Interlude: Crusaders

“There is no absolute virtue to peace. To avoid war out of petty fear is the exact same moral failure as waging war in name of it.”
– Clément Merovins, fourth First Prince of Procer

“They’re up to something,” Princess Rozala of Aequitan said.

She had, that very morning, received a second report on enemy movements that baffled her. Unlike Amadis, who already saw their victory as writ in the sky and was positioning to benefit from the aftermath, the only daughter of Aenor of Aequitan had made deep study of their enemy. Oh, the Prince of Iserre was not a fool. Ambitious beyond reason, perhaps, but no imbecile. He’d be much easier to deal with if he were. Yet he only ever saw war as the pursuit of political advantage through steel, and that blinded him to the nature of the foe before them. Rozala was an Arlesite of ancient line, and her kind were as distinguished with the sword as they were with verse. Her people had fought and fought well in almost every major war since the founding of the Principate, and the Malanzas had been famed as generals long before they rose to royalty. Which was why this ‘Army of Callow’ worried her. The Legions of Terror, in their current incarnation, were admittedly one of the finest military machines on Calernia – second in lethality perhaps only to the army of Helike, though much more numerous. Yet that was not what she was facing: more than half the Army of Callow was foot from that same kingdom, and more worryingly under the Black Queen’s banner rode knights.

Prince Papenheim had taught her mother a bloody lesson in the dangers of engaging heavy cavalry with light, at the Battle of Aisne. Rozala had no intention of repeating the mistakes that forced Aenor of Aequitan to drink mandrake extract. She had seen the aftermath of the Regal Kindness, and it was neither of those things.

“Praesi are known to have a certain low cunning,” Prince Arnaud of Cantal mused. “No doubt they’ve some sort of parlour trick in the works.”

Rozala eyed the middle-aged man with open distaste. The man was the living justification of every prejudice about Alamans arrogance, and she would have disliked him for that even if her agents had not learned about his… proclivities. She was no Lycaonese prude, but someone taking a knife to that man’s cock would have been a boon to Creation.

“We underestimate the Empire at our own risk,” Princess Adeline of Orne sharply replied.

Rozala inclined her head in thanks and the other young woman offered the ghost of a smile in return. Adeline had already hinted that she was not so securely under Amadis’ thumb as the prince seemed to believe, through subtle intermediaries. Of all the royals to have crossed the Stairway, the Princess of Aequitan was fondest of this one. Adeline had ruled Orne for less than a year now, ascending to the throne after the assassination of her brother at the hands of what was speculated to be the Assassin himself. The princess understood the dangers of tangling with the Tower better than most. She also despised the First Prince to the bone. The Augur had, after all, not seen fit to give warning about her beloved brother’s coming death. Cordelia Hasenbach, they were learning, could kill simply by staying silent.

“It is unseemly for women of your standing to quake at the coming of the Carrion Lord’s bastard,” Prince Arnaud sneered.

Rozala’s lips thinned. There were persistent rumours that the Black Queen was the villain’s illegitimate daughter, though she put no more stock in those than the speculation she was some distant Fairfax spared after the Conquest and reared in secret over the decades that followed.

“It is unseemly for a ‘man’ of your standing to be such a relentless jackass, Arnaud,” Princess Adeline replied with a lightness that belied the anger beneath it. “But you don’t hear us snipe about it, do you?”

Rozala sighed almost inaudibly. The Princess of Orne needed to learn to leash her temper, else they would eat her alive in the Highest Assembly. An ally this easy to bait was more liability than grace. She would have intervened to soothe the tempers, but Amadis finally decided to grace them with his presence. He was not, she saw, alone. The kindly wizened face of the Grey Pilgrim was a welcome addition to this council, but the other silhouette flanking the Prince of Iserre was not. Laurence de Montfort was short and skinny, for so infamous a woman, and her creased cheeks were showing the mottled spots of creeping age. They did nothing to detract from the austere presence of the Saint of Swords. The Princess of Aequitan stiffened, though she forced her shoulders to loosen before anyone could notice. Not royalty could ever be comfortable in the presence of the Regicide.

“I do hope my lateness caused no offence,” Amadis Milenan affably smiled. “It occurred to me that an infusion of wisdom to this council would benefit us all, hence my company.”

The smile was a little too broad, Rozala decided, to be entirely truthful. Had the heroes strong-armed him into inviting them along? They had certainly begun wielding their influence more strongly since the crossing. For all that the Saint was the one who brought sharp discomfort, it had been the Grey Pilgrim that brought terms back from the failed attempt at diplomacy in the south. The man was much more influential than his easy manners suggested.

“We are honoured to be offered seat at his table,” the Pilgrim smiled, inclining his head.

“Honoured, yes,” the Saint drawled, a hard smile splitting her face.

The Regicide had been exceedingly clear about her low esteem for royalty as a whole, which cast interesting light to the rumours she’d once been the lover of Klaus Papenheim. It would take someone with stomach as steady as the Iron Prince’s to bed that one, Rozala silently conceded. For all they knew all there was down there was more swords, though for a Lycaonese that might just be spice in the wine.

“No offence at all,” Prince Arnaud smiled brightly. “We always welcome the advice of those Chosen by the Heavens.”

Rozala hid her derisive snort behind a sip of wine as the heroes and their glorious leader took their seats.

“Princess Rozala was expressing worries about Praesi scheming,” Princess Adeline spoke up.

More to break the heavy silence than anything else, the ruler of Aequitan suspected. She did not grudge her the distraction.

“Ah,” the Grey Pilgrim smiled gently. “Always a subject worthy of interest, yet I would caution you that it is not Praesi we face. It would be a mistake, Your Graces, to believe the army to the south anything but Callowan.”

Rozala disliked the notion of taking military advice from priestly vagrant, however high his repute, but the circumstances warranted prudence. It was a villain that led the Army of Callow, and she knew little of their breed compared to the old man.

“Callowan she may be, but her throne was built on sand,” Amadis languidly added. “Her grasp on the kingdom remains shallow. Duchess Kegan Iarsmai has already replied to my envoys.”

Rozala hid her surprise. For all of Amadis’ swagger, she’d fully expected the House of Iarsmai to remain aloof from the crusade until a clear winner could be discerned. The Prince of Iserre’s smile broadened as he looked at her, the unspoken gloating ringing loud.

“Though she will not declare for us openly at the moment, she was willing to send a detachment of the Watch to join our forces,” Amadis revealed. “They’ve already begun to sail across the Silver Lake, and I expect they will swell our ranks in time for battle.”

The Arlesite princess frowned, displeased she’d been cut out of negotiations involving military matters.

“And how many of the Watch did she pledge?” she asked.

“A full thousand,” Amadis said. “Easily worth thrice that number, if the old histories are to be believed.”

And what did you have to promise that Deoraithe fox to get them, I wonder? Rozala thought. Amadis Milenan had been rather generous of late in partitioning the kingdom he expected her to conquer for him.

“You really should have been smacked more often as a child, Amadis,” the Saint of Swords idly said. “Gods know a few bruises would have done wonders for your character.”

The silence in the tent was so absolute it was nearly palpable. Rozala smothered a very unseemly grin.

“Pardon?” the Prince of Iserre coldly said.

“You heard me just fine, you repulsive little wart,” Laurence de Montfort said. “Kegan Iarsmai fought a campaign with the Black Queen less than a year ago and you think that, what? Your viper tongue befuddled a Duchess of Daoine? That house was putting Praesi heads on pikes back when your ancestors were shitting in their own huts. She’s playing you like a spectacularly dim fiddle.”

Amadis Milenan’s face purpled with fury. It was unlikely, Rozala mused with dark delight, that anyone had insulted him this bluntly even once in his life. The Grey Pilgrim cleared his throat.

“Laurence,” he reproached.

The Saint of Swords sighed.

