Chapter 13: Élevé

“Civilized men disapprove of murder, of course. Unless it involves banners and great numbers: then it becomes one’s patriotic duty.”
– King Edmund of Callow, the Inkhand

We knew Thief had succeeded days before she returned. The crusader host had begun a hard march south, at a harder pace than they’d ever taken before. Malanza was working her soldiers to exhaustion, and we knew exactly why: Vivienne had emptied their stores. Larat had gated General Hune and her army at their back once since then, to break the supply lines again, but they’d not even bothered to send an army to chase the ogre’s soldiers away. The implication was that the foodstuffs coming from Procer were too few and infrequent to feed the number of hungry mouths she now had to deal with, and Thief confirmed as much when she stumbled back into camp.

“Heroes were busy with you or your minions,” Vivienne said. “I had almost a full hour before someone noticed the stores were emptying.”

“They didn’t pursue?” I asked.

“They tried,” she shrugged. “But they had nothing that could see through my aspect, apparently. Or at least no Named that could and came close to me.”

And with that, the preparations for our battle were done. We had Princess Rozala Malanza’s army exactly where we wanted it: tired, undersupplied, and forced to march on Hedges or starve. There was serious debate among the general staff about retreating even further south to stretch those advantages out, but in the end we decided against it. Any further and we were entering the heartlands of the Barony of Hedges. Assuming we won the battle, some defeated soldiers would flee into the countryside and the last thing I wanted was a few thousand deserters ravaging the region out of desperation. The Army of Callow folded back into a single entity, with the addition of a thousand members of the Watch. That brought us to slightly over twenty-two thousand soldiers, in whole. Against over fifty thousand crusaders, twelve – perhaps eleven if I’d mangled Two Knives enough, but I wasn’t relying on that when they had healers – heroes and who the Hells knew how many priests. Enough that scrying the crusader host directly had been a wash for months, anyway, and given the sprawling stretch of their war camps it had to be a least a few hundreds. My side boasted a few sharp knives as well, at least: Hierophant, well-trained mage lines, five thousand of the finest heavy cavalry on Calernia and Pickler’s vicious war engines.

The first enemy banners came in sight midmorning.

Yellow striped across red, with three white lions. That was the Prince of Orne’s own, if memory served, and the lesser banners beneath it kept to those same three colours. In the Principate, the heraldry of lesser nobles beneath a prince had use of only that’s prince’s palette. That led to an orgy of improvisation, most of it patently absurd to look at – like the red lion with a yellow pig in its mouth set on white I first saw not a half-hour later. The vanguard was pure Alamans. First came the horse, with rich armour and richer pennants, then a mass of five thousand fantassins. I’d not forgotten the lecture had given me on Proceran soldiery. Most their armies were levies raised and kept only for the length of the latest war, poorly equipped and barely trained. Vulnerable to shock tactics, why was why Procerans tended to put such an emphasis on light cavalry. Peasants with shitty spears tended run when a wedge of glittering charged at them. The second kind of soldiery was the one before me: fantassins. Former levies who’d lost everything in the wars or gained a taste for the soldier’s life, and now served in companies of their own making – though usually on the take from one prince or another. Leather and mail armour, wooden shields and longswords. Most of them were also carrying javelins, though, and that was more worrying.  A well-thrown javelin would punch through a Legion regular’s mail if it came from close enough.

The last was principality troops, the personal armies of the many royals of Procer. Heavy infantry, mostly sword and board soldiers though their shields were lighter and smaller than Legion standard issue. They also had archer companies, which might get nasty. Legion crossbowmen tended to shoot further and stronger than any archer not using longbows, but I had relatively few of them and the rate of fire for a properly-trained archer was better. Juniper had raised crossbow companies when forging the Army of Callow, but in skirmished like that numbers often carried the day and those wouldn’t be on our side. The last principality soldiers were the cavalry. Light horse, most of them, since only the Lycaonese relied on heavy charges and there were none among the opposition. Our last count had the opposing cavalry at almost eleven thousand, more than double the Order of Broken Bells. Baroness Ainsley’s two hundred knights did little to even the odds, though they were still welcome.

The enemy vanguard stayed a mile away, not even remotely inviting an engagement. I wasn’t surprised. We’d waited for the crusader here for a day, and Juniper had my army at work the entire time. Field fortifications had been raised, trenches dug and siege engines set over low hills of beaten earth. Attacking us in our entrenchments without numerical superiority was suicide. Not that it prevented a few hundred enemy horse from parading out of crossbow range, banners waving in the breeze. Juniper sent out the Watch to clear them out, and they retreated after the first volley – which, sadly, killed no more than a dozen.

“Trying to gauge longbow range, you think?” I mused, eyes flicking to the Hellhound.

I was astride Zombie while the stood by her command table, surrounded by her staff. Easy for her to do, I thought bitterly. If I was on the ground, I wouldn’t even see beyond our reserves. Everyone was so fucking tall, it was really unacceptable.

“They should already have a notion,” the orc growled. “Not like it’s changed much in the last few hundred years. No, they were just arrogant little pups out to posture.”

And they’d lost half a line of their buddies for it. And that’s why you don’t let nobles run an army, I thought. Or at least not Proceran nobles. The Old Kingdom had done fairly well relying on its own.

“I dislike just leaving them out there,” I noted, gesturing at the five thousand infantry in the distance.

