Chapter 21: Tug-of-War

“Invading Callow is much like drunkenly playing dice: the odds are never as good as you believe, and you know you’ve reached bottom when snake eyes are involved.”
– Dread Emperor Malevolent III, the Pithy

I pricked my ears, gauging the enemy. Most of the Proceran delegation had either skipped a beat or seen their pulse quicken when the Pilgrim rose to his feet. That was telling. Since it was dubious anyone that high up in the Proceran pecking order was faint of heart, the implication was that this particular play had been kept close to the chest. There were only four who’d not had a physical reaction of fear or surprise: Prince Amadis, Princess Rozala, Prince Arnaud and the middle-aged diplomat who’d been the mouthpiece for the opposition so far. The first two were only to be expected, and the last a given, but the third? That was interesting. Arnaud of Cantal did not strike me as the kind of man the other two royals would keep deep in their confidence. Has he found out on his own? If he was spying on the leaders of the northern crusade, that was a possible angle for Thief to exploit. Turning him seemed unlikely, but if his spying apparatus could be infiltrated… Something to discuss with her later. I made a note to have Vivienne dig deeper into the man, as there was apparently more to him than his reputation. The Grey Pilgrim’s words were followed by heavy silence and I did not hurry to respond.

This, I knew, was the beginning of the deeper game. The war behind the war, where Named would claw at each other like animals to get the morsels of narrative they needed for the final victory. The thing was, as it stood, I was winning that fight. I’d repeatedly made overtures for peace, brought up whenever I could that the enemy was invading my homeland for mostly petty reasons and avoided – as much as feasible – falling into the kind of villainous stand that would get me winning in the short term and killed in the long one. As long as this remained a negotiation between mortals, for mortal motives, I came out ahead. Sure, they were a better hand at diplomacy and likely I’d end up unable to capitalize on several of my advantages. But that was fine, in the greater scheme of things, so long as I walked out of this pavilion with some gains and my narrative intact. There were earthly logistics to this, and Black had made an entire career out of proving those could win a war regardless of the subtler workings of Creation, but I was confident that as long as I held my ground story-wise I’d emerge in a position to begin the sequence of events that’d get me to my objective.

Which meant that I had to avoid engaging the Pilgrim as much as I could. I had a knack for stories, twisting them and using them. It came naturally to me. But the opposition had actually lived through hundreds of them. The experience gap between us was overwhelming, and that was without even taking into consideration whatever tricks the Heavens were sure to have bestowed upon him to make sure he’d keep coming out ahead. I could not confidently state I would win against the Grey Pilgrim, so my safest path was not to fight him at all. Ironically, my sharpest tool in ensuring that was something I generally had little patience for: etiquette. Instead of replying to the old Levantine, I leaned towards Aisha.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” I said. “But isn’t it a severe breach of decorum for someone without a formal role in negotiations to directly address a queen?”

The lovely Taghreb’s lips quirked.

“That is so,” she said, pitching her voice so it would be heard by all. “Under Tower law, such a transgression is punishable by flaying of the left hand and foot.”

Several of the Procerans’ hearts quivered.

“It has been the stance of your delegation to advance the Queen in Callow as an entity separate from the Tower’s rule,” the Pilgrim said, face serene. “Was this a misrepresentation?”

I did one the things I hated most in the world: I kept my fucking mouth shut. The moment I got involved the narrative was back in play. Lose, I told myself. Let him win the small things, so long as you get what you came for.

“Observations on the nature of Praesi law are no admission of anything else,” Thief coldly noted. “To pretend otherwise is disingenuous, and might be taken as an attempt to sink honest negotiations. Is that the intent of the Proceran delegation?”

I sat straighter in my chair. Thief was one of the Woe, and the Woe were under me. Would anything coming out of her mouth contribute to the tapestry the Pilgrim was trying to weave? Not if I contradicted her, I suspected, but if I was remaining silent… Best to stay on the safe side. Picking out a sliver of Winter, I formed a ring around her index on the hand beneath the table and squeezed it lightly. She inclined her head slightly to the left, acknowledging my warning as I allowed the construct to dissipate.

“A curious thing, that seeking clarity would be taken as offence,” the Pilgrim said. “Regardless, there is precedent.”

The Proceran mouthpiece bowed again.

“As far as the year seventy-four, Chosen recognized as titled advisors have been allowed to address to the Highest Assembly directly,” the man said. “As far one hundred and eleven, the same have been granted right of involvement with negotiations held with foreign powers.”