“Fine,” she said. “The honourable Prince of Iserre is displaying the intellectual faculties of an averagely dim fiddle.”

The Grey Pilgrim looked pained.

“What my blunt-spoken friend means, Your Grace,” he intervened, “is that Catherine Foundling belongs to a very specific breed of villainy. The nature of her Bestowal is what my people call a thresher. One who separates the wheat from the chaff. She will earn great enmity, but also great loyalty. And she has fought by the side of Duchess Kegan before, against common foe.”

Rozala was honest enough to admit that watching the Prince of Iserre having to swallow his cold fury to avoid beginning a feud with heroes was making her evening. Perhaps even her month.

“The Duchess bargained well,” the prince stiffly said. “And extracted great concessions in rights and territory. The Queen of Callow has naught to offer of equivalent value.”

So, land had been sold. Rozala wondered how far he’d gone. Had Laure been offered up? Denieralmost certainly, it was the old dagger the Fairfaxes had kept pointed at Daoine’s belly in case the Deoraithe began talking of independence again. The Princess of Aequitan quietly cleared her throat, gaining everyone’d attention.

“I’ll be blunt,” she said. “The Black Queen should scare everyone in this tent. She has displayed surprising restraint so far, but this is the same woman who crucified a few hundred mages after the Doom to make a point. We are cornering her, and she has a reputation for baring her fangs when cornered.”

Rozala sipped at her wine, drawing out her point in a reminder that in matters military it was her word that counted most.

“We marched out believing she’d come after the first bait we set out,” she continued. “The failure of the trap at Harrow makes it very clear we were wrong in our assessment. And that is without considering she not only knew about the overtures to Baron Darlington, but turned that debacle into an offer of her own. I expected she scares the Duchess a lot more than we do, at the moment. Any contribution from her is suspect.”

I’m not going to let you forget the Darlington failure any time soon, Amadis, she thought, smiling at the Prince of Iserre. So much for the north rising up behind the Black Queen.

“Making terms with the Enemy is always a fucking blunder,” the Saint of Swords said. “Mark my words, the moment she feels the noose tightening the usual horrors are coming out. You should have smoked her then and there.”

“She spoke truth, Laurence,” the Grey Pilgrim stated, and there was iron beneath the mildness. “Do not gainsay me on this. I find it deeply shameful that any of us would hesitate at an opportunity to lessen the bloodbath, no matter the provenance.”

“You’ve always been soft, Tariq,” the Saint said. “The only thing I agree on with this band of clucking hens is that the east is in need of a good cleansing. The rot will only spread if we spare the flame. We go in half-hearted, and you know we’ll have to come back in twenty years. Assuming we’re still around.”

Something pale and cold roiled in the Grey Pilgrim’s eyes. Rozala felt the taste of a storm against the roof of her mouth. It unsettled her enough she spared no irritation for having been called a hen.

“You should know better,” the hero quietly said, “than to question how far I will go to spare this world pain. You, of all people.”

The old woman looked uncomfortable, then chastised. Rozala’s eyes sharpened with interest. Of all the Named gathered under the banner of her army, these two were known to be first among equals. That they would quarrel at all had interesting implications. Until now, the politics of the heroes had been utterly opaque to her save for the fact that the other Levantines took the Pilgrim’s words as sacred writ. All of the Named had resisted attempts to induce them into a deeper relationship so far, but if this rift before her was exploitable there were… possibilities to keep in mind. Known ties to a Chosen would silence her brother’s ambitions for good, no matter his schemes.

“Apologies,” the Saint finally said. “You know my temper.”

“Like a bear with a bad tooth,” the Pilgrim fondly said, patting her hand. “Already forgotten. We are all worried about the young ones in the south.”

Princess Adeline cleared her throat daintily.

“Apologies, Chosen,” she said. “But if I may ask, are you speaking of the heroes marching for the Vales?”

“I was under the impression the remaining Calamities were expected to fold,” Rozala added warily.

If the Red Flower Vales held, their position up north became exceedingly precarious. Their supply lines would be effectively impossible to maintain as soon as they passed Hedges, and the First Prince had indicated she would be displeased if the crusaders turned to foraging in Callow. The Arlesite princess wasn’t going to starve her army out of fear of offending Hasenbach, but she’d also rather avoid kicking that nest of wasps for a while still.

“In matters of might, the Carrion Lord is outmatched,” the Pilgrim agreed. “So, we suspect, is the Warlock.”

The Saint snorted inelegantly.

“The Witch is from Brocelian Forest,” she said. “What she learned, she learned from the Gigantes. And that lot ruled the roost while the Praesi were still busy figuring what cocks are for. She’ll pulp his ass across the valley floor, if they go spell for spell.”

“Young Hanno has already fought the Black Knight once,” the Pilgrim smiled. “He will not repeat previous mistakes. Yet the opponents are villains grown old, and this is a rare thing for a reason. It will not be an easy victory.”

“The man is one of Ranger’s toys,” the Saint conceded. “And that ornery old bitch plays rough. He won’t go down without making a mess.”

The Levantine flicked an amused glance at his companion, but did not comment.

“We thank you for your guidance,” Prince Amadis said calmly. “Yet I fear we have strayed from the purpose of this council. Princess Malanza was expressing worries, I believe?”

Rozala nodded.

“It’s clear that the Black Queen is expecting to give battle on the outskirts of the Barony of Hedges,” she said. “But I’ve been getting reports of her splitting up her host, and that honestly baffles me. We outnumber her by more than two to one. She should be the one attempting defeat in detail, not the one offering me that opportunity on a silver platter.”

“She is barely more than a child,” Prince Arnaud shrugged. “Blunders are to be expected.”

And there went the only Alamans royalty in the tent, breaking his silence to offer idiocy.

“She’s a girl that never lost a battle,” Prince Amadis warned. “In matters of statecraft poor judgement is to be expected, but she is not unskilled at war.”

“She could have gotten arrogant,” Rozala admitted. “It’s not uncommon in undefeated commanders, and that she was confident enough to offer limiting rules of engagement when so heavily outnumbered is telling. But I imagine the Exiled Prince and the Summer Court told themselves much the same right before she ripped out their guts.”

“Though her nature is undeniably warped,” the Grey Pilgrim said, “she struck me as remarkably clear-sighted in some regards. Not a woman prone to blind mistakes.”

“There’s a whole city of dead Callowans that begs to disagree,” the Saint drawled.

“It is not only the children of the Heavens that can learn from their mistakes,” the Pilgrim chided her. “She will be wary of being burned in that manner again.”

“Perhaps she intends to gather her forces through the fairy gates,” Princess Adeline suggested.

“We know there’s a delay for journeying through Arcadia,” Rozala replied, shaking her head. “And she can only take one host at a time. There are three columns marching towards us. Even if she timed it perfectly, she’d still have a third of her army in the wrong place when the battle begins. Which, to put it bluntly, she cannot afford if she wants even a shadow of a chance of winning.”

“We know the Wild Hunt is sworn to her,” Prince Arnaud said. “Perhaps she can make multiple gates.”

“I can’t dismiss that possibility out of hand,” the Princess of Aequitan agreed. “But that still begs the question of why she’d split her forces in the first place. She has to know we’ll be expecting gates to appear at our flanks and back when we engage. There would be no element of surprise, and that is half the advantage to be had with them. And if our foot moves quickly enough towards the gates, we could even keep her penned inside Arcadia. It is risking disaster for no gain I can discern.”

“That is worrying,” the Grey Pilgrim admitted. “I must see to the children, Your Graces, but I will seek guidance from Above on the matter. Perhaps a meaning to this can be divined.”