“Bait,” Juniper said. “There’ll be heroes, I bet. And if we sent enough soldiers to swat them away, we’ll weaken the fortifications for when the real army arrives. Let them come.”

I sighed. She was probably right. It didn’t make any more pleasant to stew in the sun while the crusaders lumbered towards our battle. By noon, the amount of cavalry in the distance had doubled. The spread of colours among banners had expanded. Blue, black, green. Wyverns and dragons and horses. Our own were less… exotic. The Fifteenth’s banner still flew, with my own personal heraldry besides it: scales, with the sword and the crown. The Order of Broken Bells had its own as well, but aside from that the only departure was the flock of starlings on blue that belonged to House Morley of Harrow. The infantry swelled as the hours passed, and before Noon Bell was at an end the enemy had fully arrived. I puffed at my pipe, watching the mass of shining steel ahead. There weren’t as many on the field today as there’d been at Second Liesse, but there were more soldiers. It was going to be a very different kind of battle.

“You think they’ll open with Named?” Juniper asked.

I shook my head.

“They’ve got veterans on the other side,” I said. “Heroes that have been around for long enough to know you don’t open with Named. The first will come out the moment we start winning on one side of the field.”

It would take careful managing, we both knew. Heroes could not be left alone. Most of them would scythe straight through even hardened infantry and their mere presence could turn a rout into a stubborn line of defence. On the other hand, my side didn’t have the numbers to hammer down every hero that popped up. In a contest of Named, I was short more than a few. And Thief hardly counted, considering she wasn’t a fighter. Hierophant and I could punch pretty hard, but on the other hand if our army started needing us to win then it became essentially guaranteed that some hero would cut us down. Best case, we’d be driven off the field, but best case wasn’t something to count on when there was the Saint and the Pilgrim on the other side.

“Priority’s teasing out whatever they intended to use as the northern passage if we blocked them,” I said. “That’s too dangerous an unknown to allow Malanza to keep sitting on it.”

I’d gotten an oath about the opposition not calling on angels, but the Pilgrim would never have agreed to that if his crew didn’t have other weapons to wield. With Praesi, it was the sorcerers you had to worry about. With the Procerans, though? My money was on the priests. I leaned forward, watching the crusaders in the distance, and frowned. Was that? Yeah, no two ways about it. They were moving carts and pitching tents.

“They’re making camp,” I told Juniper.

The orc snorted.

“How prudent of them,” she said. “Malanza must think there’d a decent chance it’ll take more than a day to exterminate us. I doubt she’ll be going for attrition with her boys’ stomachs going empty, but she’ll be generous in trading soldiers.”

Our camp is the largest concentration of foodstuffs between here and Hedges,” I said. “If she’s desperate…”

“She knows we can gate out if it gets to that,” Juniper replied, shaking her head. “No, this is just her hedging her bets. We’ll see the first skirmishers moving out within the hour, mark my words.”

The Hellhound, for once, was proved wrong. She’d not misread the military, as it happened, but the political. A party of four riders under truce banner rode out, stopping halfway between our camps. I went to meet them. I could have brought Juniper and Hierophant, or even Baroness Ainsley as the ranking noble with the army, but that would just be posturing. On this field, I was the one making decisions for my side. Zombie trotted out cheerfully, the sun pounding down at us until I sat in the saddle across from the crusader delegation. There were some familiar faces there. The Saint and the Pilgrim, though they were at the back. The old woman discreetly sliced her finger across her throat when I glanced at her. Charming. The Grey Pilgrim inclined his head in greeting and I did the same, before taking in the other two. The man was much older than the woman, at least late forties. Prince Amadis Milenan, at a guess. To my surprise, he was good-looking. I’d expected some caricature of a Chancellor, but instead what I got was very well-groomed older man with fair hair and a chiselled jaw. The other – Princess Rozala Manlanza, most likely – was maybe a few years older than me. Dark eyes and darker curls, with the kind of wicked easy smile that belonged more on Laure tavern girl than foreign royalty.

“Afternoon,” I said. “I’d say welcome to Callow, but I see you’ve already made yourself at home.”

I punctuated with a nod at the army behind them.

“Queen Catherine,” the older man said, bowing ever so slightly. “I am Prince Amadis Milenan of Iserre.”

“So I’d guessed,” I said. “I already know the two greyhairs in the back. Should I assume the curvy one measuring me up is Princess Malanza?”

“Are you trying to seduce your way out of this, Black Queen?” the woman in question asked, sounding amused.

“Unfortunately I have a strict non-invading Callow clause for people I let into my bed,” I said. “I’ll take that as a yes, by the way. You took your sweet time getting here, Malanza.”

“My supplies inexplicably disappeared into thin air,” the princess drawled. “Slowed us down some. I don’t suppose you’d happen to know where they went?”

“Must have been rats,” I said sympathetically. “Callow’s had a vermin problem, these last few months.”

“What a coincidence,” Malanza said. “We’ve come to remedy that very issue.”

Shit. Now I kind of liked her. I’d probably feel a least a little bad about putting her head on a pike down the line. Prince Amadis cleared his throat.

“I must implore you to excuse the uncouthness of my general,” he said. “The prospect of battle wearies her, as it does all of us.”

“I’m not a stickler on etiquette,” I smiled. “Trying to sell chunks of Callow, though? That does get on my nerves a bit.”

