup.

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        1. Yeah, that’s true, the Augur (or Cordelia) probably wouldn’t have informed him. Well, I still have a feeling that they knew Cat would be there… but maybe it’s just some Grey Pilgrim trick that he always knows where he is needed.

          Liked by 3 people

      1. From Catherine’s perspective, yes. From Amadis’ perspective, though? All he cares about is becoming First Prince and usurping Cordelia’s position. He didn’t send The Grey Pilgrim so he could talk to incognito Queen Catherine.

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        1. Rook

          Amadis doesn’t really matter though. Fairly shrewd noble with more ambition than sense, but that’s about all he is. No particular weight in the big scheme of things or wider vision that makes him worth noting.

          The Grey Pilgrim isn’t a servant or tool of Amadis. The Grey Pilgrim was a legitimate monster while Amadis was still soiling his bedsheets. I’d bet gold to horse dung the Pilgrim has his own agenda and an entirely different set of objectives than Amadis’ petty attempt at a power grab.

          What makes him dangerous is exactly that. He’s an almost completely unknown element, who isn’t nearly as predictable as a relatively minor side character following the role of a stereotypical politically-minded antagonist.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. d_o_l

            Amadis absolutely does matter. He has more potential than anyone else to fuck up the entire crusade. He has the power to turn it from a story about a war against evil to a story about invading Callow as part of a cynical power play. If he does, the heroes are going to get absolutely demolished no matter how powerful they are.

            Liked by 5 people

          2. The Grey Pilgrim is a member of the Tenth Crusade in the army led by Prince Amadis. Yes, Amadis is predictable, and yes, his plan at a coup is petty, but he’s still absolutely a narratively important character. If he weren’t, Catherine would be able to have Archer headshot him from a mile or two away instead of being commanded by Malicia to leave him alive.
            While the Grey Pilgrim is absolutely a Hero who can probably be referred to as a force of nature, he’s still a Hero. Amadis is a slimy politician, but he’s still Good. True, the Heroes may begin ignoring Amadis later, but this early in the book, they’ll still be playing nicely and doing what the commander of the army they’re a part of says.

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            1. Metrux

              I completel disagree that they will be hearing him. Heroes, and villains aswell, in this world, are a force upon itself. Unless the Hero activel seeks to follow someone unnamed, only kings and alike can trully order them, and only inside their countries. If the Grey Pilgrim said “I’ll be going with your delegation” there is nothing Amadis could do to stop it, unless he stops the delegation itself, and even then the Grey Pilgrim could go by himself. Yes, the heroes won’t control the army or go directly against Amadis, but Amadis doesn’t have an control over them either, they are WITH the army, not IN the army, and that is a pretty big diference when it comes to Named.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Dainpdf

                Have you met Juniper? She can and will order Named around during battle, if they for some reason are her subordinates.
                Also, I don’t think First Prince is a Name.
                The thing is, these Heroes are part of the Crusade, and as such are likely to at least nominally respect the chain of command.

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        2. Decius

          The goals of the characters are made by fit the Narrative, which acts directly on the Named.

          The Narrative has in-universe powers that are acknowledged by the characters.

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    3. Trupo

      More like Guideverse Obi-Wan…

      I suspect it had less to do with Milean sending his best asset and more with Pilgrim co-opting the envoys the same way Catherine did, so two of them can meet her under radar and have a talk. He’s a force of his own, and as much talking partner for Cat as First Prince.

      Whether he did so because he *knew* that Cat is coming or just made a good guess is interesting. But, being in right place at right time seems like part of his Role.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. RoflCat

        I’m going with him knowing.

        At this point I’m really hoping the Grey (a color mixed of white and black i.e. Good and Evil) part of his name will make him become a mentor to Catherine, the latter being rather ‘grey’ herself with the makeups of the Woe and other things.

        Like

        1. Allafterme

          Well, it is more or less like that since we got 3 chapters per week. I sometimes wonder if we get 2 chapters worth of story spread among 3 chapters

          Like

  3. darkening

    I admit, I look forward to seeing the perspective of a long term, professional hero. With black killing off all the ones around we’ve only seen amateurs aside from the bard.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Rook

      Pretty exciting since this is around the caliber of ‘old monster crawling out of the woodworks to end us’ that Black was trying to avoid in his argument with Malicia about the hell gate

      When the gods damned Black Knight of all people wants to avoid fighting someone, you know they’re serious business.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If this is the caliber of hero which crawls out for a politically motivated crusade, I don’t even want to fucking imagine who would have come out to take out the Hell Gate.