Rozala hid her surprise. She’d been under the impression that future-telling was rare even among heroes, and often too vague to be of any practical use. The Augur was rumoured to be speaking in tongues half the time, and that Hasenbach was constantly struggling to turn her attention to threats instead of weather patterns. If the Grey Pilgrim could truly discern the workings of Fate, however, this was major advantage. It was irritating that such a thing would only now be revealed, but then Rozala was hardly in a position to chide the man for it.

“We will look forward to hearing your wisdom, Chosen,” the Princess of Aequitan said.

The man rose, and bowed deep. He cast a look at the Saint, who smiled but shook her head. Rozala schooled her face into calm. She had an inkling that what would follow would not be pleasant. Silence followed in the wake of the departing Pilgrim, until the Saint of Swords sighed.

“He’s a good man, you know,” Laurence de Montfort said. “Likes to see the best in people.”

“A-“ Prince Arnaud began, but he was interrupted.

The Saint raked her fingers across the table, leaving deep gouges in the wood that no mortal fingers could have made. The sound was deafening, an ugly grind of steel.

“Shut the fuck up, you insignificant toady,” the Saint said. “Now, Tariq chooses to believe in your moral fibre but I know better. I know the wickedness that you crave, that sweet whisper of earthly power. There are some among you, even now, that believe holy war can be made tool of ambition.”

The old woman smiled at them, cold and terrible and utterly indifferent to their survival.

“You will not disappoint this nice old man,” she said. “You will keep to the terms, and not seek to work around them. And if you seek otherwise?”

The Saint barked out a harsh laugh.

“You might be under the delusion that the consequences of ripping you animals to pieces would give me pause,” she mused. “Discard that notion, princelings. The only people I answer to are up Above, and they exactly what you are made of.”

Laurence de Montfort rose to her feet, shrugging.

“Think of me as the angel on your shoulders,” she suggested. “You know, the one that says ‘be Good, my children, or I will fucking dine on your entrails like an orc.”

The Saint of Swords smiled at them, wagging a finger.

“I think we have an understanding, don’t we?”

No one nodded.

No one needed to.

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132 thoughts on “Interlude: Crusaders

  1. Stormblessed

    Basically I expected nothing less from an interlude of our oncoming Heroes. Or “heroes”. Brandishing threats and brutal murder is only heroic because they got Angels and Good and I can really see Black’s point about the unfairness of their reality during chapters like these.

    Liked by 15 people

    1. Byzantine

      I have said it before and will say it again: Good is order and Evil is chaos.

      They are just using the labels “Good” and “Evil” because the Heavens had a better PR guy.

      Liked by 14 people

      1. I don’t think that’s quite accurate. Malicia has proven quite well that Evil can be order. And William proved quite well that Good can be chaos. (Also one of the main heroes literally flips a fucking Heaven-backed coin to decide his opponent’s fate. Good is absolutely *not* order).

        I think what we see in this world is an absence of an actual force promoting good. At least, good as I’d see it defined. To me good is something which seeks to construct a world in which everyone is valued and cared for.

        Evil in this world definitely can’t be good because Evil in this world is all about personal accumulation of power. Black’s ideals and goal might break the dichotomy of Good and Evil, but it won’t actually make the world a better place in any meaningful sense. All he’ll have succeeded in doing will have been concentrating power behind a new status quo, which will be no more beholden to people’s good than what came before. Praes may no longer have to go to war on the regular if he has his way, but the world he seeks to create isn’t one in which those in power have any material incentive to actually improve their citizens’ lives.

        (Framed this way I think we can make a pretty decent argument that Cat isn’t actually a villain. She’s actively decentralizing her power, doing the opposite of what Evil typically does. She’s not Good … but she’s not Evil either).

        And that brings us to Good. Good, I think, is retribution. And it is explicitly *not* redress. It is payment and consequence for sins with no remedy or solution to improve for the future. There’s no moderation to it, and no positive purpose. Unlike Evil it does recognize cruelty and injustice as, y’know, bad things. But it doesn’t *do* anything about that. It kills the people who perpetrate it, but that’s barely even handling symptoms. There’s certainly no attempt to address causes. It’s an action movie’s caricature of justice, in which the world is fixed by Bad People being Punished and Good People Triumphing, without any actual social change or serious contemplation of systemic problems.

        The end result of which is a world in which the powerful spend their citizen’s lives as currency, and one side revels in it while the other side chides them for reveling in it. And villains concentrate power and heroes kill villains and absolutely no one tries to make the world a better place. (Except Cat and maybe kind of Black). And everyone with power, hero and villain alike, gets to throw that power around as they see fit.

        Liked by 12 people

        1. Graeme Sutton

          Good in this world seems to be based purely on a Natural Law ethical framework. Nothing that we would recognize as utilitarianism or humanism seems to enter into it.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. TeK

          I personaly would like to see Good that is redemption. To quote the line that sang true to me:
          “There is not a single life I’ve taken I have not regretted,” the Grey Pilgrim sighed. “No matter the deeds to their name. To inflict death is to end the possibility of redemption, and that is the greatest gift the Gods have granted us.”
          And people are so often disappointed with it, because most Heroes think that Good is about retribution. Half the problem you got with Villains doubling down, opening grimuars and summoning demons is because they KNOW, that they will get no second chance, only gallows. Not a shred of Compassion and Mercy, just Justice and Contrition. That is why so many Villains rage against Heavens. The sheer fucking arogance of many Heroes, to think that because someone is not on the same side as you, they can’t even be considered humans, but should be put down like rabid dogs. I would balk at that too.

          Liked by 2 people

        3. Charlie Hegarty

          I think firstly that Good in this story does to an extent fit your definition of good but also that the you are putting somewhat of an unfair burden on the forces of Good, this is medieval setting and as such isn’t going to reflect modern opinion because that has evolved over time.

          I would say that there is a positive moral value to the prevention of evil acts, in this chapter the ‘brandishing of threats and murder’ is not heroic only because they have Angels on their side but because it is done to prevent what we would consider war crimes. The positive purpose of Good is the creation of a world where less atrocities happen. I would agree that heroes should do more, but that stopping Evil acts from happening is still good; it is hard after all to have that better future where everyone is valued and cared for when there is a Tyrant in charge who will enable the destruction of their own city. The world might not be fixed by ‘Bad People being Punished’ but it is made better.

          Also we have only seen martial heroes who are fighting villains as this story is about a villain and consequently those fighting her. Heroes chosen by the choir of mercy who never take a life probably do acts that aren’t focussed on mitigating the damage done by villains but on making the world a better place. Cordelia for example, has for a long time been working on accords with the hope of unifying Procer more, so that there would be less civil wars, which certainly sounds to me like trying to address systematic issues within her country, but this is not her story this is the story of a villain.

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          1. TeK

            Did I hurt poor Heroes itty-bitty feelings? Maybe I am unfair to Good and putting to much on it. The thing is, what’s the difference between Good and Evil then? Both Cat and Black “Punished Bad People”. Black also invaded country to break them from perpetual circle of countless wars, saving many, many lives. Oh muh God, he’s a Her0))) That’s the point of Good, that it strives to be better. The moment they slackened at this quality, they are nothing more than a glorified butchers. I know there are good heroes out there. As of yet, Gandalf is my favorite Hero, hands down. Really exited to see someone sworn to Mercy or Compassion. But do you know, what I would’ve expected someone sworn to Mercy do? Go into the thick of fighting on the continent (Callow), and help everyone, like a red Cross or Doctors without Borders. Where are all of them? None even came with a Crusade. Also, you do not Prevent anything, if you only React.

            Yeah, there are ONLY martial heroes. Even technically non-martial Heroes do only fighting. I’ve been whining earlier that there are little to none Non-Combat Names, like say, Inventor, Architector, Plower, Chef, at best we got vague govermental Names, say Good King, Hierarch, they still fight, just in non-direct way, like Jupiter is still a bloodthirsty ork, even if she found a unique way to indulge her passion.