Not a trace of dismay passed on the princes’ face, though I knew he couldn’t be pleased about the Watch turning on him. Duchess Kegan had been less than impressed by the man, as it happened. He’d promised her both Laure and Denier when she’d pushed, which she’d taken as meaning he would have double-crossed her the moment he could.

“Preparing for peace is hardly treachery,” Amadis said. “You are outnumbered in both Named and men, Queen Catherine. Let us not spill blood unreasonably. I have terms of surrender to offer, should you be willing.”

I glanced at the Grey Pilgrim, whose serenity was unruffled by this. Did they seriously expect to fold now?

“You would have to abdicate, naturally,” the Prince of Iserre said. “But I would title you Princess of the Blessed Isle, and grant you the eastern half of the lands currently in the rule of the governorship of Summerholm.”

“Huh,” I said. “And you heroes would respect those terms?”

“We would,” the Grey Pilgrim said, sending the Saint a quelling look when it looked like she’d speak up.

“It this the part,” I mused, “where I’m supposed to be thankful about you trying to make me your marcher lord at the frontier with Praes? Let’s not even touch the part where you’re carving up Callow between your supporters, because then I’ll lose my fucking temper and we’re under a truce banner.”

“You cannot win this war,” Prince Amadis sharply said. “This must be obvious by now.”

“Malanza’s face is blank,” I said, pointing at the princess. “That’s because she’s trying not to smile. That should tell you more or less what I think of your offer. Now, here’s mine.”

I let out a long breath.

“Go home,” I said. “I’ll even provide enough supplies you don’t starve on the way out, though you’ll have to pay for them and there’ll be a ‘I shouldn’t have fucking invaded another country’ markup. You’ll find nothing here but death, so just go home and settle your pissing match with Hasenbach out of my homeland. If you cross the passage, I will not pursue.”

I glanced at the princess of Aequitan.

“That holds for after someone runs him through,” I told her. “Leave, and you will not be harassed on the way out. I don’t particularly want to fight this war, Malanza. It ends the moment you let it.”

“Are you threatening me under peace banner?” Prince Amadis Milenan calmly said.

“I’m telling you I’m about to stop being nice about this,” I told him. “I’ve bent over backwards to limit the damage, but if it comes to a battle a lot of people are going to die for very stupid reasons. And to be blunt, they’ll be yours more than mine. We could avoid that entirely and both be better off.”

“This is a crusade, Catherine Foundling,” the Saint of Swords said. “Not a petty invasion. You do not make truce with holy war.”

“There’s no point in talking to you, Saint,” I sighed. “You’re Ranger with a shiny coat of paint and a socially acceptable pretext for killing.”

The old woman’s face darkened.

“You’re going to lose a hand for that,” she said.

“Amateur,” I dismissed. “I’ve spent years dealing with Wastelanders, you second-rate bully. You think you’ve got a single threat that can shake me? I used to answer to a woman who uses a fucking demon as a gatekeeper has an entire hallway of forever screaming heads.  Your notion is bad is her starting point.”

I barrelled on before she could reply.

“I’ll keep to the terms I agreed on with the Grey Pilgrim,” I said. “Where are we falling on prisoner exchanges?”

“No guarantees,” Malanza said. “Should there be worthwhile trades to make, you will be approached under banner.”

Translation: she was sitting on any men of mine she caught unless I got my hands on someone high up enough the ladder it would be politically inconvenient to leave there.

“There doesn’t have to be a battle,” the Saint said. “You and me, girl. Here and now. We settle it the old way.”

I glanced at her skeptically.

“Last time we scrapped you beat me like a rented mule,” I said. “I’m not getting anywhere near you without a mage company and half a dozen ballistas. Pass.”

“Cowardice is an ugly thing,” the old woman smiled.

“The chorus of the side with the bigger swords,” I shrugged. “If that’s all, I have an army to lead.”

“Such generous terms of surrender will not be offered again,” Prince Amadis warned.

“I’m feeling generous too, Proceran,” I smiled. “So when I sent your head on a pike back to Salia, your soul won’t be bound to it.”

And on this particularly diplomatic note, I spurred Zombie away and returned to my host.

Within the hour, skirmishes on both sides advanced.

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104 thoughts on “Chapter 13: Élevé

  1. Antoninjohn

    Mango has already been seen to send Corruption down magic links, how effected​ will the Crusade be when that happens to all there mages at the same time

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Darkening

      Does he even have Corruption anymore? I mean, there was some left after the end of Liesse I imagine, but I’d have expected Cat and him to have a long talk about the appropriateness of binding demonic essence into yourself without telling anyone.

      Like

      1. Antoninjohn

        Not the Demon, the fragment of the Demon left behind from the drop of Corruption on his arm, it he was shown at Liesse against the other Demons

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        1. Miles

          I don’t think the heroes will recognize a distinction between “demon” and “Demon chunk” for the purposes of the treaty. And even if they do, the angels will use that as an excuse to interfere. (“We didn’t use angels, we just used their feathers, songs, and interference”)

          Liked by 8 people

    2. sheer_falacy

      That would count as using demons. Actually, sharpers and goblin fire probably violate the agreement too, that’ll suck for Cat soon.