Seventy-four, huh. That was the year eight hundred ninety, by the Imperial calendar – Procerans begun theirs after the founding of the Principate, which had only taken place a year after Triumphant’s fall. Considering the current Imperial year was thirteen hundred and twenty-seven, that was not a young precedent. It shouldn’t matter, though, and if I’d picked up on that, Aisha should have as well. Living up to my expectation, the Staff Tribune advanced where we remained silent.

“Proceran custom is not universally binding,” she pointed out. “There is no such precedent for our delegation. Regardless, right of involvement would not equate right of interrogation.”

The middle-aged diplomat smothered a smile. A mistake had been made.

“Queen Eleanor Fairfax granted privilege to voice thoughts and questions freely to the contemporary Wizard of the West, after her coronation,” the man said. “This is a matter of public record. That privilege has been maintained through every known Choosing since.”

I kept my face rigid. Was that true? It might very well be. Records were sparse about the Old Kingdom, nowadays, save those that related to mundane matters – where the Empire’s rule tended to come out as a more prosperous, if also more tyrannical, alternative. My teacher had been thorough in taking the knife to anything that could feasibly become fodder for a hero’s rise, and knowledge about past Wizards of the West would have been high on that list of proscriptions. Except he wouldn’t have been able expunge Proceran records, not in depth anyway. The man’s heartbeat was steady, which could be an indication he was telling the truth – or merely that he was a very good liar.

“The Proceran delegation has not recognized ours as being representative of the Kingdom of Callow,” Grandmaster Talbot said, cool voice cutting clearly through the hesitation. “Only of the Queen in Callow, making such precedent irrelevant. Which it would be even if otherwise, unless by some labyrinthine exercise of reason an equivalence between the attempted murderer of Queen Catherine and the ancient servants of the now-extinct House Fairfax was established. Which it was not.”

Brandon fucking Talbot, I thought, smothering a grin. Riding in lance high at the last moment, proper knight that he was.

“Lack of recognition for Proceran law endangers the entire process of treaty-making,” the middle-aged diplomat warned.

“Forceful imposition of foreign customs on the same process is not a standard this delegation is willing to establish,” Aisha replied pleasantly. “We do not recognize the attempt to establish precedent by the Proceran delegation, and move the first issue on the program should now be addressed.”

“Is this to be who you truly are, Catherine Foundling?” the Grey Pilgrim said, soft voice carrying across the pavilion. “A villain hiding behind petty excuses, unwilling to even speak with those you deem foes?”

My fingers clenched. The fucker. He had a lot of nerves saying that, after he’d tacitly allowed the Saint to try to kill me under a godsdamned truce banner. I leaned forward to – let him win the small things, so long as you get what you came for. My teeth came down and I bit off my tongue, knowing I would not be able to keep silent otherwise. If Masego’s weakness was the need for utter precision, then mine was the inability to just keep my fucking mouth shut. Blood filled my mouth as Winter lazily coursed through my veins, repairing the self-inflicted damage. I swallowed as discretely as I could. The violent urge to respond was not gone, but the immediacy had ebbed. I kept my eyes on Prince Amadis, who was eyeing me with a mixture of disgust and fascination. I bared reddened teeth at him, watching his muscles clench to suppress a flinch.

“Shall we proceed, Your Grace?” I asked.

He inclined his head by a fraction. Good. I’d weathered the first blow, but if I knew anything about patterns that was the first of three. I would have to remain wary. Aisha had thought it odd that the Procerans had not fought back harder on the terms of truce and retreat being the first subject addressed, but now we knew why. They’d intended on flipping the table before it even came to that. Now, though, they were stuck actually discussing it. Withdrawal from the Tenth Crusade for the royals had never been in the cards, much as it irked me. For them to put their seal to a treaty binding them to that would be high treason and sustained heresy under Proceran law. One of the ancient First Princes had passed that motion through the Highest Assembly, after a few Arlesite principalities dropped out of one of the crusades against the Kingdom of the Dead. Their agitations in the south while the rest of the Principate was busy dying up north had been so deeply despised by the surviving princes they’d been willing to limit their own prerogatives to see the deserters punished. No, our wiggle room was narrower than that. The first opening was that, technically speaking, the Tenth Crusade had been declared on Praes. It would be damaging to their reputation to make a deal with me, but not actually illegal.