            Lastly, Cordelia is NOT Named. Me thinks it’s why she’s so much more far-sighted.

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        4. Byzantine

          I’m talking Order as in obeys the Laws set down by the Heavens vs Chaos where they obey no laws except their own – and even those only when they want to. It isn’t quite the same as D&D chaos and order, but it makes a usable comparison.

          The entire concept of “Good” and “Evil” are really “The gods should dictate our lives” versus “We should be able to do whatever we want.” With an amendment that in the second case the gods won’t be helping, either.

          This makes Evil turn to using human means to do the impossible, which generally involves a horrific price. On the other hand Good gets to turn to the divine and get their aid to accomplish the impossible, letting them evade the human price. Instead they pay it by being obliged to follow the rules the gods above set down.

          Liked by 1 person

        5. His Royal Madness

          I know this is really late but Catherine’s phrase “Justifications only matter to the Just” is very accurate to the Heavens and Good. All the forms of Good are those who’s forms of Justification and Justice align with an alien sense of right. The Angels are an alien form of Good that is distilled through Heroes they deem as aligned with their views on a human level. Even their actions and thoughts are on the extreme level of human acceptance.

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      2. stevenneiman

        @Sengachi Hanno is actually one of the stronger arguments for Good being defined by order. He’s not like two-face, flipping a coin because he craves the randomness of its results. He flips a coin because he knows the results of that flip to be decided by a higher power and genuinely believes that power capable of making better decisions than he could himself. Of course, from an outside perspective his attempt to escape responsibility by following orders doesn’t work any better than it did at the Nuremburg trials.

        What I would say is that Good is about community and social contract and Evil is about personal ambition, though both also have a lens of classic hero and villain roles in stories. These two forces have roughly the same conflict and roughly the same balance of pros and cons as in the real world, amplified, formalized, and distorted where stories clash with those broad ideals. Good has a regulating effect which can often prevent the most disastrous of individual behavior, but which can also prevent dissent against harmful social policies and convinces people that what they do is for a higher purpose even if it isn’t actually helpful. Evil encourages people to do whatever they feel is appropriate, which leads to more of the worst kinds of people like Akua or Triumphant (may she never return) rising to power and not being checked because the system encourages their behavior, but at the same time no divine support to control others beyond what you can accomplish by your own means, which means greater personal freedom in most cases.

        Where things get really nasty is in the recurring patterns. Almost every real conflict is driven by people who believe that they are in the right and that they could make the world better if they could just get the other side to get out of their way. Not necessarily healthy, but it’s at least a paradigm which is focused on progress. In Calernia, conflicts are driven by the forces of narrative, which set up both sides for the spectacle of making them fight, and those forces are given reasons to fight almost as an afterthought. This not only robs conflict of any kind of purpose, but also precludes any kind of meaningful victory. Good triumphs over Evil because that’s what the stories are about, but Good can never win in such a way that there won’t be a sequel. The horror isn’t so much that Good and Evil have flawed ideologies (the real world has plenty of flawed ideologies but it isn’t nearly as much of a mess as Calernia), it’s that those ideologies can never be the real focus of conflict so much as the conflict itself.

        The real world does occasionally see things like this, but they’re fairly isolated cases compared to Calernia, because they need to be set up by malicious people rather than being the default state. Things like wars started because someone wants to profit from them or use them as a distraction from their own action, or artificial controversies created to hide the truth that everyone in the know recognizes. Despite their rarity these kinds of conflicts are often the most harmful and the most long-fought, and in Calernia they are happening constantly by divine mandate. The Gnomes might have escaped this by focusing their narrative on progress and on effectively managing threats, but there’s not enough data on them to do more than speculate.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Metrux

          I myself think that Good is about control, because anone who is trully Good follows the Heavens, no exception, since the ones who could be Hero or Villain are more grey than Good. While Evil is about freedom, but not free will, such as you can control someone else as long as you’re capable of. You can see that both in the first prologue, in inverted roles, as in every heroic chapter.

          The problem with Calernia, in the end, is not the beliefs, but I don’t think it is the focus of the conflicts neither, it is the Gods Above. The Gods Below are horrible for what we’ve seen, but they never make you do anything, while the Gods Above are the ones making the conflict. Every Villain becomes a Villain because he wanted something, most of the time, something that Heavens took from them or wouldn’t allow. Sure, most of those are selfish and even idiotic, but then we get people like Cat, Hakram and Hierophant: She wants to help her people, he wants to make his warlord’s dream true, the last wants to learn all there is to learn. They basically don’t want any confrontation, and doesn’t this seem good, although it sits on the Evil side? The Heroes, on the other hand, are ALWAYS under Heavens mandate to vanquish Evil, their mission is alwas something antagonistic, while Villains want to achieve something, Heroes want to oppose something, most of the time something bad, but even then they are against, not in favour.

          In the end Good is absolutelyy not good, and Evil isn’t necessaril evil, but Good is what drives the necessary conflict for ever single person, so as long as there is Heavens mandate there will be fights and deaths in this ridiculous scale, with only some pockets that have too much power to be draged into it, like hte Gnomes or Archer’s place. Thus, my belief that it isn’t the beliefs or the focus, but the Heavens that drive things to this state in the story. To be made clear, in the story only, not a religious discussion here.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. iwishiwasginger

          I agree with everything else but I think the most important thing in this story is the Gods. The gods in this story are claimed as black and white, but I have one question. Are there actually two factions of Gods or just one?

          As you mentioned things are started usually out of greed and one of the best examples is that of war profiteers rather than politicians. I can’t help but wonder if all the villains and heroes are being nothing more than faith generators and wondering if the Gods above and bellow aren’t in the same office.

          A seemingly off hand thought by Cat when she was sitting in the temple was that the congress never changes in size in the church. It never gets too much nor to little. Reasonably that means divine intervention. It makes very little sense though, because that would imply that the gods above were stronger and we know that villains are tired of losing because of black, but why haven’t villains disappeared entirely? The villains can’t be losing that bad because then why would there be any left after thousands of years of war. The Gods above are obviously cheating, because they keep helping out whenever they are close to losing, and while the same is similar to demons being summoned, they don’t seem to ever help the villains in the long run unlike the angels.

          The other thing that would suggest they are cheating is how many heroes pop up naturally the second there is one evil person nearby but as far as we know the villains only pop up near other villains and only to replace the last villains. There should be no reason that villains have survived this long, which can only mean that there is a reason that the angels will suddenly pull their punches when they are about to win and will stop the gods bellow from winning. It could also be that the angels have won long ago and that evil is only kept to fear monger. I could definitely imagine the temples saying things along the line of “your sister was killed by a demon because someone became a villain if you don’t go to church and donate sizeable gold to the temple you are basically letting the demons win and killing her again.”

          I would love to see this as how the story goes. They could end up fighting the angels and just when they think they are going to lose the gods bellow are suddenly killed off and there with the biggest grimace is Lady Triumphant having returned after taking over hell and the last compaign being into heaven with Lady Triumphant, heroes, villains, Orcs, Ranger, and Catherine fighting the Gods themselves

          Like

          1. Quie Possibly A Cat

            I disagree!

            More seriously we DO see examples of Good “winning” and Evil “winning” on more local scales. Keter, the Dead King and his Hell are an example of “Evil wins” in that area.

            For Good we have the far off Elf country that spans a whole continent. And as we know, that type of elf is “Good”, even if they commit a little light ethnic cleanse.

            There does not seem to be any strong rubber band that keeps on resetting things to neutral. There are probably other forces, just like in our world, that prevent one nation or faction from overrunning everything. But it absolutely can happen!

