Chapter 10: Allegro

“There are no reserves, you fool, only second waves!”
– Isabella the Mad, only general to have ever defeated Theodosius the Unconquered on the field

“They’re about to split, Boss,” Robber said.

He was standing too close to the scrying bowl, which made his face look a lot larger than it should be and was just kind of distressing to see in general. Thief cleared her throat.

“We need numbers and direction,” she said.

There was the sound of struggle, a yelp and then Robber was pushed aside. Indrani grinned at us through the bowl and I sighed before she even began speaking.

“This camp is just crawling with heroes, Cat,” Archer said. “Dunno if you were aware, but they’ve got at least one mageling. Zeze’s going to have competition.”

“And how would you know that,” I slowly said. “You were under orders to stay out of sight.”

“I got eagle eyes,” she proudly said.

From behind her I heard Robber snort.

“It’s true, Boss,” he said. “I saw the eagle she took them from. Wasn’t pretty.”

Indrani pouted.

“You ruined it, Blaster,” she complained. “I was going to work up to the reveal after she got snippy.”

I was too wary to be amused by the thought of Archer attacking the local wildlife, sadly.

“Tell me you stayed out of sight,” I said.

The other Named rolled her eyes.

“I was good,” she said. “Used an aspect at a distance, they never saw me.”

“We don’t know if they have anyone able to detect that,” I told her harshly. “Now there’s a chance they know you’re out there.”

“They’re not Praesi,” Vivienne said mildly. “I won’t call this anything but reckless, but unless they were on the lookout for her already the chances she triggered a ward are negligible.”

I ignored her.

“Quiet, Archer,” I said. “Quiet is what I asked you for.”

“It’s what you got,” she dismissed. “That was over a day ago, if they thought someone was out there they would have sent heroes after us by now.”

“Let’s hope for that,” I grunted. “But we’re now assuming you, at least, were made.”

“It’s just twelve heroes,” Archer shrugged. “Nothing to worry about. Worse comes to worse, I shoot a few in the eye and run away.”

Strange, it hadn’t occurred to me before now that the muster of heroes on the other side was essentially a tenth and two officers. I had been tired, and there’d been a few days a while back where I’d had vicious headaches. Must have been the lack of sleep having unforeseen consequences. We were all feeling the pressure: even Vivienne and Masego had been out of sorts.

“Don’t engage, just run,” I told her. “And get Robber back in here, unless you can tell me about their troop movements.”

“She can’t,” the goblin piped up from a distance. “She was roaring drunk at the time.”

“Barely tipsy,” Archer blatantly lied. “But this is beneath me, so Jasper can handle it.”

She moved aside, and an irritated-looking Robber filled the bowl again.

“Best we can tell, Malanza’s splitting her army half and half,” he told us. “Same for the heroes, though that’s harder to be sure. They’ve got their own little camp aside from the army.”

I grimaced. Juniper had told me that if the crusaders separated their army they were unlikely to send a host after each of my own. It’d whittle down their numbers by too much, enough that if we went to reinforce a single army we’d have them outnumbered at that particular battle. Evidently Princess Malanza intended to have numerical superiority wherever she engaged regardless of reinforcements.

“And where are they headed?” Thief asked.

“This is guesswork,” Robber warned. “But by the way they’re shifting their supplies, I’d say centre and west. There’s a few days left before they’ll be ready to move.”

Vivienne let out a breath and my face darkened. So they could tell where our gate-makers were. I’d sent Larat and the Hunt to General Hune in the east, after Nauk had struck the supply lines from the west, in an attempt to keep the shell game going. It was possible the Proceran princess had gotten lucky with a guess – her odds weren’t bad, half and half since it was a given the centre had to stay mobile – but she did not strike me as the type leaving things to luck. Which meant there was a hero who could sniff out our gates, or at least the assets who made them.

“All right, good work,” I said. “Anything else to report?”

“They’re keeping a close eye on the Watch,” the Special Tribune said. “There’s a hero on them at all times, and the two old timers visited a while back. Not sure what happened, but no fighting aftewards. They didn’t relax the surveillance either, though.”

My lips quirked. We’d known going in that the odds of a truth-teller being along with the crusade were high, and we’d planned accordingly. None of the Watch were aware of what side they were actually on, and I’d made sure Kegan planted false rumours in her commanders that the heroes could chew over. The secret order was known only to one of her mages, and even the specifics of it were nothing too suspicious on the surface: all the mage had to do was check for a signal in the sky at a specific hour, and scry after seeing it. That, and note the position of officer tents. It would be quite enough.

“No need to worry about that,” I told Robber. “Keep your people ready, Special Tribune. We’ll have work for you soon enough.”

“Looking forward to it,” the goblin said, baring needle-like teeth.

The spell died, and after a last glimmer of sorcery the scrying bowl was filled with mere water again. Vivienne drummed the table lightly, though given the sensitivity of my hearing she might as well have been pounding away.

“I know,” I said. “We need to make a decision about Headsman.”

Thief smiled mirthlessly.

“I know you worry about the fallout, and not just because enemy officers will be put to the sword,” she noted. “We’d be revealing another trick the crusaders don’t know about.”

“But,” I said.

“The means it would be carried out might be different, but Procer is not unfamiliar with the use of assassination to influence warfare,” Vivienne said. “Catherine, they murder each other over grazing rights disputes – and I’m not exaggerating there, the sister of the Prince of Orne was poisoned over that not even eight years ago. We are fighting off an invasion.”

“You know what we need to achieve,” I reminded her.

“Hasenbach at the table, without blots on our war record that would make her people unseat her if she negotiated with us,” she agreed. “But considering the woman sent all her opposition into the mind grinder that is you, I doubt she’ll balk at treating with us after ‘mere’ peasant officers are killed.”

The last part she spoke with distaste, as much for the phrasing as the people it applied to – not the officers, no, but the handful of nobles who considered them so very expendable. Not that I could talk, I’d admit. Headsman had been designed as an operation that would shake the crusader army without getting half the High Assembly howling for our blood. I was, in my own way, considering them just as expendable. The thought tasted bitter, but I did not deny it. Lying to myself had become a lot more dangerous since I’d let Winter in.