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        1. Yotz

          Given the number of priests and Heroes – and especially Saint and Pilgrim – I wouldn’t discard the possibility of them if not knowing outright because of The Hint From Above, then being able to sense/deduce something after treating the wound of one Cat used a sharper on.
          If they indeed know, they would probably seat on the knowledge until the crucial moment to use the pretext of seeming treachery on the Cat’s part to summon a Choir.

          On the other hand, miracle working can be considered a Divine Intervention by the same vein of thought, which either makes priests rather useless or makes Proceran side an oathbreakers long before first use of goblin munitions.

          On the other other hand, it’s probably just dragonfire and has nothing to do with demons.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. stevenneiman

          @Yotz I think that the Grey Pilgrim is the only one I would count on being able to figure it out, and he can probably convince everyone else to keep it quiet if he doesn’t think they’re too much nastier than anything else. For all his hostility I do believe that the Pilgrim genuinely wants the rules of engagement to work out and set a precedent of cleaner warfare. As Cat pointed out that requires both sides to be capable of having as good of a chance as they had without rules, and if he demands that Evil lose its last-ditch WMDs, its cheap magical soldier substitutes AND its most useful tactical weapons in exchange for only the last-ditch WMDs of Good, that balance won’t be preserved enough for Evil to stick to the agreements.

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      1. Jonnnney

        Unless the heroes wanna offer to stop using their equipment granted by the heavens I doubt they’d complain about materials derived from the hells.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Darkening

    Well, that meeting went about as well as I expected it to. Interesting that the Pilgrim didn’t say anything. I guess he knew there wasn’t much point. Loved the bit between Cat and Saint. Kinda wish we could see a fight between Ranger and Saint now, bet it’d be a hell of a show.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Mike E.

      Darkening…would be a helluva fight, but I’d feel bad for all the civilians within a 5-mile radius who suddenly had a drop in life expectancy. Recall that Captain and Black simply sparring without holding back on their Name strength nearly leveled some nobles castle.

      Like

  3. ParadoxicalThought

    I just love when Cat gets snarky. And apparently she likes it too!

    “Shit. Now I kind of liked her. I’d probably feel a least a little bad about putting her head on a pike down the line.”

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Joel

    Damn, Cat, do you think maybe we could try to not to piss off the person who’s very being revolves around cutting things? That Ranger comparison was vicious.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. stevenneiman

      I think part of Cat’s story is bluntly telling people what they don’t want to admit. Not only did she do that, she made the person who was supposed to be able to take her down look like a conceited, unsympathetic bully and not even an impressive one. That gives her a major advantage, as does the fact that the Saint might have been dumb enough to give her a Pattern of Three. The Pattern would be pretty weak since Cat did accomplish more of her objective than the Saint did, but the Saint did still “win” the fight.

      Liked by 12 people

    2. Jonnnney

      There is strength to be gained from having a rival much stronger than you. Stories are more entertaining when rivals are similar in strength. I still think a decent amount of Catherine’s early strength came from Heiress declaring Squire to be her rival.

      Like

  5. Big Brother

    Princess Malaza is now my second favorite part of the Crusade, just behind the Pilgrim. She’s got the stones to sass Cat, and I feel like she’s gonna find her way into some peace talks with Cat in the near future.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      I’m sensing Ranger shows up for a good skirmish with the Sword Saint, like old times.

      Or alternatively, lures them into Acadia, kites them to a different place, then back into creation. Afterwards she disappears back into Acadia. Heroes won’t be able to jump out of Acadia if they are already back in Creation, just in the wrong place to participate in the battle or into a trap.

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      1. stevenneiman

        Nah, those kinds of delaying tactics always end up running out at just the wrong time. It wasn’t trapping the Saint of Swords in Arcadia that was risky so much as if was trying to keep her out of the way.
        As a sidenote, I get a sense that she’s not nearly as powerful as Ranger. She might use similar techniques, ripping apart reality to augment mostly melee combat skills, but Cat managed to escape her with only a minor wound to her power when the Saint was (as far as I can tell) genuinely trying to kill her. Also, the Ranger has existed for multiple natural lifetimes using an Aspect that ensures that she comes out of every battle that even came close to challenging her stronger, while the Saint has had at most 80-90 years of training under her belt and may or may not have had a growth Aspect.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. It’s hard to say. Cat also landed absolutely zero real hits on the Saint that whole fight, and had to got her ass kicked. There’s no way to know the limitations of the Saint’s domain, it might make her almost literally unbeatable

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          1. Yotz

            I’d wager with Ranger you can beat her – theoretically, mind you – if you somehow manage to kill her faster than she kills you – which in itself is a feat of mythical proportions; while with the Saint you may not even bother – she’s near completely immune to anything you can throw at her, and that before the Hashmallim on her shoulder. She may not be that deadly in short time span, but _she just never stops_, and there nothing you can do put her down – short of several Demon incursions, probably.
            How can I put this… Ranger is a 4/1 First Strike, while Saint is 1/4 Indestructible.

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            1. ______

              Remember that the way Laurence recognized Ranger’s fighting style was taking a crippling wound to avoid a lethal one, it’s quite possible she’s the stronger one of the two in the terms of maximal possible power put into one swing.