            Like

            1. iwishiwasginger

              But they haven’t seriously won, and if no one ever won on a local sense then there wouldn’t be as much fear. If no one good people died in movies you wouldn’t have to be afraid for you character’s lives and the same could be said with countries. Yes there are the occasional victories but why hasn’t one side completely won. You say that there does not seem to be any strong rubber band but there does with the angels that are extremely powerful and that aren’t afraid of interfering heavily, but that just haven’t finished off evil. The villains also seem to only be created in an enviromeant where there are other villains which also puts them at disadvantage too. So the question is why hasn’t good won for good?

              There is just enough victory that either side thinks they could win or at least benifit and make a difference.

              Again Cat mentions that the church never gets too big or too small, which in this case seems to be a chekov’s gun. It is weird for her too mention that. I also can’t help but wonder who the bard is. The bard doesn’t seem to be liked by good or bad, but is also seemingly unstoppable. She might be someone else working against the system of continual war.

              The small wins seem to encourage prayer on both sides. Maybe if it is not outright collusion, they might both understand the consequences of their side winning. Prayer would be trivialized as it is today. If you never have good you can’t be truly evil and if you don’t have true good you don’t have evil.

              It is also possible that we use the comparrison of light and dark to show power. The greater the light the more noticeable the dark. The darker the night, the more bright the light shines. Maybe if good is about to win the angels can’t interfere and must rely on heroes and maybe if evil is about to win the greater the cost the devil’s charge. It would explain Triumphant’s loss if the angels got a power boost because they were about to lose.

              Like

          2. stevenneiman

            I’m not really sure about the exact specifics, but what’s important is that the driving force is the spectacle of conflict with the reasons for there to be conflict arising as a result. This is the opposite of the real world, where reasons for a conflict to exist generally spawn conflicts. For example, the leaders of Praes got stupid and greedy and attempts to check population growth always failed because Praes was an Evil nation meant to invade the Good nation of Callow, rather than Praes invading Callow because their rampant population growth created a need for more food. It’s like that with every conflict in Creation. Whether its the work of Fate, one or both of the Gods Above or Below, or if there’s no difference between the three, all that matters is a setup that by design and almost by definition has problems that will be addressed by war but never solved.

            It’s just like Cat’s vision of the cycle of Summer and Winter victories. One side might win or lose, but the board always gets reset close enough to the same way, and the trivial coup-counting victories are meaningless compared to the fact that nobody can leave.

            Like

      3. RanVor

        I’d rather say Evil is change and Good is stagnation. Every Hero we’ve seen so far is all about upholding the status quo by any means necessary. The entire point of this crusade is bringing the situation back to square one.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Antoninjohn

    The official reason for the Crusade is the greater breach, but who funded and ordered the greater breach, the First Prince for more territory, and Cat knows this through her murder coat and can tell everyone about it on a sworn Oath of truthfulness, along with Callow officially annexed by the Princes suddenly there “allies” won’t be very happy and they loose high moral ground

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      1. SilentLurker

        Actually the money was from neither, and came from Akua’s only family funds. Malicia’s contribution was disguising exactly what was happening and allowing specific materials that only had a few purposes to reach Akua in secret, instead of being discovered and done away with. As for the First Prince? She probably had Augur tell her something was going to go down, and started setting up for the repercussions instead of stopping it. At the heart, all the really high rulers appear to be schemers of the worst sort, and equally capable of terrible deeds, just executing those deeds in slightly different ways due to differing resources.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. SilentLurker

            I don’t remember this. Can you point me to the place in the books where this is? The only big thing I remember the First Prince funding in Callow was that first Rebellion.

            Like

            1. White

              It was in one of Malicia’s conversations with either Black or Cat. Probs black. They were talking about how Cordilia was propping up Talia as revenge for Malicia using the Pravos bank to extend the Proceran civil war. Malicia let it happen so that she could cut the money off in a coup de grace, but presumably no small amount of it was used to fund Akau’s little plan.

              Liked by 2 people

  3. JackbeThimble

    The Saint of Swords appears to be living up to her illustrious surname.
    So is this basically confirmation that Catherine’s Name is now “The Black Queen”.

    Like

      1. JackbeThimble

        Yeah but WOG is that there are no ‘Stealth’ Names. What makes it a Name is the fact that it’s what people call you. If she has a new Name then people should know what it is by now.

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        1. Rook

          We did, however, have some foreshadowing through the augur that Cat is ill suited for a throne though, and on top of that she still has no aspects that would confirm a Name being set in stone.

          A major war against literal legends crawling out from under rocks older than half the players is exactly the kind of thing that could engrave a different Name for her.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. SilentLurker

          Except this excludes Book One where Black and Cat talk about Goblin Names, and how if your culture, what a Name springs from, revolves around working in the shadows and being secretive, the Name could be hidden. It isn’t a guarantee, but I’d be willing bet there are some Named out there that are completely unknown to be Named.

          Liked by 5 people

    1. stevenneiman

      “Black Queen” is a common nickname which neither side has any reason not to use. Personally, I suspect that her technical Name is either Queen of Callow or she doesn’t exactly have one. It already talked about Fall having a cancerous effect on her old Name of Squire, gradually eclipsing her other Aspects, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the current state is that she doesn’t exactly have a Name or Aspects at all at the moment, just a the power of Winter wrapped around the remains of her old Name.

      Not that I can ever be 100% certain of anything with this story. I definitely think that there’s a low but nonzero chance that her Name is Black Queen now.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. haihappen

      My suspicion is that she currently has _NO_ name attached to her, because Winter ATE the last one. Winter only ever takes, and gives nothing back. Didn’t Cat say something like “there is not enough of the name left to qualify”, which could have meant “left inside her” or “left at all”. The Name Squire may be gone for good, at least until it is restored some way.

      And the Name Black Queen was forming in Liesse, but that forming was interrupted by the Black Knight, when he destroyed the Folly. Maybe that forming was completed when she was crowned, but maybe not, and Queen is traditionally a “Good” Name, so it is unlikely that she ended up with that one.

      My second-best personal theory is that she is currently on her path to “Queen of Winter” as her Name, but is consciously or subconsciously fighting it, because that would make all her domain into an icy wasteland.
      First one, as stated above, is that as long as Winter has its claws so deep in her soul, she cannot get a Name.
      Or, because of narrative imperative, some shit will go down and the truth will be revealed in a dramatic fashion.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. ______

    Erraticerrata, is it House of Ismail or house of Iarsmai? It was Iarsmai thorought the entirety of the last book, so I thought I’d ask.

    Like

  5. Rook

    The Saint has so little subtlety it makes Cat almost seem refined. If there isn’t enough vitriol in their first conversation to create a second wasteland, I would be very surprised.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Saint seems like the other side of the Black coin. Like, Black is enraged that the world never lets the villains win. Saint is enraged that the heroes victories never ‘stick’. Every time they put the east to the sword they have to come back and do it again a generation later.

      It feels like this is the hero, above all others, who Cat must strike down. I have a presentiment that if she wins she’ll try to burn her victory into the world in horrific fashion. Kill all Orcs and Gobilns or something similarly hideous.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. “She’ll pulp his ass across the valley floor, if they go spell for spell.”
    Ha. Ha ha. Aha.
    Funny thing about Warlock – he didn’t get his sobriquet by going “spell for spell” with his old mentor. He got it by being clever, and arranging his enemy’s destruction without the application of such brute force. True, The Witch might be a vastly superior spellcaster than Warlock (I doubt it, Word of God had Warlock as the greatest living sorcerer in Calernia in Liesse III or IV), but if she whips him in their first encounter, he’ll open up their second encounter with a chunk of hell big enough that even he can’t destroy it. In the case of his defeat, it was outright stated that he knows more of the hells than pretty much anyone in Calernia – dropping her into one or ripping open a Lesser Breach to introduce a few demons to the Crusade would be right up the Praesi alley.
    That said, these guys seem competent. But making a very big mistake when they say that Black is doomed because Hanno is stronger than him. Black has never found victory through raw strength. He’s done it by being careful and by not playing fair. And when he’s got an army in front and behind him, with a general greater than Juniper and a pair of old bats like Ranker and Sacker behind him . . . this’ll be one to remember.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. Greater than Juniper? I’d disagree, I’d say that The Woes (and company) replace The Calamities (and company) by building off of what came before and becoming something more. Juniper wins. That’s what she does, and the more tactics she sees the more wells of knowledge she has go draw from.
      Although others may have more of a legend to them, I think that The Woes are set up to surpass the Calamities in every way.