        Like

  4. d_o_l

    Interesting. Next chapter should reveal a lot about how the rest of this book will go. I find it worth noting that the Grey Pilgrim came, and not the Saint of Swords. I think it’s very possible that with that many Named in the army, there are a few minor differences of opinion on the correct course of action.

    Like

    1. OmniscientQ

      No, the next chapter will be an interlude, just to screw with us.

      The part about the heroes not being entirely in sync with each other, though? Of course not. There’s no way you can get 12 Named to agree on pizza toppings, much less the proper way to execute a crusade. Just think of the three- and four-Named heroic groups we’ve seen. White Knight, Ash Princess, Champion, and Hedge Wizard would all have given different answers, and they were perhaps the most cohesive group of all. Lone Swordsman’s short-lived group was worse. The group from the prologue of this book who didn’t even exist long enough for me to remember their Names… Evil is not as monolithic as it appears to outsiders, and neither is Good. So far, these groups only function as groups because the clashing personalities defer to a leader figure.

      Huh. Look who Catherine’s talking to.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Dainpdf

      Makes sense for it to be the pilgrim. As someone else said above, being in the right place at the right time seems to be a part of his Role. Not to the same degree as the Bard, of course, but still.

      Like

    1. Metrux

      Well, I’m honestly not surprised. This is the first Hero that we get to see that isn’t an amateur or the allucinogenic Bard. He is experienced enough to know that talking is good, even if peace can’t be reached.

      Like

    2. Jonnnney

      Wandering Bard talks plenty and Thief talked to robber in Liesse.

      To your point it is the first time that a physical/magically Powerful Hero seemed willing to start with a conversation.

      Like

  5. Nairne .01

    Will he put a wedge in Cat’s resolve? Will he become the teacher of a painful lesson? Or will Cat be able to persuade him to at least step aside? Or will he turn into a disappointment like the other “heroes” i.e. a glorified butcher?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Letouriste

      That’s the question isn’t it?:)
      He give a total different feeling from Gandalf so I guess EE made a monster from scratch. That could go plenty of different ways

      Like

    2. Jonnnney

      I wonder how many of the 14 heroes he has under his wing. I could also see him either sensing the demon or, considering he’s been doing this for 60 years, he might rather have a free Callow vs a Strong Procter.

      Like

  6. Really hoping that he is more of a reasonable experienced hero. I doubt he will agree with Cat but I hope he at least listens and doesn’t reject her with bullshit hero logic but just another standpoint instead

    Like

  7. IDKWhoitis

    I have a feeling we aren’t going to see the other half of this conversation, since it might have serious implications for later on. (Think Cat’s negotiations with Malica and Winter) I have a feeling that the old mentor is too old to be tricked, but this also means he does know when he’s being bullshitted. Therefore, Cat’s deal may actually work on him or at least persuade him that she isn’t capital E evil.

    Also, I wonder if Grey was befuddled when he saw Cat pretending to be a mere soldier. Like can he detect named using the bullshit Masego pulled? Did he think it was cute like a child wearing a sheep costume (she is naive to think it would work) or was he confused like seeing a grown man wearing one out of nowhere (She is too powerful to pull this bullshit anymore)?

    Like

    1. Letouriste

      The Wandering Bard was doing that too the first time we met her. And now we know she is one of the strongest around (story-wise). That doesn’t matter much, just a exposed part of the Named personality

      Like

    2. Drd

      It did say that all in Cat’s group were to scared to talk around her, group dynamics being what they are, I’ll bet an old hat like him would have noticed.
      Plus she is the last of winter, akin to fae, and her looks or manner probably hint at that, even if unconsciously.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Metrux

        Also to note the Wandering Bard is a role that is better kept hidden or away from combat, while also being a Hero, meaning she has heavens help. On the other hand, Cat is a battle Named, even if her new Name hasn’t been shown yet, from Evil, trying to hide against one of the most experienced MENTOR Heroes around. There is a clear diference in the narrative, if nothing else.