The second was that I wasn’t asking for peace, only a truce. The terms we were after were eighteen months where none of the signatories or soldiers under their command could enter Callow, which was where we first got shafted by the premises agreed on. They managed to have it defined as ‘the lands under the rule of the Queen in Callow’, which gave them some flexibility. The moment a part of the kingdom renounced my rule, it was fair game again and they could get involved without breaking the letter of the agreement. Or, and I was just guessing here, if a disavowed heroine like the Saint just happened cut my head off – well, it would be convenient coincidence that there were no longer any lands under the rule of the Queen in Callow, wouldn’t it? I was going to have to watch my back very, very carefully in the coming months. Eve more so than usual. Aisha began bargaining forthree years of truce and slowly allowed herself to be whittled down to fourteen months, though at least she got a concession out of it. The fantassins across the field were in the employment of the princes and princesses attending, but that was a matter of contract. Those could be released, at which point the terms would no longer apply to them. Horse-trading for six months less of truce, Aisha managed to extract they’d sign the treaty as well. None of the companies would be able to just sign up with the Iron Prince’s host instead.

A goodwill clause forbidding the fantassins to simply disband their companies and reform under a different name was written in, because even I had seen that loophole coming. It was when we moved to the second subject, supplies, that Thief’s predictions came true and they began their attempt to fuck us in earnest. You’d think they’d at least provide dinner first. Bad form, Amadis. Going at it with only wine made it look like they thought we were easy.

“As a sign of good faith, we would require that the Army of Callow continue to provide supplies while negotiations are ongoing, at the previously agreed cost,” Prince Amadis requested, meeting my eyes directly.

It wasn’t the first time they’d tried that. Fairly early on they’d narrowed in on the fact that my diplomatic training was lacking compared to Aisha’s or Talbot’s, and since they’d tried to get me involved as much as possible. Best way for them to do that was to ditch the mouthpiece and let the Prince of Iserre do the talking: he had enough status that etiquette dictated I couldn’t just foist the thing off to Aisha if he spoke to me directly. It was a play on their part, we both knew that. But it also left me with no real reason to call them out, and if these talks imploded because I’d walked out without a damned good reason? That was the story of a villain queen so arrogant she was willing to starve dozens of thousands for perceived insults. It did not bode well for me. This was going to be a pivot, I knew that and the Pilgrim most definitely did. It meant every word spoken today had weight. I’d be eroding at my own gains if I pulled out now, and even if it likely wouldn’t be enough to flip the entire story the opposition didn’t need that, strictly speaking. Just my position being weakened would make it much easier to kill me. Was this the second blow? No, the confrontation was too indirect. The Pilgrim had made himself the speaker for Above, it wasn’t something that could be handed to Amadis like a plate of pastries.

“While we are not willing to make that concession, we share your worry on the appearance of coercion,” I blandly replied.

Meaning it wouldn’t look good if it appeared we were negotiating with a loaded crossbow pointed at their balls, though we were both aware there were plenty crossbows today to go around. The Jacks had confirmed Hasenbach had her own scrying-capable mages in play, called the Order of the Red Lion. We also knew, from Masego, that they were at least a decade behind Praesi spell formulas when it came to that, which meant they couldn’t do relays and their range was limited: they could chain the reports manually, but that was tricky business. Hierophant’s best guess for the crusaders getting news from the battle at the Red Flower Vales was a delay of two days. Knowing Black, he was very unlikely to gamble it all on the first day. He’d stretch it out through series of fortifications, made even more efficient by the narrow valleys and steep slopes of the Vales. That provided us with some room to manoeuver.

“We are willing to immediately provide three days’ worth of supplies, at the agreed on cost, to prevent that misunderstanding,” I continued calmly.

Prince Amadis’ heartbeat quickened. Anger. Yeah, you princely shit. We saw that one coming. There was still risk involved, should Papenheim somehow win an immediate and crushing victory – or, more probably, if Black decided a strategic retreat out of the Vales was the correct decision – but odds were the crusaders would have to make the deal without knowing the outcome. They really wanted to avoid that, of course. But outright feeding them for three days yanked away their pretext to push for better terms. They could still delay until the days were past, but then we’d be the ones with grounds to protest bad faith. And we both know Kegan is coming. Your window of opportunity is narrow. If they failed to make terms before the Deoraithe arrived, their bargaining position took a hit. Juniper had urged me to send Larat to fetch Kegan’s host, and I’d already made up my mind to agree if we didn’t walk out with a deal by the day’s end. It was a naked threat, sure, and before the meeting began I’d worried about souring the process by resorting to it. But they were aready pushing back pretty hard, and if they were stretching things out on purpose threats were not a line I was unwilling to cross.