“If we pull the trigger on it, we have to act now,” I admitted.

“There is a chance their host will later reunite,” Thief said.

“If we fuck up,” I bluntly replied. “We want them split, it makes them manageable. The only way we have all their major officers together again is if we blunder. Besides you’ve already told me the longer we wait the higher the chances this fails.”

“It’s a judgement call,” Vivienne said. “I don’t envy you the decision, but it is yours to make.”

I watched her as she brushed back her hair. It’d gotten longer, though still quite a ways were left to go until it reached the length of mine.  Her blue-grey eyes were untroubled, which I envied more than a little. Every day seemed to add another few pounds to what was already balancing on my shoulders. I chewed over what she’d said, but not the decision she’d brought to the fore. More the fact that she’d laid it at my feet, instead. When we’d begun, Vivienne had made it clear she was only sticking around so long as she thought I was the best game in town for Callow. And now here we were, planning how to turn back an invasion together.

“You seem amused,” she said.

“Just thinking about how far we’ve come,” I honestly said. “Can you imagine us having this conversation two years ago?”

She laughed, a little bitterly.

“It was a simpler world I lived in, two years ago,” Vivienne Dartwick admitted. “The lines in the sand were visible.”

“And now?” I asked quietly.

“Now I wonder,” Thief said, and her lips set in a hard line. “In your service, I have been part of ugly things. No two ways about that. But nowadays I look at the rest of Calernia, and all I see is vultures. You are flawed, I know that even if you’ve grown on me. But you’re also the only one who seems to care about any of this. There are twelve heroes on Calernian soil, Catherine, and every single one of them is a pawn to Proceran ambition. It is the reason they came in the first place. I thought… I thought better. Of all of us.”

“They’re not responsible for the Conquest,” I murmured. “For Malicia’s cold-blooded ruthlessness, or what came of Black playing his game with the Heavens. They get no pass from me for their own actions, but I will not blame them for that.”

“I’ve studied them, Catherine,” Thief said. “And the histories as well. When Callow as being invaded, Ashur was fighting for supremacy of the Samite Gulf. The princes of Procer were so far gone they preferred fighting civil war to taking up arms against Praes ascendant. Half the Dominion was fighting border skirmishes over trade rights, without a care of what happened beyond their borders. And the heroes… well, they had their own struggles, the ones that were already born. Yet none so great they should not have been set aside to fight against the fucking theft of an entire kingdom. It is infuriating, that it took them twenty years to suddenly find their principles. Can they really be called that, if they only surface when convenient? It reeks of pretext instead, and my tolerance for those has grown thin.”

Your people grown warped by your presence, the Grey Pilgrim had said. Old traits grown more vicious and acute. I could not tell if Vivienne had come to speak those words because she had seen the face of the enemy and felt only disgust, or because of something more insidious. A spreading influence I was unaware of. I had asked nothing of the Gods Below, since taking my Name, but I would have been a fool to believe they gained nothing from empowering me. Does it not matter in the slightest what I do? I wondered. I’d always dismissed the talk of heroes as mere religious prattle, the kind of empty sermons the House of Light garnished its true power with. But if there was truth to it, if I was a blight on Creation just by standing on the side of Below however loosely… That was the thing, wasn’t it? I was expected to take on faith the words of people trying to kill me. Or to follow the sayings of sacred texts that had been used as tools of ambition as often as not.  There were no easy truths to find. All I had was what I knew, and it was always too little.

“I do not mean this as excuse of the Empire,” Vivienne softly said. “I have learned of the people within it, that they are not as wretched as I once believed. But the High Lords and the Tower, that entire edifice of bloody misery? It must be brought down. There is not other choice, because we cannot tame a dog gone rabid. But I will not mistake the horrors of one side for the virtues of the other.”

“It was easier, wasn’t it?” I said whimsically. “When we thought right and wrong had a colour code?”

Thief put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed, a rare gesture of affection.

“I will not thank you, for opening my eyes to that,” she said, withdrawing her hand. “But I understand now, why you are who you are. Why anyone would look at the sky and curse. There is a point where it is no longer about right and wrong, isn’t there? Where it’s about doing something, anything, to avoid falling in that same old pit.”

Her fingers clenched, her eyes hardened.

“They don’t get to walk over us, to kill us, just because some fucking angel handed down a mandate,” she hissed. “They don’t get to avoid the responsibility of that choice. Or the consequences.”

Villain, I thought. There was only one side that spoke this way, and didn’t pray to Above.

“Black told me, once, that Fate it the coward’s way out,” I murmured. “The abdication of personal responsibility. I hate him a little bit, for still being right after all these years.”

She snorted.

“We might still lose, you know,” Thief said. “That’s the part that gets me. No matter how prepared we are, it might not be enough.”

“Could be,” I agreed. “But then we do the same thing villains have always done, when their plans fall apart.”

“And what’s that?”

“You get up,” I said. “You spit out the blood in your mouth, and you try again.”

We stayed sitting there for a long time, the two of us in front of a bowl gone fallow.

“We proceed with Headsman,” I finally said, breaking the silence. “Tell Masego to prepare. And send word to Kegan. The Deoraithe are to cross the river.”

“I will,” Thief replied. “And me?”

“I’ll open the gate as soon as Hierophant does the numbers,” I said. “This is going to be… delicate.”

“Isn’t it always?” Vivienne smiled.

It’d been some time since I had worn my full regalia – if it could be called that.

Full plate from head to toe, with chain shirt and aketon beneath. I’d considered this heavy, once, enough that it restricted my mobility. Nowadays I barely noticed it. I wore the helmet Hakram had gifted me, the hinged thing of steel with the black iron crown set atop it. My shield lay hanging on Zombie the Third’s flank as it idly picked at grass it could not actually digest, but my longsword was clasped tight to my flank on the sword-belt. The satchel at my side held munitions, though not standard issue. Robber had tinkered away before his departure. The Mantle of Woe streamed down my back, its bright colours muted in the shade of a moonless night. There was a weight to wearing all of this, and not only a physical one. Black Queen, they called me, but it was not a Name. It might have been, before my teacher broke Liesse and himself with it, but the story had died and the path with it. It would have been a lie, though, to still call myself the Squire. No one did anymore. I could still feel the bare bones of that Name, some days, but the flesh and muscle over them was Winter’s. Whatever I’d done in Liesse, when I had broken Masego’s scaffolding, it had ended my tenure. I had no aspects anymore, only the power that my mantle lent me. Even what I’d ripped from Akua, what had once been Call, it was… different now. By taking it I had come to own it, and that opened doors I’d never even dreamed of.