      Like

      1. SilentLurker

        Grem One Eye is largely acknowledged as the single most competent tactician on Calernia, with even Black, who can apparently plan for twenty years ahead with little difficulty, and it took a memory carrying Hero as old as the Dead King and a prophet to throw a wrench in the works, saying he can’t match Grem. Juniper is excellent, but tacticians, unlike regular soldiers who start to get weaker as time goes on past a certain point, only get better with experience until they either start losing their minds or retire. Juniper might match Black if she has a good day, but she’s still a few years from being able to really stand equal to Grem. Juniper also isn’t a Woe, and neither is Grem. Both are mortal, and its also worth noting the last orc before Hakram to come close to a name was Grem, and with his skill set, there’s only really one type of name he could have gotten.

        Liked by 5 people

    2. Cap'n Smurfy

      Warlock is probably far more talented as a spellcaster alright. I get the impression the Witch has more raw power though and probably a solid background in enchanting from the Gigantes. The idea of the two going directly head to head seems off to me though. Warlock isn’t one for direct spellcasting and witches in folklore tend to be more about curses, rituals, summoning and potions, not fireballs and lightning bolts to the face.
      It would be hilarious to see the two try and constantly one up the other with clever spellcasting tricks though. “Fool, you are now under my control!”
      “That was just an illusion with a rebound spell. It is in fact you who is under my control!”
      “I knew you’d do that which is why I’m wearing this amulet of rebound spell rebounding!”
      “I knew you’d know I’d do that so I actually cast an illusion on the…. ect”

      Liked by 6 people

        1. Engineer

          Oh that would be a treat! However EE said Warlock would go all out before the end of the series and this strikes me as the perfect time for that to happen.

          Liked by 1 person

    3. SilentLurker

      WOG that I remember is that Warlock is actually just in the Top 5 on Calernia, though this might be because those five have never gone head to head instead of being a statement that he isn’t the best.

      Liked by 2 people

          1. Quie Possibly A Cat

            Assuming Team Good knows their stuff the Witch is presumably the 2nd best.
            1) Dead King
            2) Witch
            3) Warlock
            4) ???
            5) ???

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  7. Cap'n Smurfy

    Looking at the oppossiton, all I can think is “Oh dear, Cat’s going to eat them alive.”. Heroes aside, I can see why an upcoming battle is named The Prince’s Graveyard with this pack of morons in charge.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Darkening

      Yeah, the one princess seems relatively competent, but running a war by committee seems like it’s going to end horribly. Especially if the watch is coming and ready to backstab them.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Rook

      From the Heroes attitude toward the nobles, I almost wonder if the Prince’s Graveyard will be all Cats doing.

      The Saint is about as softhearted as forged steel with all the subtlety of Ranger, and she almost mirrors the Choirs in how severe her judgement is in anything she doesn’t see as strictly Good. I can see her fighting a battle against every side at the first hint of her lines being crossed, since she’s made it abundantly clear that she’s not on Procer’s side. She’s on the side of the Gods Above and just about nothing else.

      I don’t see the pilgrim being any less severe when push comes to shove either. You don’t command respect – not request, but *command* respect while her temper is flared up – from someone like the Saint by collecting bottle caps. Something tells me that the iron in kindly old grandpa’s eyes is as sharp as any razor when he bares it.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Quie Possibly A Cat

        Yeah, just because its the Prince’s Graveyard doesn’t mean that Cat’s gonna come out ahead. It might mean bad things for the Princes, but it sounds like Saint wants to kill them all as it is. Her nickname is Regicide! Look their chances of survival probably go up the more complete and total their defeat. If they win there is about a 100% chance they manage to piss off Saint.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Rook

          Pretty long shot, but if the Pilgrim/Saint were so inclined it would be one of the only ways to actually flip Cat over to Good. Win against her first, and offer terms to forcibly keep Procer out of Callow in exchange for switching sides. Presented with an option to keep Callow safe when the alternative is likely death, there’s actually very little holding her back from taking the offer (albeit mostly in Name, since she’s all about Callow in the first place).

          Her Name is up in the air, she only gives a shit about Callow, Adjutant only gives a shit about her, Masego only gives a shit about research, Archer gives no shits about anything, and Thief leans toward Heroics in the first place. She’s estranged from the Tower and Black at the same time, and Callow in general has no inherent Evil inclinations. Kegan is probably more comfortable on the side that puts Praesi heads on pikes, and appeasing the Hunt has never been the issue so much as keeping power over them. Even the fifteenth is more bound to her than Praes at this point.

          It suits the type of outcome the Pilgrim is looking for as well, since it’s essentially a chance for Redemption of not just one Villain but most of her massive retinue and the entirety of the nation at the same time. A far less bloody way of putting a Heroic ruler on the throne – without murdering the current one or destabilizing the country.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Unmaker

            @Rook (just in case this doesn’t indent)
            Your reasoning looks sound… but I’m not seeing that actually happen. This is, after all, Practical Guide to Evil. Redemption just doesn’t seem like it would fit in there.

            Liked by 1 person

                1. Ashen Shugar

                  Practical Evil is to run a protection racket until you’ve managed to buy up a bunch of legit, profitable businesses, then go squeaky clean. I don’t think it’s completely out of the picture for Cat to stay in a winter frozen transient name state until everything is almost settled, then jumps into a “Good” name for the final climb up the tower.
                  Or maybe, she climbs the tower, settles everything, then finally transitions in “Dread Empress the Kindly”. Then everyone in Praes goes “Huh?” as their jaw drops. ; )

                  Liked by 1 person

        2. Atypical Gult

          Actually, that would make things easier for Cat, for if the Saint kills the Princes, Cat can truthfully tell Malicia that she did not have any hand in the death of the two Princes who she was supposed to keep her alive. It’s not like Malicia asked her to save them, just merely not kill.

          Considering how Cat’s luck though, I expect that this would not happen precisely for that reason.

          Like

  8. Darkening

    Y’know, for a moment I felt that last bit would be out of character for an angel to say, and then I remembered what angels are like in this setting. I could totally see one gutting someone for misbehaving.

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    1. nipi

      Yeah. What happened when you summoned an angel of Judgement? Oh right everyone deemed to have sinned dies or something like that

      Like

  9. DD

    I am Team Evil all the way. Not a Stupid Evil fan, but I came weary of fantasy’s constant forcing of “good” victories, even when an idiot can pick out the plot holes and pick out the obvious reasons the heroes should have lost. This serial let’s me dance upon their graves.
    That said, I am quite liking this Saint of Swords, though not enough to want her to survive the Calamities or Woe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Saint of Swords may possibly be able to see peoples’ actual intentions and desires.

      (Which, yeah, explains the general crankiness. I would be crankier than that.)

      Outside chance she’ll take one look at the Foundling and defect to join the Woe.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Rook

        There’s no way the relationship between Cat and the Saint ends in anything but someone getting steel shoved through their throat (figuratively speaking, considering at least one has already survived a beheading)

        The Saint seems to be wholly on the side of Good, which means she’s likely not one to tolerate the petty bullshit Procer will try to pull using the name of Good. Unfortunately, it also makes her nearly irreconcilable with anyone even superficially related to the Gods Below.