              Like

            2. stevenneiman

              Ranger’s Aspects are as far as I can tell the most powerful you could possibly get. Transcend allows her to survive things that should be impossible even for her (meaning you pretty much can’t beat her on the first attack like you’re saying), and Learn and Perfect together mean that any technique which doesn’t kill her on the first use (which is all of them, again thanks to Transcend) she’s just going to throw back at you better than you could do it yourself.
              While the Saint’s internal domain Aspect might grant her a lot of cool immunities and a shortcut to a similar kind of power to what Ranger has from sheer will, she’s blowing an Aspect slot on that while Ranger gets it just by virtue of age, training, and will. And we haven’t seen anything showing that the Saint of Swords is actually any tougher than Ranger, all we know is that Ranger likes to avoid attacks and that the Saint can block mental or spiritual intrusions by turning her soul into a sword. Given Ranger’s personality, I wouldn’t be surprised if she evades more for the challenge of turning life into a no-hit run than because she actually needs to for her own safety.
              Both of them also seem to lack either the skill or possibly the motivation for storycrafting, though this might just be because they both have established stories they’ve never seen the need to change. Ranger is an incredible figure who can accomplish anything but can’t be controlled enough to do anything reliable, but who can be used as a storytelling tool any time you write yourself into a corner, and Saint is the mighty cavalry where any trouble the protagonists have is because she’s either busy elsewhere or is consciously leaving them to fend for themselves.

              Like

  6. stevenneiman

    I have to say, of all the questions I have about what’s going to happen the biggest is what the Grey Pilgrim can do. I’m sure it’s going to be ridiculously impressive just like the Saint, but I suspect that it’s going to be a lot more different from the Saint than the Saint is from the Ranger.

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    1. They Grey Pilgrim seems less like a super heavy hitter and more like the guy who comes riding over the ridge with the Rohirim at the exact right moment with a staff full of light to blind your flank.

      Which isn’t to say he can’t throw down, I’ll bet you he could take a Balrog if he had to. That’s just not his purpose in war I don’t think.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. ALKATYN

      Since he seems to be the equivalent of a high level priest I’d guess something like mass healing, inspiration, dispelling evil magics. But its always possible for there to be a subversion

      Liked by 1 person

      1. soonnanandnaanssoon

        From what I’ve gathered he’s most likely a warrior monk/priest kinda hero. He’s Levantine, and the Sage who was also from Levant from Ranger’s side story was a melee monk type. His simple grey robes give off the priest kinda vibe so I’m guessing OP melee & healing abilities.

        Like

            1. Hammerman

              Oh I expect at least a you shall not pass, if not a demon battle with a grey becomes white after he returns from dragging the demon out of creation into hell.

              Like

  7. stevenneiman

    Typo thread:
    “I’d not forgotten the lecture {someone} had given me” I don’t remember who told her about this
    “Most {of} their armies were levies”
    “Vulnerable to shock tactics, [why->which] was why Procerans tended to put such an emphasis on light cavalry”
    “Peasants with shitty spears tended run when a wedge of glittering {steel} charged at them”
    “but in [skirmished->skirmishes] like that numbers often carried the day”
    “I was astride Zombie while [the->she?] stood by her command table”
    “wicked easy smile that belonged more on {a} Laure tavern girl than foreign royalty.”
    “[It->Is] this the part,” I mused, “where I’m supposed to be thankful about you trying to make me your marcher lord at the frontier with Praes?”
    “I used to answer to a woman who uses a fucking demon as a gatekeeper {and} has an entire hallway of forever screaming heads. Your notion is {less} bad [is-than] her starting point.””

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    1. ALKATYN

      Peasants with shitty spears tended run when a wedge of *glittering* charged at them.

      Juniper had raised crossbow companies when forging the Army of Callow, but in *skirmished* like that numbers often carried the day and those wouldn’t be on our side. 

      It didn’t make any more pleasant to stew in the sun while the crusaders lumbered towards our battle.

      Your notion *is* bad is her starting point.”

      Within the hour, skirmishes on both sides advanced.

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      1. lennymaster

        Eratica properly waites for puplishing. Not much use in correcting mistakes now when he can just wait for an editor he properly has to use one way or another to do it for him.
        Also it is properly an incentive to buy the books.

        Like

    2. We’d waited for the crusader here for a day
      Change “crusader” to “crusade”

      about you trying to make me your marcher lord at the frontier with Praes?
      Change “marcher” to “march”? I’m not sure, but I don’t think this is the correct term.

      Like

      1. Marcher lords are lords of the Marches — border areas. It’s traditionally used for the Scotland-Northumbria and the Wales-England borders.

        In short, patches of land that regularly change hands between countriess and which are heavily fortified with a plethora of watchtowers, bastle houses and keeps, all meaning that they play host to many petty lords to look after all stonework and pay to keep eyes watching and watchfires ready and waiting.

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  8. Amoonymous

    Got some grammar suggestions (suggestions in [brackets]):
    “Peasants with shitty spears tended [to] run when a wedge of glittering [cavalry?] charged at them.”

    “…but in skirmishe[s] like that…”

    “The other – Princess Rozala Ma[]lanza…that belonged more on [a] Laure tavern girl…” (originally “Manlanza”)

    I’d also recommend “you’ve already made your[selves] at home” over “yourself” as she’s speaking with multiple people, but I could see arguments against that.

    “”[Is] this the part,” I mused…”

    This is one I’m unsure of but believe should be correct:
    “…and there’ll be a[n] ‘I shouldn’t have…'”

    “demon as a gatekeeper [and] has an entire hallway of forever…Your notion [of] bad is her starting point.”