I rolled a dark wooden whistle between my steel-clad fingers, feeling it pulse with had once been the Diabolist’s power. To be fae, and I had touched the face of that, was to cease seeing the difference between principle and object as more than thin boundary. I’d experimented with that power, under Hierophant’s supervision, and the whistle had been one of the greater successes. It was an aspect made matter. Certain limitations had not been escaped, and some had even increased – anyone could use the whistle, yes, but Take had been theft of a finite bundle of power. The whistle could only be used once, since I’d yet to figure out how to partition uses. It would, however, work with the full strength of that aspect.

“A worthy trinket, for the Queen of the Hunt,” Larat said.

I glanced at him. Of all the fae sworn to me, he was the only one willing to bring his mount close to mine. In the early days after receiving their oaths, I’d had to… establish a pecking order. Some of them had been under the impression that entering my service was only a means to enter Creation unrestricted, and that now they’d entered they could play as they wished. My eyes turned to the dark-haired woman at the back of the pack, who shivered when she noticed me watching her. She’d been of Summer, before. It had not stopped her from trying to make sport of a full tavern of people in Laure, weaving glamour into their minds so they could play out a tragedy for her where real blood was spilled. Thief had been tracking all of them, so I’d intervened before any damage was done. I’d taken power to call her to heel, though, and drawing that deep had coloured my reaction. There were only two fingers to her left hand, now. I’d made her eat the rest.

No one had tested me since, at least.

“Won’t see use tonight,” I said, and flicked my wrist.

The whistle disappeared into nothingness, returning to Winter.

“Such leashes you inflict upon your might,” the former Prince of Nightfall sighed. “You could take so much more. And you have yet to bestow.”

I grimaced.

“I’m not going to hand out mantles to anyone, Larat,” I said. “Much less you.”

He laughed, cold and crisp.

“I have no more need of titles, save that which is owed,” he said. “But you are Queen of Winter, Catherine Foundling. No queen can be forever without a court.”

“You must take me for a complete idiot,” I mused. “Bad enough I have it whispering in the back of my mind, I’m not going to spread that influence.”

“Ah, but there are such benefits to bestowal,” Larat smiled. “Freedom from the chains of entropy among them. How many of those you love are you willing to lose to age, before bending your neck?”

My fingers clenched. Was he implying that if I titled Robber or any other of the goblins… No, I could not begin down that road. Bad enough I’d had speculations about what the Council of Matrons might be considering back in the Wasteland, if I ended up granting a sliver of Winter to Robber there would be blood.

“I am no stranger to sacrifice,” I replied shortly.

“So you say,” the Huntsman languidly shrugged. “We have all the time in the world to find out, don’t we?”

I eyed him darkly.

“Even for a treacherous lieutenant, you’re a little much,” I told him.

He scoffed.

“Am I a mortal, to deny my own nature?” he replied. “I am Fae, my queen: be it fair or foul, I will never be less than I am. I will be monster and schemer, hound and prince, but not once untrue through any of it. Deception lies in the eye of the other, not in one’s own blood.”

“That was very inspiring,” I drawled. “Doesn’t make me want to stab you just to be on the safe side any less, but lovely little speech. Really. If I still had functioning tear ducts I might shed a tear.”

“Tears will be shed when you feel them,” Larat told me.  “Your mistake is in trying to quantify, to place rules where there is only will.”

That, more than his tirade, had me shivering. Because it rang true. Place rules where there is only will. I looked away. Masego had continued to study my body, and the more I learned the more unsettled I became. He’d told me since the beginning that my flesh and blood was a construct, now, that there was nothing natural about it. To learn that I no longer sweated had been no horrifying revelation, but that while I might breathe out of habit I no longer needed to? There was a reason my liquor cabinet was well-stocked.

“You’re sure we’re close enough?” I asked.

Larat sighed.

“Your meddling practitioner tries to regulate that which is beyond regulation,” he said. “My queen, there is only the story. All else is beneath your notice.”

Yeah, that was less than reassuring. I felt the power bloom in the distance, and turned Zombie around so I could have a better look. Red lights in the night sky, to tall and bright they must have been visible even down in Laure.

“Ready yourselves,” I called out the Hunt. “You know the rules.”

There was sparse laughter, but many eager grins. I did not have to wait long before it came. I’d expected it to be different, even though I’d not really known what to expect. Like a gate, maybe, or a spell. All I felt was a window, just at the corner of my vision.

“The Wild Hunt rides tonight,” the fae who’d once been the Prince of Nightfall laughed. “Raise your banners, damned souls. Sound the horns and loose the hounds. Let us make sport under moonless night.”

I stepped through, bridging thought and act without embracing either. The water-filled bowl shattered as we crossed through it, a reflection made truth. Wind whipped at the inside of the tent as Zombie neighed, the terrified Deoraithe mage at my feet turning white. Every Callowan knew that scrying near the Waning Woods was like sending an invitation to the Wild Hunt.

We had accepted it.

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113 thoughts on “Chapter 10: Allegro

  1. Aeon

    Very interesting. Confirmation that she hasn’t gotten her new name yet. I honestly can’t wait for her to come into a new one, because I think it’ll be coming sooner or later.
    Awesome chapter.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Rook

      That brings up a question, are we sure whether she’s going to get a Name at all? I mean it’s been assumed as the rule so far, but the thing is that she’s pretty much Fae now, she already seems to play by a completely different set of rules.

      Larat mentions that she inflicts ‘leashes upon her own might’, and that she could ‘take so much more’. This could be interpreted as holding herself back out of morals or caution; but it’s very ambiguously stated, and it would be an extremely Fae thing to do to tell the truth in a way that’s prone to misinterpretation.