        I don’t see her as a sympathethetic/finding common grounds type of character so much as, ‘well, at least the psychopath is consistently brutal to everyone’

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Fern

    All other things equal (and they are, i believe; Cat’s going to have superior leadership and unit cohesion, the Princes multiple have superior numbers) this battle’s going to come down to ability to react to fulcrums and manipulation of story. Cat has the obvious advantage there, of course, but she’s going up against the Grey Pilgrim, but he’s hamstrung by the Princely committee, but he’s got enough influence to change their minds, but will it be enough to change Princess General’s mind, etc. etc. etc.

    This is going to be VERY interesting

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    1. Dany

      Will it, though? Procer isn’t led by Names. That strikes me as a major strategic advantage going against someone like Black or Cat, who seek to manipulate the story. The un-Named aren’t really part of the story the same way a Named is.

      It could be that Cat defeats the Names but doesn’t defeat Cordelia.

      Like

    2. DD

      Cat, for all the “unit cohesiveness” you cite, is ready to stab her nominal allies in the back for the greater good of Callow. I have to much respect for the Calamities and Malicia to believe they aren’t at least somewhat aware of that.
      Cue Xanatos Gambit Roulette. This could easily turn into a huge mess for Team Evil, and maybe Team Good as well.

      Like

      1. Fern

        Unit Cohesiveness i.e. well drilled troops with excellent leadership, which Cat has left mostly up to Juniper.

        As far as the Gambit Pileup is concerned, I think Cat was only really willing to betray her allies if it meant Callow was completely spared this and any other proceran invasion for the forseeable future. Aside from that, she’s tried pretty closely to everyone in command; I imagine Juniper trusts her enough to know that she won’t raise banner against the tower w/o good reason, the Woe all believe in her in their own way (I won’t say for certain until we get a Thief POV, ofc), Talbot isn’t going to betray the only Callowan power in the middle of a war, and the Daoine are a bit too smart/aware of their own limitations to turn on Cat at this point. If there’s any betrayal, it’s going to come from the East, and we’ve seen the one obvious point of failure there (Praesi gold in Callowan coffers).

        Malicia’s the one to watch in these next few chapters; how she decides to handle Procer is going to play a large part in where Cat ends up at the end of the story.

        Liked by 2 people

  11. SilentLurker

    “The man is one of Ranger’s toys,” the Saint conceded. “And that ornery old bitch plays rough. He won’t go down without making a mess.”

    So, am I the only one who wonders if Ranger might make an appearance? As far as we know, the big reason she left the Calamities was a disagreement between her and Black about Malicia keeping the throne. Now that they’ve fallen out though, is it possible she could show up?

    I can see that throwing a GIANT wrench in the Crusade’s plans. And given her nature as a non Hero/Villain name, at least explicitly, she might even be hard to predict for Augur. She might only be one person, but she also the only person on the surface Calernia who in the modern day went, “I like this place, it’s mine”, and everyone just went, “OK, it’s yours. Please don’t hurt us.” It is a Crusade too, with a ton of Heroes to fight. I’m sure there’s one or two she might deem worth hunting. All around I just think throwing in Ranger could screw with the plans a ton, and provide moments where we see what the Calamities are like, now that their time is mostly ending.

    On another note, the Saint of Blades and grey Pilgrim relationship feels familiar. She might not always agree with Grey Pilgrim, but she is apparently fairly close to him, and reminds me of Scribe in how she promises retribution if they betray his trust.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. If I remember correctly, Refuge is considered a protectorate by the Kingdom Below, which Black admitted is the only power on Calernia that can be considered more than local. It always made me wonder what happened between her and the Dwarves.
      It also help that the place she claimed is in an inhabited forest where The Hunt activities are known to be centered around.

      Like

      1. Fern

        Didn’t we get a hint that the Kingdom Below was planning something in the last epilogue? This should be interesting…

        Like

      1. Rook

        Ranger as a Name is pretty neutral. Some of them are obviously Villainous or Heroic (not a lot of paladins or gallant anything will be Evil for example), but things like archer, ranger, thief, or squire are ambiguous enough to be either.

        The Named as individuals all seem to be on one side of the other (other than the Hierarch, but he’s a bit of a special case), but the names themselves aren’t always innately heroic or villainous. For example the Black Knight and White Knight apparently both transition out of Squire, not the Black Squire or the White Squire.

        Like

        1. Ranger seems like a mostly blank slate upper-tier name which could be transitional, final, Good, Evil, Neutral, martial, magical, intellectual, basically anything. The only truly concrete component of it is that Ranger seems like a more loner name (so you’re not going to get Lead as an aspect or anything), but even then it doesn’t run counter to teamups like the Lone Swordsman did.

          And it looks like the current Ranger basically grabbed the ambiguous nature of the Name and used that to twist it until it was nothing but her own personal powerup, rather than something with narrative properties.

          Like

  12. White

    “the speculation she was some distant Fairfax”

    You know, I was with Princess Rozala on this one, but… the narrative is really powerful. What was it Cat said in first Liesse? “I have Three things. A kingdom, and enemy, and a claim.” Well, guess what’s also true right now.

    I’m not saying that Cat is a Fairfax byblow, but dear god would it utterly destroy the crusade’s narrative if she was. On the other hand, given how the last time she spoke those words she did in fact become queen… Well, it’s pretty clear to see where she’s going to get her transition.

    Several other readers have remarked on the similarities between Cat and the Queen of Blades. Now, the Saint of Swords (who seems very much like an old chaotic good version of Cat) is set up against Foundling. Who better to defeat the saint of Swords than the Queen of Blades, especially because of the formers expressed hatred for noblilty. There are so many story threads here. To top it off, Cat becoming the Queen of Blades also utterly destroys the Proceran narrative. That’s a Callowan name without question (even if the first wasn’t a name. That’s been vague, I think?). She takes on a old callowan name, and suddenly the reasoning behind the invasion—to unseat the villain of Callow—goes up in smoke.

    So many threads. So many, many threads.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yeah, narratively, an orphan is a goldmine. It’s no wonder this trope is so overused. She *could* be Prince Amadis bastard child foretold to be his doom at birth that a servant has hidden in Callow instead of killing.
      Or anything else. A wildcard for the author to play however he want.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. esryok

        She already used the “Luke, you are my father” card when she became Duchess of Moonless Nights. In her shoes I’d be nervous about trying to double dip, at least now that she’s a construct and shucking her mantle might be fatal.

        Like

    2. Quie Possibly A Cat

      Or she could be the bastard daughter of the fifth son, of the seventh daughter to the bastard daughter of the ninth boy to the niece of the third [seventeen+ more generations] of the first Queen of Callow! The best part is she probably is something like that!

      Like

      1. DD

        I would absolutely hate that, in spite of the narrative power.
        Why can’t we have an orphan hero or villain just be Nameless, son of Nobody Important and No One Special?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Micke

          ‘I snorted at that. Booker’s skin and hair were as dark as mine: we both had Deoraithe blood running through our veins. Still, I was an orphan and she was Laure born and raised – neither of us had ever set foot in the northern duchy or spoke even a word of the old tongue.’
          Maybe she’s Kegan’s cousin, twelve times removed (or long-lost niece)?

          Like

        2. Letouriste

          I doubt a revelation would matter at all to her. And I expect all the fairfax,even the ones far in the succession line have been killed by black.
          Would make More sense narratively for her to start a new sort of dynasty too

          Like

        3. Quie Possibly A Cat

          Because if you go back far enough in generations you’re related to everyone! Also inserting “niece” allows for even more trickery I think.

          Like

    3. I can see the Winter side if Cat not wrecking “Queen of Blades”. Foes will Fall as blades of iron and ice slice in a deadly dance as terrible and cold as a midwinter night.

      Nothing offensively fluffy to gobble up, there.