        Like

  8. Cat is in a state of transition. As we understand it, she doesn’t truly have a Name at this particular moment.

    And this right here is what the Grey Pilgrim is all about. He meets young Heroes, people who don’t really have a good idea of what they want to do, where they want to go, how they plan on doing anything, and gives them some helpful advice, susses out what their future plans are. And Cat could be a Hero. From the moment we heard about what the Grey Pilgrim does, this moment was narratively unavoidable.

    She’ll either gain an ally, an enemy, or maybe both.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. RoflCat

      My vote is on a mentor and an observer.

      He’ll be intrigued at her actual goal being neither for Good nor Evil, but for the people.
      He’ll choose to help her out, but at the same time also keeping an eye on her very carefully.
      If she ever become the thing she’s against for real and not just as a means to the goal, he will be back, and this time there won’t be a truce banner.

      Basically the actually threatening version of Thief’s words when she accepted the deal.

      Like

    2. Morgan

      That’s a good point, and since Grey Pilgrim has approached Catherine I look forward to seeing what kind of influence he has. So far all the foreshadowing pretty obviously indicated that Catherine would become the Dread Empress (capitalized for being an actual Name instead of a title) but there are a lot of new options in the mix if the Pilgrim winds up being a mentor. Cat has been a leader of both the living and the undead, a queen of mortals and fae, and has a track record of beating down anybody who harms her subjects. If this background is then adds a heroic mentor in addition to her villainous one, Cat may become a truly neutral Name that reflects her grey morality.

      As for how Pilgrim knew she was who she was? Not that hard to figure out. Between the group dynamic here and the fact that Cat has a long history of going undercover to achieve her goals (going back to the first book even!), It’s reasonable to believe he could infer that the woman sitting by the fire who everyone’s avoiding is our favorite queen come to interfere in this meeting.

      I’m still kind of hoping that, knowing what we do about a nation’s role in the patterns, Cat will take over the Dread Empire and remold it so that it exists as a true empire composed of multiple cultures working toward a common welfare. Instead of being the Dread Empire of Praes, it would be the Dread Empire and escape Praes’ pattern of aggressive and untenable expansion as well as Callow’s pattern of being passively fighting off invaders. Black tried to break this pattern and had mixed results, but if the Dread Empire’s pattern is made separate from Praes’ I think there’s a real possibility for success.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. There are a lot of ways. Masego had a spell that detects Names. There’s probably a Name trick that does the same. It could have been one of Grey’s aspects, some sort of mentor-ish “I can tell your personality from your stance” power. It could have been how Cat reacted (or failed to react) when he showed up. Heck, he might have just recognized Cat’s face.

      I do like the idea that Catherine should just ask him, though. I get the feeling he’d answer.

      Like

  9. Author Unknown

    I don’t know about everyone else, but the fact that he is called the “Grey Pilgrim” and not the “White Pilgrim” gives me a lot of hope for how this all plays out.
    In fact, I think his reason for being there is, in part, to test Cat. Find out which stories are true and which are exaggerated.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Metrux

      Since he was mentioned I got this same hope, and things seem to have started on a good foot, even if they end up disagreeing and staying enemies, I doubt they will simply fight each other then and there.

      Like

    2. Quie Possibly A Cat

      I don’t know about “Grey vs. White” being a sign that he’s more tolerant of “evil”. Its easy to imagine he’s “gray” because he’ll go after the villain instead of putting out the fire the villain just set in the orphanage.

      Like

  10. I just noticed, but the Grey Pilgrim has been a mentor figure for a very long time. This mean he has survived the mentor occupational hazard for that long. If we needed proof of how much of a monster he is, I think this is a good one, because even Black barely escaped it with only one disciple, even though he was very wary of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Then again Black did make decisions that essentially “betrayed” Cat’s trust.

      I know its not exactly betrayal but for the love of God I can’t think of a better way to describe it right now.

      Like

  11. Naeddyr

    Quick random prediction:

    A politician in Procer will turn into a Villain in this book. The Schemer? Something like that. Possibly one of our two beloved adversary generals.

    Like

  12. Drakshaa

    Finally caught up! What a wild ride this has been. Absolutely amazing, blows worm out of the park.