      His actual point might be that she’s already at the height of her power, and that she’s just limited by what she thinks the rules are – the old rules. What if a new Name hasn’t come and never will come because that unshaped mass of power was eaten by Winter when the Black Queen broke? It would be an explanation for why she has a Squire-level strength with no proper Name at all. It’s her self-imposed binding, that’s what she thinks she should have until a proper Name is granted.

      It opens up some interesting implications, if Winter could eat bestowed Name power and make it solely her own, instead of borrowed from the Gods Above or Below. If she could extend her capacity by Bestowing the Taken power and using it to bind individuals to her court? Her court, and her by extension, would essentially be the Fae equivalent of an infinitely-growing slime.

      Liked by 15 people

      1. BryceWilliam

        this story is all about *stories* about narrative weight, Cat becoming this strong was part of the climax last book yes, but it wasn’t its own.. *event*. When cat took the name squire we got a whole chapter about it. the whole story so far has been slowly building up to a name transition, it can’t not happen and it also can’t have already happened because when it does its going to be the main focus of that chapter and maybe even several chapters. Its going to be a huge deal and have major impacts on something insanely important happening in that moment.

        hell id guess that Cats gonna get her new name and pass out in the middle of a battle and we’ll get some interludes of the Woe defending her but then when their about to lose Cat comes back from dream quest 3.0 and rains down hellfire

        Liked by 1 person

      2. stevenneiman

        I think that what she might end up with is a chance to be free of Fate entirely. She’s a Fae, but she isn’t bound to the old ideals of Winter because there is no Winter but her, while at the same time not being mortal anymore. As a fae (or at least pseudo-fae), she would be bound more tightly to the applicable stories, but the only applicable stories are her own stories of forging her own path

        Liked by 2 people

  2. burdi

    I think she can’t come to her name, because she is the Winter Queen, yet she have not a court, “No queen can be forever without a court”, when she start to bestow title, her court will start..and when it has, she will come to her Name, something that cannot be changed anymore that her Name is The Winter Queen

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Big Brother

    There’s a reason Cat gets even more terrifying the longer she lives. Her Story is not one of a Marble on a track, forever following the same path, but of a wrecking ball falling on that track and giving true freedom for all that were stuck in that rut.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Rook

      That, and the whole murder-knight thing she has going, where she rides around on a rotting horse corpse while covered in a metric ton of steel and war trophies. That’s pretty scary too.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Unorginal

        Ahhh but while she may ride on a necromantic horse it’s not a bones and gory bits style one. Rather it had refinement, class, can fly, probably doesn’t even have any noticeable holes in its pelt yet. Also has its own personality and it is not dependant on Cat unless she wants it to be.

        Or so I have interpreted the text, honestly, I could be really wrong when I say that.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Naeddyr

    Thanks for the chapter. So seems like Cat doesn’t have a Name anymore, it’s just Winter and some trinkets.

    Does she count as a Villain then, anymore? I think we could try to fudge with a technicality here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know, honestly. As much as she still claims she’s on a “side”, with Hierarch’s action in the Epilogue of book 3, Archer/Squire/Apprentice all being Names capable of Good or Evil, and Adjutant/Hierophant being previously unknown Names, and now Thief spitting in Heaven’s eye but maybe not being quite a Villain . . . she could honestly just be building a Neutral Kingdom and sending a missive to all the other countries saying “Bugger off, Callow is not yours to burn.”

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Sanityfaerie

        Pretty sure Hierophant isn’t new. Apparently, being blinded and having to find an eye replacement was a known feature of the type – or at least certain comments (by Warlock?) shortly after he made the transition would suggest so.

        Like

      1. It is interpreted as such, yes. But, just as with Good, Summer was no joke, either. And in Arcadia, neither Winter or Summer remain.

        It might not remain in Creation, either. The Wild Hunt is technically a Winter thing, but the Summer Court has revels and hunts of its own, too, in myths and legends. In short, Summer could also call the Hunt, although its nature was a bit different. Think the difference between fox hunting with dogs and hawking. Things still die.

        Like

        1. Yeah Nah Yeah

          >The Wild Hunt is technically a Winter thing
          I thought the Wild Hunt was a Spring/Autumn Court thing? Don’t think the Wild Hunt was ever tied to Winter/Summer until Larat and co. joined up with Cat.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. In some traditions, it’s mid-winter. And, it all ways hangs around the chilly rather than the toasty. The dances, revels and marches that have laughter, bells and a side order of entrapment and slaughter? Summer.

            Like

  5. Whoo, Robber was good, Archer was, honestly, irritating for not taking this seriously and assuming she could take a full dozen heroes solo – you never get away after you shoot more than one, a student of the Ranger and a “Fey Expert” should know that. Vivienne’s bit was wonderful, honestly. Seeing her Fall in truth, here, was great. A woman who once thought being Righteous was enough now spitting in the eyes of Heaven. Oh she and Cat would actually make such a fantastic couple. Then . . . the Hunt. Ooh that sent chills down my spine, because that was truly glorious. And it gives Cat’s lesson to Ime on what it’s like to be Hunted a whole new perspective on how badly the night will go for those officers.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Yotz

      Ah, The Legend of Woe:
      The Hierophant, a cold madman whose strange sorceries tamed demons and stilled miracles.
      The Thief, a fallen heroine said to have once stolen an entire fleet and even snatched the sun out of the sky.
      Hakram Deadhand. The Adjutant. They said he was unkillable, that he was large as an ogre and his hand of bones could wrest out your soul.

      And, last but not least – the Archer, who managed to shot herself in the butt with yumi, twice. Somehow.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. grzecho2222

          Queen of Air and Darkness whose first enemy was knight in sour armour type of hero who wears longcoat, was supposed to be her red right hand, planned his own death and is totally dead with no chance of return what so ever.

          Like

    2. Blue

      Oh yeah still shipping Catherine and Vivienne. They’re good together and looks like they can push and pull each other in the directions they need to go. Cat has become suprisingly hamstrung by a mindset to appease Cordelia and I don’t see that working in the long term. It’s holding her back from taking the action she needs to on an almost dangerous level. Glad Thief talked her around.