      Like

  13. Woah.

    This chapter was enlightening. To be perfectly honest the situation on the Proceran side seems so bad that I expect it to flip around and actually eek out a win. I’ll just, enumerate the issues here:

    First the way the opening paragraph is laid out it makes it decently clear Rozala sees Amadis as an enemy.
    Second is the immediate problem of Arnaud. That is a pile of heaping hot shit ready to blow up in someone’s face. He’s got acceptable target written all over him.
    Third is the Princess of Orne, who seems like a excellent Malicia plant, and part of the hidden blade Malicia is aiming to make Procer irrelevant. Additionally the way Rozala wavers on Orne so quickly is not a good sign.
    Fourth, Amadis has aimed a knife at his heart by “hiring” the Watch because we already KNOW that Cat has made a deal with Kegan and Kegan holds to her deals.
    Fifth, Darlington is Fucked. If Procer knows that it failed, then he likely reported back, so Cat knows and he is Deeeeaaaaaad meat now.
    Sixth, the conflict between Laurence and Pilgrim is… mostly standard for this sort of tale, but it’s severity is of some note.
    Eighth Cordelia mandating no foraging is… cute considering some implications that we have seen for her actions so far. Be interesting to see how that works.
    Ninth the Procerans have no idea of Cat’s gambit. They’ve actually suffered a MASSIVE intel failure because they have no idea how far and fast Cat’s boot is going to be traveling up the ass of their supply lines. Completely clueless as to the point of her splitting her forces.

    I was worried there for a bit that the Saint wouldn’t care about the terms, but that she wants to enforce them so hard is a good sign. But yeah, something is fuuuuuuuuucked in the state of Callow.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I have to disagree on the fifth point – Cat already knew that Darlington was entertaining envoys from Procer, and turned it to her advantage. She distrusts him, but I don’t think that she’ll kill him unless he either continues juggling the thought of treachery or proves to be a liability in a warzone.
      Also, I think you skipped point #7?

      Like

      1. Rook

        Agreed. No way she kills him while she’s reasonably sure she’s got him under her thumb out of fear. He’s a known controllable element, treacherous nature aside. Displacing him might bring in someone more trustworthy but it could just as easily go the other way.

        Much better the enemy you know (especially one who fears you and can be bent to your will if needed) than the one you don’t

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Certainly a possibility. My thinking on the matter was that Cat caught him out and then essentially implied that if the relationship continued he was just dead. If she’s using him as a catspaw though, that’s yet another area where Procer seems to be routinely screwing themselves in the ass.

        Like

  14. Redlaw

    It seem that the older they are the least they are influenced by their name. Of course it could also be because they have more experience of the world. The saint of the sword is a good example. If black is a practical villain then she is a practical hero

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yotz

      On that I’ll disagree with you. If any on the Heroic side can be called “practical” that would be Grey Pilgrim. From his words he is ready to tolerate some evils in the world if it leads to lessening of world’s suffering. With Saint of Swords it is markedly not so – she will burn everything and to Heavens with consequences: “kill them all, hashmallim will know their own”(C), and all that jazz.

      Liked by 4 people

  15. nick012000

    So, add “led by Named that keep the rebellious nobles in check by fear alone” to the list of reasons that Procer’s acting more like Praes than Praes is.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Letouriste

    So….they judge the calimities by sheer power? Lol:P if there is something defining them,this is the way they gave up power for a purer source of strength. I think the heroes at the Vales will be totally wreaked if they really think they are stronger

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Metrux

      I disagree a little. They will be screwed if they believe they’ll WIN for being stronger, not if the believe they are stronger, since they trully are. The Calamities work without pure power, but it is always good to know things realistically, and being more powerfull IS an advantage of the Heroes, just not one that should give them the win.

      Like

    2. Rook

      Black is a thin needle slid into your throat, not a hammer. Not the strongest, but no less dangerous for it.

      The Heroes that face him all learn this eventually, the question is whether or not they survive the lesson.

      Like

  17. Author Unknown

    Interesting that the Grey Pilgrim reveals some ability of foresight; it lends weight to argument that his accompanying the envoy was specifically to meet Cat.

    Is anyone else imagining Duchess Kegan sitting on her throne snickering while saying, “I can’t believe he fell for that.”

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Quie Possibly A Cat

      I’m glad to hear she got the watch back in working order. I was worried the ghosts would combine into some sort of angry Omnicidal Oversoul or something terrible.

      Like

  18. Letouriste

    i wonder how nauk is doing…maybe he has permanent flame going out of his eyes?
    The guy got burned (pun intended) and lost all his followers he trained. Right now,he is not needed in the frontline so maybe he train new recruits?

    Like

  19. Antoninjohn

    For a treaty to be made there needs to be trust and by the Humbling of Giants and the fact the Callow has had their land stolen by “heavens sent trusted allies” shows that it’s not Cat that can’t be trusted but Procer and the first Prince

    Like

    1. Letouriste

      Probably half the reason cat proposed this is she expect them to fail their part and lower their cause.
      Would make the heroes easier to kill and get her a superior position in the post war peace talks.
      The other half is about her not really wanting to kill the enemy leaders (malicia order,her own Accord thing etc…) and to see her officers dying

      Like

  20. Is anyone else noticing that Pilgrim agrees not to use angels, then almost immediately turns around and uses an angel for an auger? Even though it could be argued what the definition of ‘use’ entails, that still seems a bit mealymouthed.

    Like

    1. Eh. I see that as the difference between using a scrying spell that routes through a Hell to get around wards and summoning a demon to kill folk. It’s pretty clear what the agreement was meant to prevent, and it’s the latter not the former.

      Like

  21. Engineer

    EE, if I may make a suggestion; could you please write Names when they are introduced in italics or something similar? It’s quite difficult to discern what is a Name and what is a mantle/title.

    Like

  22. I just remembered. Adjunct is somewhere else right now. Doing something with military forces. I’m betting that Cat’s apparent troop splitting is going to suddenly turn into an encirclement when Adjunct gates in with the other half of her army.

    Like

  23. Leonard Inkret

    I’m getting confused when you refer to the same person by their first name, second name, or their title. It makes it hard to keep track, and gets especially difficult when basically all of these new noble characters are pretty new, and there’s a lot of them in the same place. xd

    But thanks for the chapter, love your work

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Draconius Sinister

    Hate to be negative, but the Saint Of Swords grinds my gears. It feels like her whole job is to be edgy, and all her cursing makes me think of her as nothing but a child that never grew up. I’m seeing edgy teen rather than sixty-plus years old woman who has battled horrors and evils the entire time. All of what she is doing feels like posturing, either to make her seem like a badass or the Pilgrim to look more like the mildmannered grandfather that can tear you apart. I think she’d be a much better character without the cursing.
    Of course, she is new, and I am not the writer. Could be I’m missing something huge. This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading or anything, aside from my issues with her the chapter was very good, and I can’t wait for more!

    Like

  25. aran

    Oh look, it seems that the other side has a Catherine as well in the form of Laurence.

    I’m sure they’d get along like a city on green fire.

    Like

  26. editor

    Mistake on “The only people I answer to are up Above, and they exactly what you are made of.” Should be “know exactly what you are made of.”

    Like

  27. Exec

    God damn. Pilgrim and Saint are so fucking great!

    They are everything I hoped for from the veteran heroes’ side – A genuinely wise and merciful hero, and a fuckshitupper that would’ve probably been Cat’s best friend in another life.

    Like

  28. His Royal Madness

    I know this is really late but Catherine’s phrase “Justifications only matter to the Just” is very accurate to the Heavens and Good. All the forms of Good are those who’s forms of Justification and Justice align with an alien sense of right. The Angels are an alien form of Good that is distilled through Heroes they deem as aligned with their views on a human level. Even their actions and thoughts are on the extreme level of human acceptance.

    Like

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