    “So when I sen[d] your head on a pike back to Salia…”

    Mostly small typos.

    Thanks for the chapter!

    Like

  9. Highwayman

    “… I won’t be getting anywhere near you without a company of mages and half a dozen balistas.”

    This. This is so refreshing. Even after all she’s accomplished, after every thing (Fae, demons, other Named…) she has put her sword through, Cat still has the humility (though snarky, but it makes me love it even more) to outright admit irwhen she loses, even to a hostile party.

    Stop writing Cat so well, EE. You only make it hurt me more when something happens to Cat T_T

    Liked by 7 people

    1. The Saint of Swords? She can’t imagine a world in which beating the Black Queen like a rented mule and then using up Callow to fuel Milenan’s ambitions isn’t the right and just and proper thing to do. Because! Crusade!

      Apart from that, I like her.

      Liked by 7 people

        1. Thug is an acceptable lifestyle choice, it’s all about who you beat down and why.

          Given the Angel of Feasting On Your Entrails speech, and that “let’s spare everybody the battle and I kill you here” offer, there’s a small but not zero possibility that with enough evidence, the Saint could be persuaded that going around Callow is the right and just and proper thing to do.

          If at that point Malicia has fallen from power and Ranger (is still alive and) decides Black is worth rescuing, we may just get that Saint of Swords vs Ranger death match.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. WuseMajor

        She didn’t seem particularly happy about using this war to fuel Milenan’s ambitions, honestly. I suspect she’s mainly here to kill Cat and then destroy the Evil Empire and the only reason she’s with this army instead of cutting a friggen Eight Lane Highway through Callow into Praes, with a slight detour to murder Cat and destroy her castle, is because she knows that someone would get a lucky shot in before she made it.

        So, yes, I agree she’s a thug with Heavenly Backing but she’s not entirely stupid.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jonnnney

          Yeah, she is here because of the crusade and to prevent the Praesi Super weapon from ever being rebuilt. She doesn’t care in the slightest about the lives, let alone ambitions, of the princes of procer

          Like

        2. grzecho2222

          I disagree, she acts like total moron here. Pilgrim said it. The Weapon isn’t the only problem for Good. Praes has been doing this for ages and with current problems won’t make another one soon. Callow turning Evil is much more of a threat. But Cat being queen isn’t the cause of it. Fact that Callow has been protecting west from Praes and only getting stabbed in the back and laughed at for it is the main reason. They got conquered by their worst enemies and gotten no help for the rest of Good. Procer started rebelion with madman that killed a lot of innocent people (civilians and people of mixed marriages) and tried to brainwash entire city. They got invaded by another dimension and madwoman of mitological scale. And whole this time they got help from this one orphan girl, who literally fought demons, angels, devils, undead and gods for their sake, one that spent most of her time making them safe and helping victims of war. And now when finnaly they had fixed most of problems and stabilized the land, that moment Good is invading THEM and not even to attack real evil people in Praes, but to kill one person that saved them and to divide Callow among hated Procer Princes. Said girl also made peace with local Hero and is protecting people from stupid nobles. Now think what will happen if their queen goes to talk to negotiating party and ends up misteriusly dead.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. grzecho2222

            Also no small part of their knights power comes from being good. What chances are that their “Prayer turned armor” will work against Heroes and priests? Now where they can get another source of empowerment with all of this Legion mages on their side? Broken Bells becoming order of Dark Knights?

            Like

  10. Anon

    Hmm….well, if I had to guess, the ‘Cat makes named aspects into items’ will come into play somehow, otherwise, I don’t see much room for her to stall the 12 Named off – especially considering how devastating Saint will be on offense, and Pilgrim on defense healing all of the wounds the ‘good guys’ take.

    Otherwise, starving out the Procer army is a good thing, but unlikely to last long enough to not have the other side start razing – it’s either that, or they push for a decisive victory within a few days.

    Curious to see if Melanza makes it out alive – it’s called the princes’ graveyard – plural, not singular, but someone’s gotta keep alive to bring Hasenbach to the table without making Cat look like a crazy evil murderer type.

    But then that gets back to the Pilgrim and the Saint – I don’t see Ranger interfering on Cat’s behalf, and Saint has already been shown to trump Winter once. Cat could try to strand the Saint in Creation somewhere with a gate, but that risks backfiring, as has been already stated.

    Otherwise, it’s…..bringing a shitton of spikers with her, I guess?

    In any case, curious to see how the thinning of Winter’s mantle will affect Cat’s judgement now, once the battle gets underway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. burdi

      The saint had beat cat like rented mule before, but she doesnt seems to overly afraid of her so i bet cat has plan on how to beat the saint

      Like

    2. ______

      Procerans are making camp, and the army of Callow has been digging in for some time, so it’s probably the Battle of Camps, not Princes’ Graveyard. Also, Catherine mentioned having to reveal absolute positioning, which is a sharedattack for her and Masego, while the artifacts are probably already known to the heroes, since Catherine herself let it slip in the fight with the Saint of Swords.

      Like

  11. Engineer

    I do not believe Catherine is outnumbered in terms of Named. Remember, heroes have been getting their asses kicked and their souls “claimed” for the better part of a year by her. I bet the Dead Company will feature soon….