      Like

  6. Joel

    Now that is a brilliant play. Have the Watch (who have no secret commands otherwise) scry, which opens a gateway to the Wild Hunt (which you command). The enemy is so busy looking for the types of gates you usually make that they won’t see it coming. Perfect.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Decius

      Brilliant on many levels;
      Assume that the heroes will be able to determine the actual orders given to The Watch
      Give the watch the order to scry when a condition is met.
      The enemy expects that the scrying is to get additional orders, to evade their truth-detection.
      The enemy closely monitors the scrying, to figure out what the secret orders are and if the Watch is betraying them.
      Wild hunt appears.
      Enemy is suddenly being attacked, right when the Watch is scrying for secret orders that might be betrayal.
      Enemy concludes that the Watch is betraying them.
      Enemy implements their contingency plan to attack Watch.
      Narrative is now that the Enemy attacked their ally without provocation.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Andrei

        Considering all the spotlight the whole “being a villain will make people under you darker” thing is getting if the Watch doesn’t get clarification that they were used I can see this becoming one of those long grudges Callowans are so famous for (and the Watch especially)

        Like

  7. Antoninjohn

    The God’s fear her for she is the Anathema, also known as the God Empress of Mankind

    “The Empress Protects”
    -The Lectitio Divinitatus

    Like

      1. grzecho2222

        Talbot: But Your Highness, now that they know of our plans–

        Cat: Ahh, Grandmaster, but that is the plan. Now that they know our plan, they will plan around our plan, and so we shall in turn plan around the plan that they are planning around our plan!

        Talbot: Your brilliance knows no bounds!

        Cat: And regardless… we have one advantage that they sorely lack~… GATES!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yotz

          Talbot: My Queen, what do you plan to do tonight?

          Cat: The same thing we do every night, Grandmaster – try to defend Callow!

          Like

          1. grzecho2222

            Dread Empress Triumphant: Ahh, after many years I’m free. Time to conquer Creation.
            Bard: She escaped. Recruit Band of Heroes with attitude.

            Like

  8. Bookworm

    I wonder if Catherine should even have a new Name at this point in the story. She is growing in such a way that she sounds like our own myths. Merlin, Hercules, Beowulf. Those figures formed the archetypes in our reality, rather than the archetype forming the figure as happens in this story. All of the excerpts at the start of the chapters refer to her as Foundling (as I recall), which just reinforces that she will not get another Name. She does not need one, and frankly, being forced into an archetype may inhibit her from doing what has to be done, as demanded by her character and story.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Anon

      I don’t necessarily disagree, but as has been pointed out both in this chapter and previous, the more she takes from the fae, the more bound she is to the rules of Arcadia, which can be used to entrap her.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bookworm

        I understand this, but it is an obvious trap laid out by the author. Because of the foreshadowing and the fatigue seen in Cat, it becomes more enticing for us the readers to believe in this danger, which is necessary for good writing. And good writing would seek to elicit our relief and excitement when she avoids such a trap in an exceptional way. It is guessing on a meta-level, but I don’t think she will ultimately fall under the binding of the Fae name (though there may be some temporary flirtations with Winter). No, I think the Fae mantle is just an escalation of the Named ploy. Both force the wearer of the mantle or bestowal into the archetype, the Fae more so than a Named. But Foundling’s character and story demands that she breaks free of archetypes in order to pursue her own path (which is an archetype of its own in our world). She is the ultimate driving force.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Andrei

      The thing is we’re seeing new names pop up around her and these don’t really have an archetype (think Hierophant) so if she ends up getting a new name she would’t be bound by any story other than the really big Good vs Evil one since there is no historical context for what she will do as “Insert name here”

      Like

  9. “The secret order was known only to one of her mages, and even the specifics of it were nothing too suspicious on the surface: all the mage had to do was check for a signal in the sky at a specific hour, and scry after seeing it. That, and note the position of officer tents. It would be quite enough.”

    Heh. So we finally get to see the Battle of the Camps. This’ll be interesting.

    Like

  10. Anon

    Hmm….Cat’s certainly giving the ‘evil begets evil’ aspect some solemn/serious thought – I would have thought that if this were true, it would have been evident (or at least visible) before now – considering Cat’s the ‘least’ evil she’s ever been, compared to when she was willing to accept the weapon with Malicia to act as a deterrent.

    It almost feels….perhaps a little too blunt, now that she’s seeing it everywhere? I get that it’s going to likely end up a driving force for her to abdicate (along with the rest of her plans), but if doing that much is enough for Thief to become ‘evil’, (of which, incidentally, she’s really not, if she’s trying to fight against zealots who won’t back down to reason), this would be a much more common tactic among villains…..Unless the ‘thresher’ type of villain mentioned by the gray pilgrim is relatively rare?

    Especially when Cat’s now technically only ‘named’ in the vaguest sense – unless the Squire’s skeleton is enough to leave that association, and/or Winter itself is enough to make the people evil (which could be closer to the truth, given how the fae interact with Creation), it seems like reaching.

    But at least Cat’s moving ahead with her plans, and the story, right now, does have some credence against fighting back the Crusaders, even if the latter are on the side of ‘Good’ – which I’m guessing will end up being a part of the Prince’s Graveyard battle.

    However, I’m guessing the name battles are going to start taking their toll, even for someone of Cat’s power. And on that note, I’m perhaps most worried about Cat’s body at this point – between the headaches, the mental contamination, and the other worries her Winter body has brought her, I’m expecting it to end up a focal point sometime during this battle.

    At any rate, I’m curious to see how the named battles start stacking up – with the grey pilgrim teaching the younger heroes, and the sword saint running interference, Cat’s gonna be pressed for success.

    Also, sidenote: has the story ever made mention of any good/evil names ‘hopping’ to the other side like Thief is maybe doing here, and the potential consequences therein? Unless Cat’s ‘allowed’ to do that because of the ‘thresher’ nature she has, I would think the heavens would start to try and trip up Thief.