    But, what am I to do now. The journey is paused. Is there anything else close to this quality on the internet to read?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lennymaster

      First, thank god I am not the only one that considers Worm decent, but not even remotly on the same level as Guide.

      On the matter of advise, I am happy to give you some. I rate books by several different aspects: Character development; Worldbuilding and depth; Plot complexity and logic; Tactical and strategic competence; and finally magic and or tech development logic/coherence; if I have nothing to say to any of these points consider them at the very least sufficient, at most satisfactory but not outstanding. If I do mention one of these aspects it is at least better then average. (One glc stands for Guide length chapter.)

      Webserials:
      The Gods are Bastards author is a reader of both Worm and Guide if I remember correctly and does some very good work on character development as well as worldbuilding.
      Updates at least one chapter (ruthly one glc) a week. Ongoing since 2014.

      The Zombie Knight Saga has some amazing fights, magic system inherently sensible and logical.
      One to three PAGES a day (a fifth glc) occasional holiday extras. Ongoing since 2013.

      Mother of Learning has a good concept amazingly well done and excellently founded in the worlds logic. Also decent fights and a solid plot.
      One Chapter (ca two Guidlenthchapters) every three to four weeks. Ongoing since 2011.

      The Legion of Nothing is an exeption as it cannot truly bost excelence in any one of these aspects but is better then average in all of them.
      One chapter (ca a third glc) a week. Ongoing since 2007.

      Super Powereds finished this year with four books (the last the longest with routhly two thousend pages if I remember correctly). Decent world, good character development, solid plot.
      At the moment not free to read on the internet as the auther wants to promote them on amazon, they should however be back for free, properly this year. Some of his other work is pretty good, but not as webserial available.

      That was it for webserials. oh, there are some other decent ones that I did not mention thanks to various faults (at least to my opinion) that tarnish my otherwise good opinion.
      Heretical Edge, ENDLESS enemies, none of the big ones get ever killed, villians ALWAYS see through the protags plans / have endless luck / loose but always turn any victory on the good guys side to ash. Main character the total opposite of Cat.

      Good nonwebserial books;
      Chaos Seeds, Awaken Online and Ascend Online are examples for how good LitRPG can be.
      David Webers Honor Harrington is a prime example for fantastic world building, inherently logical cultural and scify tech development as well as outstanding tactical and strategic understanding of modern warfare. Overall the best scify I have ever read.
      John Conroe’s Demon Accords is always at least decent.
      Andrew Seiple is a very decent writer, aside from one botched tech mishep in the first Dire book.
      Niall Teasdale works alway satisfy, but rarly amaze.
      Demons of Astlan is after Guide one of my absolute favourites.

      I could continue eternally as I have collected over a thousend books in my Kindle Library over the last ten years, but I will stop here and now.
      In the end I must however say that very, very few of them can measure up to Guide.

      Like

  13. Sometimes the serial format plays hell on narrative flow – I imagine reading straight through to the next chapter would be far smoother than the cut off here. But that’s not necessarily avoidable.

    Like

    1. Fern

      Yeah, the cliffhangers between chapters for books like these are always a bitch. It’s why i’m glad I read Worm in one go after it was finished, and why I hated when that one story (The Undead Knight? Zombie Knight?) stopped updating like 1700 pages in.

      As a rule, though, I really really prefer having three updates a week with short chapters to having one a week (or a month, here’s looking at you Origin of Species and Mother of Learning :/) and getting blueballed even harder.

      Like

      1. Darkening

        I saw a big update to zombie knight pretty recently, Haven’t read the new stuff, but I saw it was around again. I do agree that it can be rough reading stories as they update instead of all at once, I know I’ve stopped reading several in the past just because I couldn’t maintain interest in anything going on with the gaps between reading it.

        Like

  14. nipi

    “Petty thieves hang, the great wear crowns.”
    – Proceran saying

    My people have a similar saying:
    “Suured sulid tõllas, väiksed sulid võllas”
    meaning:
    “Big crooks in carriages, small crooks in gallows.”

    Like

    1. Josh

      This quote leads me to believe Thief is being groomed for Queenship of Callow. She is noble after all, and Cat knows she can’t stay queen forever.

      Like

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