    Like

    1. sheer_falacy

      Using the trapped souls of dead heroes is exactly the sort of villainous scheme that always backfires, though. It’s gonna be a hard line to walk.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. d_o_l

        Not necessarily. If that were her master plan, it would be guaranteed to backfire. As long as it’s just a ploy in her larger plan, it’s much more likely to work.

        Like

        1. Naeddyr

          Then it falls under the “the magical weapon will find a way to betray you at the worst possible moment” teaching from Black. There really is no way for Cat to use the bound souls of Heroes in a traditional way without it backfiring spectacularly. Fuck, the best I can think of is to make them artifacts of Functionally Good: things like shields that shield civilian cities, swords that kill in self-defense, reverse mythology.

          Liked by 3 people

    2. nerferf

      There might be no dead company after all,
      We were shown that she is able to make artifacts out of aspects so she may just have an stockpile of random things

      I mean that makes more sense given cat isn’t willing to use undead willy nilly given the lines that would be crossed and how much harder to get them to give up it would make them

      Liked by 1 person

  12. nipi

    “Legion crossbowmen tended to shoot further and stronger than any archer not using longbows”
    Must be a heavy crossbow then. The way I understood it crossbow bolts tend to get wobbly at greater ranges due to their short length. So they loose a lot of penetration at greater ranges.

    Like

    1. 0nono

      Longbows in war are normally heavy/war crossbows, only trained yeomen are capable of drawing these. They are so heavy on the draw that they cannot be accurately aimed, but provide volley fire superior to any other propellantless ranged weapon.

      Not comparable with normal bows or normal longbows, which allow target shooting.

      Like

  13. Author Unknown

    Saint seems a bit too cocky. Sure she beat Cat when the fought, but… She is the Saint of Sword: if she couldn’t come out ahead when crossing blades with a transitiory Named only a few years old, she wouldn’t have lived this long.

    Thing is, shes spent all of her decades roaming around an area considered to be a magical backwater. I don’t think she is as ready to face the kind of magic Cat is bringing to the table as she thinks she is. She undoubtedly has a number of tricks up her sleeve, but I think this ends with her strapped to a table while Hierophant figures out how her domain works and/or Cat gets a new sword.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Saint managed to cut a *domain* in half. She managed to cut a hole in the sky, then wield it as a sword. She’s not just a swordswoman, she fights on a conceptual level, like something out of Fate/Stay Night. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her parry Hierophant’s spells, cut her way out of wards, or maybe cut one of Warlock’s meteors in half.

      In general, don’t underestimate “master of one” heroes. They tend to be creative enough to apply their one trick in places where you wouldn’t think it possible.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. If I was Saint I’d mostly be worried about Ranger showing up to attack her. The Woe don’t seem like they pose a threat to her as long as her gang of heroes outnumber them.

      Like

      1. Author Unknown

        People keep speculating that Ranger will show up, but Ranger isn’t on Cat’s side. She is on her own side. She doesn’t care about Cat, Callow, or the Empire. Just Black. And maybe the rest of the Calamities.

        Moreover, this is the same ranger that walked Arcadia every year to pluck out an eye for jewelry. If she wanted to fight the Saint of Swords she has no reason, nor inclination, to wait until Callow was attacked. It isn’t like the Saint is as hard to pin down as the Queen of Summer.

        Like

  14. Loved this chapter, we always knew the propositions of surrender from both sides were going to be rejected, but it was extremely funny Cat insult the Procerans and the Heroes…

    The Saint of Swords is a badass, but she didn’t display a lot of intelligence in this parley. Of course Cat was going to refuse a duel with her. Accepting would have been a death sentence for the Queen of Callow, given how the Heavens have the habit to always screw things in their favour.

    The great battle is about to begin, but while the Light has a huge numerical advantage, they must win quickly or they will die. I suppose the first skirmishes are going to show how bad an idea it was to go after Cat instead of protecting the experienced officers. Heroes can rally the men, but they are not necessary tacticians and strategists of the highest order.

    Prince Amadis will not survive this battle, it seems a certainty now. Likes Malanza banter, let’s hope she survives the battle to come…

    Like

  15. Hey, in case y’all forgot, the Dead King made noises like he’s ready to play…

    I’m guessing that a deus ex mortis will be the reason Sword Grannie pulls back from Callow. To be honest it’s the only thing I see working, unless she somehow gets in the way of an unrelenting storm of ballista bolts and her sword arm gets tired.

    I really hope Erratic breaks down and fixes some of these typos instead of ignoring them. Usually I don’t mind but they’re bad enough to be immersion-breaking here. I recently re-read the story, and I was able to overlook most all of the other chapter’s typos, but damn are they bad here… well whatever. Great story either way.

    Like

  16. I think I’m starting to understand Cat’s strategy better. Which is kind of stupid of me really, Black’s told us a dozen times how you fight heroes.

    With heroes who are your equals you never get to pull the ultimate tactical reversal on them. Or execute that perfect strategy. If a single point of action means their destruction or your victory they *will* fuck it up. Fighting heroes isn’t about landing the perfect knockout punch, not unless you’ve gotten pulled into some nemesis deathmatch (and that’s a bad place to be). It’s not even about exhausting them until can’t fight anymore, because they will be given a divine second wind at the worst possible moment for you.