    PS: the Vivienne/Cat ship also takes a few steps forward, though not in healthy ways….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Darkening

      There was a big deal made out of Cat’s rule of three with William being a possible redemption story, which seems to indicate it’s certainly possible for people to go from villain to hero and back again.

      Like

    2. Mr. Nobody

      I think Vivienne had a kind of Neutral Name since the beginning seeing how Assassin didn’t kill her, going as far as trying to recruit her back then.

      Like

    3. Jonnnnz

      Evil begets evil, but good sometimes also begets evil. Take the Champion, a hero that only cares about killing, as an example. Or take Black and his plan, where people don’t need heroes, as an example of evil begetting good. The dichotomy of good and evil is at best forced from human standards. It only really exists for the gods

      Like

      1. Metrux

        Like mentioned in the comments in so many chapters, do not confuse Good with good and Evil with evil, what we see as good and evil don’t define those forces, since they are directly derived from the Gods, both Above and Bellow.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Yeah, the story will love that. Under the moonless night, the Queen of The Hunt, Sovereign of Moonless Night, lead The Hunt to pursue mortals who dare to trespass in her domain.

    This one is going to give birth to so many rumours, myths and folklore…

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Yotz

        Don’t discard her just yet – she is a half-Faerie, after all. One potential avenue would be stabilizing her blood-related problems by Bestowal of, say, Viscountess of Whatever-is-the-antonym-to-Indian-Summer upon her…
        And in the face of Eternity silly little things like polyamory are not only normalized and accepted, but rather expected from one.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. nick012000

    Thought: Names are bestowed by the gods of this setting, right? And the Kings and Queens of the Fae are said to be (lesser?) gods.

    Does that mean that Cat can make Named?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yotz

      More like orthogonal gods – but yes to the first, at least as I see it.
      To the second – depends: are Fair titles can be considered names? For they sure as sugar are something more than just “Baron of the Rotten Bog” or “Marquise de Sty”…

      Like

      1. Metrux

        You should remember she fought a Fae who was Named in the “common” way, the Rider. Thus titles have power besides Names, and you can have both, not only in Cat’s way.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yotz

          Remind me, please, was the Rider Entitled in addition to be Named?
          What I lead to – there can be several explanations to this:
          * firstly, the Rider was Named by the will of the Gods of Creation, for only they can bestow a Name, while only Lords of Arcadia can grant a Fair/Foul Title, thus the “orthogonal” part;
          * secondly, “The Rider” can be a lesser Arcadia Title like, say, the Constable, the Küchenmeister, or the Seneschal.

          Regardless of that, the question was about Cat’s capacity to create a Name for someone. The way I see it – she can only facilitate Naming (like it was with Hakram), but not simply nickname one and expect it to become one’s Name just because of her own Title. She, however, can grant a lesser Title to anyone – or almost anyone – without any fuss, and it will stick.

          Liked by 1 person

  13. agumentic

    “Wasn’t able to get all the Names,” Thief said. “But I do have a number for you: there’s fourteen of them.” – Chapter 5.

    Ouch, so the fight with Absence did not happen without casualties.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. SMHF

        Cat knew there’s gonna be fourteen Heroes in the enemy camps from Vivian’s report… the fact that no one bothers to point out why two of them are Absent now should tell us something!

        Liked by 2 people

    1. It may be the Grey Pilgrim got absenced then.
      As hes the only Hero she even talked too and Absence seems like it would be a weakness for the Choir of Mercy that’s all about alleviating suffering.
      What does that do for the terms set?

      Like

    2. Yotz

      Which brings to a question: how exactly do the Absence works? Are the Absenced simply cease to exist, blinking through time and space a-la certain Bard until the effect wears off; or they continue to exist within Creation but get ignored by everyone and everything akin to certain Joe Schmo, who is compleatly normal, non-anomalous person, and in no way, shape, or form is a Keter-class permanent containment failure in progress?
      For if the second is true, that opens some terrifying options for the side of The Greater Good…

      Like

      1. agumentic

        Probably just cease to ever existing forever and retroactively. It’s hard to say what would that mean for all their achievements and consequences of all their actions, but they may also retroactively vanish. Which turns everything into a huge mess, actually, but that’s demons for you.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. mm, not necessarily – the example of a Demon of Absence’s power was some city vanishing from everyone’s memory for a specific period of time, though I can’t remember how long that was. It’s possible that the Heroes will make a triumphant comeback just in time to save the group from utter defeat.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Quie Possibly A Cat

            So potentially the two vanished heroes can kick their way out of non-existence, pop back into creation at the worst possible time and probably come out with a gaggle of power ups? Wonderful.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. d_o_l

              Not necessarily. That’s how things would normally work, but it’s stated that demons actually destroy the narrative itself. The usual rules don’t apply when demons are involved.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Yotz

              More likely not “kick their way out”, but simply appear suddenly and without their volition or intent in second worst possible moment as if they always were here. If continent wide empire can appear as of nowhere, why not two Heroes?

              Demons do damage the Narrative, though, so possible heroic reappearance can’t be predicted with narrative tools – ultimately, one must be/have knowledge from beyond the weave of the Story to be able to see/remember damaged parts of it. So – possibly, Hierophant. Probably, Larat.

              Liked by 1 person

      2. grzecho2222

        Or it works same way as Licho (demon of random disappearing) and it just moves random people/objects/places/concepts to heck knows where

        Like

  14. Well, we can safely say the Procerans and the Heroes didn’t see that one coming…or they would never have authorised a single scrying, or refused the Watch inside their camp. The enemy is already inside their defences. The heroes are numerous, but there is one charged to mount guard near the Deaoraithes who is going to find himself against Catherine and the entire Wild Hunt. I would not like to be in his place.
    Add to this that Masego is planning something impressive magically.

    Yeah, this battle has already begun badly for the Crusaders and the intended target is not people the Princes are going to protect at all costs. After all the lives of high-ranked nobles are far more important than up-jumped commoners, right?

    The effect is going to be terrifying, seriously. If it works, any mage on the surface of Calernia scrying at night is potentially a target. That isn’t exactly going to provide a boost of confidence.

    I suppose this is the Battle of the Camps…and unless the authori s misleading us, the Light has already lost two heroes to a demon of Absence.

    Can’t wait for the next chapter…

    Like

      1. Quie Possibly A Cat

        Doubt it. Cat noted on how it was strange she hadn’t noticed there was a Tenth of Heroes+two officers. Two heroes got fed to Ur, Demon of the Firsts Choir. I mean, Abstinent Demon, Archer’s Greatest Weakness. I mean the Demon who Smells of Sunflowers. Okay, this is just going downhill.

        I guess we know why no one was able to locate any records of it.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yotz

          Surely you meant the Demon of Absinthe, Archer’s Bestest Friend! Its appearances have been thoroughly recorded. And… let’s call it “studied”.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. Miles

        I think she would have been questioning where the other heroes went if there had been 14 and now there were only 12, but there wasn’t a single line about it.

        Like

        1. oldschoolvillain

          It also mentioned she had a splitting headache, and that even Vivienne and Masego had been “out of sorts.” As close to confirmation that the Heroes engaged Absence and lost two that we’re likely to get for now.

          Liked by 1 person

  15. Thea

    It’s funny, really. Cat fought the fae in Book 3 because she wanted all fae influence out of creation. Except she turned herself in the quasi-Winter Queen, making all people of Callow quasi-Winter Peasants, until she elevates them. But this might be the actual reason Callow’s people turn harsher. “Better them than us” is a winter-theme as well. Because as a villain, the Squire, she shouldn’t have enough power to subtly influence a whole nation, and she hasn’t received Name-power since.

    This would mean… as long as Cat rules, Callow will grow harsher. She might escape by eventually abdicating and focusing on being the Queen of the Hunt. It would allow her to travel, for example with Archer or people she might eventually bestow titles on, after all. Relying on your close and loved ones and keeping close is another winter-theme, after all. And as the Queen in Exile, she always has a story thread to come back and pull Callow out of trouble. Like one vicious Guardian… maybe not Angel, but you get my drift. Would that qualify as a happy ending?

    Liked by 6 people

    1. grzecho2222

      She seems to be going way of:
      -Future Callow is invaded (again)
      -King/Queen is failing
      -King/Queen goes into the darkest, the coldest place in Callow during moonless night
      -King/Queen offers his/hers crown of gold and mantle of ermine and asks for help the darkest ruler of Callow
      -Black Queen (or under other Name) appears crown in iron and cloaked in fallen
      -Black Queen raises armies of Callow from death and calls for her court of horrors
      -Black Queen crushes invaders
      -King/Queen realizes that they have no idea how to make her go away now
      -Ow snap we count as Evil nation again

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Yotz

        For souls long lost and full of fright,
        For thouse alone in Moonless Night,
        To set right what has been made wrong,
        I call you, Black Queen – make us strong!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Miles

      I’m kind of hoping she casts off that mantle at some point and becomes not-fae again. Right now her greatest weakness is the fact that the Queen of Summer/King of Winter union is the court that would oppose her metaphorical one, and if they were to die somehow she’ll go dormant until the fall/spring cycle completes, along with all the other summer/winter fae.

      And it’s only a matter of time before the King/Queen of Winter/Summer have a little spat and who knows how that’ll turn out.

      Like

      1. Metrux

        They kind of don’t exist anymore? I mean, the whole reason for the wedding was to end the cycle, there is no more Winter and Summer, the only thing from ANY of them that exists is Cat. Larat is only there because he abdicated his Winter mantle to become part of the Wild Hunt, which is something any Fae can do, but the Wild Hunt is strictly from Spring/Fall, thus if they are here, there is no Summer/Winter, or simply it all got broken, like the king wanted.

        All in all there is simply no problem or reason to worry about them dying, they are not her antithesis, and she isn’t even a true Fae, so she won’t go dormant, just like half-fae doens’t, neither does Fae on reality soil.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. TeK

      Grandmaster Brandon Talbot: They’ll hunt you.
      Catherine : You’ll hunt me. You’ll condemn me, set the dogs on me. Because that’s what needs to happen. Because sometimes…the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded. 
      Brandon’s Son: Catherine? Catherine! Why is she running, Dad?
      Grandmaster Brandon Talbot: Because we have to chase her.
      Brandon’s Son: She didn’t do anything wrong.
      Grandmaster Brandon Talbot: Because she’s the Named Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So, we’ll hunt her, because she can take it. Because she’s not a Hero. She’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A Dark Knight.

      Damn it’s sad she’s not a Squire.

      Like

  16. Weeeeelllll then.

    So, for our first point of the day, it looks like the Pilgrim’s requests for Heavenly aid gave him a way to track the gate makers. Reasonable and a good choice, if that was anywhere close to the game Cat was playing. But sadly, as has been demonstrated, she isn’t playing that game.
    It’s almost like she doesn’t even know what game she is playing anymore! It’s great! Embrace the madness of Isabella!

    Second thing, Absence is up and about and seems to have eaten two heroes. It’s interesting that even when she is so charged with Fae power that Cat is still affected. However, the very fact that people in universe can remember the name and existence of Absence indicates their power has flaws which can be used to undo it.

    The two old timers are definitely still here though and it was two rando’s who got ate, so it’s possible that Absence has activated on it’s own some how and is slowly working it’s way through the Procerans. I… would not be surprised to find out that chunks of the armies are starting to slowly go missing.

    Third up is that what the Pilgrim said disturbed Cat and set her up on a path which is currently ill defined. The bluntness of her awareness of this seems like a growth from her initial thoughtfulness before the Pilgrim, but I am concerned its some kind of mind shenanigans like the redemption story attempt. The Pilgrim seems a bit too honest, and affected in turn by what she said to do that kind of thing intentionally. Could be the Heavens being cheating meddlers.

    Fourth Cat looks like a badass and is really getting into enchanting of magic items. The fact that it can be used by anyone is rather concerning. Though I wonder if it can be used to call Cat by one of her allies. It’s a good thing she isn’t relying on it though as Black taught her.