    No, to fight heroes you need to win small victories. Things which add up, and add up, and add up. Nothing which individually earns them a narrative comeback or underdog bonus. Nothing that the gods could possibly justify interfering in without ruining the whole game. Just small victories which are *earned*. So that when the final fight comes, they heroes have lost before they’ve ever reached the battlefield. So that there is nothing short of direct divine intervention which can save them, because everything that could be done was decided months ago, during each of your small victories.

    And that’s what Cat’s been doing.

    Target their officers. Not their high leadership who are irreplaceable, or their Named who are so individually important. Just their officers. People whose military expertise and leadership will be sorely missed by Procer but whose lack isn’t enough to end the game.

    Target their supplies. Not enough to starve them outright, that would be countered. But enough to force them to a fight of your choosing and preparation. The gods won’t shut *that* down.

    Take angels off the table early, so that when the end comes and only divine intervention will save the heroes … divine intervention is already off the table.

    And I’ll bet absolute positioning is something in that spirit. Not some all-destroying weapon. That would break too many rules of fighting heroes. But something that will *hurt* Procer in a way that’s *earned*. Something that will allow Cat to disengage or force Procer to pull back. Not a game ender, but another solid, earned victory that eats away at the heroes’ ability to win.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Draeysine

      I agree. Absolute positioning sounds like something that can do many small changes that add up in a battle. I’m thinking small gates that move people around to a different side of the field. With Hierophant targeting with the observatory and Cat fueling it, sounds possible.?

      Like

      1. Yotz

        Speaking of small changes. How about opening several hundred thousands of very small gates inside people skulls sounds for you? Or we can go for their bowels and drink their suffering like a fine wine! …Well, like a beer swill in this case, but you catch my flu, I suppose.
        I know that would be against all that “we must win but not MURDERIZE them”, but quite a notion to entertain, n’est-ce pa?

        Honestly, the ability to open portals on a whim opens so much options it’s not even funny.
        How about opening a gate to Arcadia, stockpiling ammo, molten lead, Very Big Rocks, whatever on the Fae side, then opening gate from Arcadia to the battlefield – but, say, a mile above it, and just drop the stockpiled crap down? Or just repeating the trick Cat used in the Prologue to create temporary one volley killzones? Or opening Gates _horisontally_ under the feet of enemy solders, dropping them somewhere unpleasant – like a lake of pure HATRED in some Lords forsaken part of Arcadia? Buck me sideways – I feel stupid just by suggesting such obvious implications, and dread something a person of true ingenuity can invent…

        Like

        1. Adurna

          How does your GM keep up with you? -.-‘

          Fun ideas though, if likely not possible on such a scale and of limited value against experienced heroes.

          Like

        2. Most of those portal ideas wouldn’t work because the portals open to the same place and position on the other side. If you wanted to dump rocks on the enemy’s head through a portal you’d need to be standing a thousand feet in the air when you opened the portal, and get the rocks up there somehow. Open a portal straight downward and you just find yourself standing on fae grass, not over wherever in faerie you want at whatever altitude.

          Like

          1. Yotz

            I seem to remember there is a Hellgate that opens several dozens of feet above the ground on the Hell side. So you can stand on the ground, push someone through, and that someone will fall from on high on the other side, being unable to go back.
            What exist, can be replicated, I posit.

            And yes, this comment being written after the Grand Reveal of what Absolute Positioning truly is.

            Like

  17. Decius

    There’s a good opportunity to promise food and either safe return passage or Callowan citizenship to any deserter. The loss of their food supplies can’t be easy to hide.

    If the “good guys” start threatening to kill deserters their morale drops significantly; if they appeal to the Crusade they become more vulnerable to pointing out the political forces in play, and if they accept the desertions they lose the war.

    Like

  18. Bookworm

    I was thinking about how she can possibly defeat an army like this without killing everybody using some dastardly ploy, and realized that she has already done it. The supplies are gone, they are, or will be, desperate for food. All she has to do is slow them down enough that they cannot get to Hedges in time to resupply through pillage. Force an engagement, then retreat probably via gate, harass, make it impossible for the opposing army to march at any appreciable speed. Hit and run tactics to win the day. Unless, of course, the story behind the invasion demands a pitched battle. This is my Evil-lite option.

    Alternatively, there is a Neutral option. With Thief able to Steal large amounts of goods at once (like a walking, talking Inventory bag), I was wondering why she didn’t just threaten to remove the supplies from Hedges if they march on it. They will be forced to fold and retreat because they cannot feed their army and any civilians they “liberate”, and Thief can just restore the food supplies after Hedges is no longer threatened. The threat alone makes continued invasion along their present axis untenable, to be kind. Now would have been the ideal time to threaten such action (although I would have threatened more along the lines of fire to mislead about the use of Thief). Of course, this option requires the opposing side not to be complete imbeciles and understand the impossibility of successfully leading a starving army.

    There you have it. Two possible ways to stop this axis of advance with minimal bloodshed, the latter method being the more humane method. Of course, I am almost positive that neither option will be used, but hey, it’s always fun to postulate what you would do in a similar situation.

    Bonus thought: it is still possible to do both. Give a bloody nose to suss out any trump cards, make them feel the lack of food more acutely, then offer another truce talk asking them to pretty please leave or we take all the food away. Minus you, Prince Amadis. Your head is going on a pike either way. Hopefully during battle so Good doesn’t have to sacrifice their morals for the lives of their people. Yay, I like this one.

    Liked by 3 people

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