    Fifth, it must suck like flaming ass to be a grunt in Malanza’s army right now. First there was a great long hike through a mountain pass over a giant stair case made through spooky magic. Then they got into Callow and have faced minimal resistance juxtaposed with pants shittingly terrifying moments of abrupt lethal battle by armies which can’t be pursued. The supplies are gone and you might not make it to Harrow. The Great Hasenbach is forbidding the soldiers from feeding themselves through intense foraging. Annnnnd now you learn that your enemy can somehow pop right in the middle of camp while you’re taking a piss in the latrine.

    Life sucks being a Crusader.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Author Unknown

    Two questions spring to mind. One, how good is the Grey Pilgrims foresight. Cat seems to be doing something very reckless, that she specifically said she wasn’t going to do: making plans which hinge on things going right. Jumping into the middle of the enemy camp with only one way out makes it seem like she has forgotten the kind of bullshit heroes can pull out of there ass. ‘Specially given that she is gambling on them not reacting fast enough to counter her before she can retreat. For all she knows, the rest of the merry band has chosen this moment to have a few drinks with the commander.

    Two: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Which hero is keeping an eye on the Watch? Cat is guaranteed a Hero battle against an unknown opponent and she still waltzes right in, even though she will be needed to flee. Yeah, she has had a good run against newbie heroes, but this seems rather arrogant. All that talk about Squire being nothing more than a skeleton brings up one potential weakness. For all her current strength, her foundation is still that of an introductory Name.

    All in all this strike me as a remarkably reckless move. One of questionable merit. Even if she accomplishes her objective, I don’t think it will have the effect she wants. Some of the princes seem to think that the real war is fought with hushed voices in smokey backrooms, and all the marching and everything is just the fiddle bits in between.

    I expect some of their reactions to loosing their commanders to be something along the line of: So we lost a few jumped up peasants? Plenty more commoners where they came from. Promote a few and get on with it. After all, their only job is to do what their betters tell them. How hard can that be?

    I’m concerned about how this all going to play out. I would feel a lot better if Deadhand was there to pull her frigid ass out of the fire, again.

    Like

    1. Metrux

      1. You are simply assuming there is only one way out, which is a pretty bad thing to do when you confront Fae. To start with the way in has already been destroyed, the scring bowl broken, but they could accept the invitation on any other scrying bowl anywhere (we don’t know the limitations, if there are any). Then we come to have two fae gate makers just on this group, which strikes me as making retreat a very easier thing, especially since anyone under her command is free to pass through Arcadia, but her enemies are not, so shenanigans should stop them from going after the Wild Hunt. Also, we don’t know what Masego is doing, but it should be nice aswell.

      2. Why would that ever be a problem? This is not HER battle, but a Wild Hunt with her in it, it’s been noted before that few Named have ever seen the Wild Hunt and left alive, that is one of Ranger’s list of achievements, so a single Hero in the way, trying to fight or contain the Watch just before the freaking Wild Hunt comes for him? Yeah, I don’t see any way he is going to cause Cat any problems, even the Pilgrim or the Saint would have trouble staying alive in this situation, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be one of them guarding the Watch.

      All in all, Adjutant being there would make things harder, since he can’t mount and he isn’t part of the hunt, which would make him a fourth party (if you count the Watch as a third one). He would need to have his ass saved, not the other wa around.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. TeK

      You misunderstand something, I think. The fact that Catherine is, for all relevant intents and purposes, nameless is a huge advantage. For one, most of players seem to think, that she is a Villain. She is not. Villains are Named, so if she has no Name, she is not a Villain, she is a monster. Or a force of nature, given that she is of Winter. It’s another breed entirely and requires different tactics and different attitudes. For example, Villains always lose at the end of the story. Monster?

      Liked by 2 people

  18. warriormonk19

    What does Cat owe Larat? Did she promise him something when he brought the Winter Army to ride against the Summer’s in Book 3?

    Like

    1. “The Crowns of Seven Mortal Princes and One, lain at the feet of the Prince of Nightfall”
      That is, at least, what she told Princess Sulia. She was warned, however, that it must not come to pass, so whether she finagles out of it or not is in the air. It was given a callback in the prologue though, so chances are not high.

      Like

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          Not sure that’d work. As long as it is a crown of a mortal prince, it counts to be given, but that means it likely counts to be gotten. Pretty sure this is some story bullshit that lets Larat ascend into something, or gives him a destiny/prophecy fulfillment that makes him neigh-unstoppable as he gets whatever it is he wants.

          Like

          1. TeK

            Say, crazy thought, but what if he wants to be a King of Winter? While he did said, that he does not want any titles, he mentioned “beyond already owned”. What if this crown bullshit is some kind of wedding gift? He mentioned that his realm is very close to Cat’s. If the Winter court will be firmly established in the Creation, since it sees everything in monochrome, the Summer court will need to appear. And since we already got one court in Arcadia, it can potentially mean war between Arcadia and Creation.

            I think my headcanon needs a bit more polishing.

            Like

  19. grzecho2222

    ““Agreed,” he said. “Innocents should not be made to suffer. You must refrain from using demons.”

    “I’ll swear to that, if you refrain from calling on angels,” I said.”

    Grey Pilgrim never said that Heroes won’t use Demons. Is there a possibility that some Antihero is using Demon as invisibility cloak?

    Like

    1. JJR

      Probably not Demons, they are too far over the line to even keep anti-heroing afterwards I think. Given how the damage creation itself and rather permanently. Devils though, there’s a maybe. They are far more controllable and arguments about “The Great Good” might abound.

      Either way, this would open the narrative door to Cat using Angels on the crusaders. Most of the choirs would only strengthen the crusade of course. But what happens if the entire army is made Merciful? It’s a bit hard to win a crusade if you will never again take a life.

      Like

  20. “Strange, it hadn’t occurred to me before now that the muster of heroes on the other side was essentially a tenth and two officers. I had been tired, and there’d been a few days a while back where I’d had vicious headaches. Must have been the lack of sleep having unforeseen consequences. We were all feeling the pressure: even Vivienne and Masego had been out of sorts.”

    Oh, so that’s when the absence demon ate those two heroes.

    Liked by 1 person

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