“The gesture is appreciated,” Amadis said evenly. “However, I worry this could be misconstrued as impropriety. Rumours of bribery would damage the reputation of all involved.”

My eyes narrowed. We were making the crusaders pay for the supplies, it was hardly a fucking bribe. Princes were touchy about their reputation, though, so while it wasn’t a good reason it was a halfway plausible one. And it wasn’t a reply we anticipated, though we should have. I glanced at Aisha, but she could be no help. Fuck. There was probably a way out of this, but I couldn’t think of one at the moment.

“We can table the matter for the moment,” I conceded grudgingly.

“As you say,” the Prince of Iserre replied, the hint of a smile on his lips as he inclined his head.

Aisha bowed in her seat, then addressed the table.

“We now address the third subject on the program,” the Supply Tribune said, “as requested by the Callowan delegation. Provenance and direction of promised coin.”

In other words, who was going to foot the bill for the supplies they were getting. That was going to be one of the trickier bits, Vivienne had told me. The Procerans were going to try to pass it all to Hasenbach, but we might have a way around that. For ‘practical reasons’ we were going to suggest they provide the coin themselves, though it would be framed as a loan on the part of the First Prince towards them. Our turn to screw them over the negotiation premises, for this one. As an expeditionary force of the First Prince, they had legal grounds to agree to that – if they were Hasenbach’s mandated minions, anything falling under war reparations was ultimately her responsibility to pay for. Aisha had noted some of them might consider it a worthwhile trade off to have the First Prince owe them money, since by leveraging that debt they might avoid political retaliation for a retreat. Thief had been more dubious, arguing that they’d balk since Cordelia might manage to get out of paying them anything back. It was going to come down to finesse.

“The delegation recognizes the Chosen known as the Grey Pilgrim, formal advisor to the Prince of Iserre,” the mouthpiece intoned.

Well, shit. We were halfway through the list now, so in retrospective I should have seen it coming.

“In matter of direction, I seek clarification,” the Pilgrim said. “The Principate of Procer is currently at war with the Dread Empire of Praes. As it could be considered treason for any coin paid through this treaty to come to gild Imperial coffers through either commerce or tribute, a question must first be addressed. Does the Queen in Callow intend to pursue formal independence from the Tower?”

I closed my eyes and thought. Why would he care about the gold? Coin didn’t mean shit to heroes. No, he had a reason to ask this that shaped a story. Independence from the Tower. Callow already was independent, effectively speaking, but there’d been no open break. Malicia and I knew it was just a matter of time, but the current fiction it wasn’t was useful for us both. If it was discarded, what was the result? Most likely, Malicia had to declare I was in rebellion even if she did nothing immediate about it. That was the part that had me wary, though. She couldn’t do anything about it right now, not with Ashur marauding the coasts and a city freshly sacked. So why would the old man be after that? Pilgrim might not know about Nok, though, I mused. No, wrong way to think about this. If this was a political play it’d be the Procerans doing the talking. Since it was the Pilgrim, he was leaning on the pivot for some reason. Malicia declared me a rebel. What did that mean, in the greater scheme of things? Ah, shit. Evil turns on Evil. That was his play. And it was a story old as the First Dawn, too, so if I caught even the hem of it in my fingers it was going to drag me through seventy fucking Hells. Stories repeated so often they were considered self-evident truths had a way of pushing themselves to the fore no matter what the people involved wanted.

All right, then. What could I do to avoid the pitfall?

Couldn’t argue there was no need to have the talk, this time, since that could be taken as me trying to frame the Procerans for treason. It’d turn this from truce talks to ‘Evil queen lays a cunning trap’, and that fucked everything up. I couldn’t lie in front of the Pilgrim, he’d see through it and that got me back in the deep even if ‘the Heavens told me it was untrue’ might not hold up too well as a negotiating position. Flatly admitting I was going to just led me to a different problem, so that was straight out. Could I maybe keep this contained, force an oath whatever was spoken on the subject wouldn’t get out of this pavilion? No, I decided. I didn’t have enough of a leg to stand on, and it wasn’t like the Procerans would jump for joy at the prospect of being oath-bound to someone holding a fae mantle. If you can’t dodge, attack, I thought. Instead of avoiding his story, what story could I make? Liberating rebel wouldn’t hold, not while I was wearing a crown. I’d only ever managed to squeak into heroic Roles when the opposition was… less than flexible, anyway. Treacherous lieutenant to Malicia? I could fit the boots, but it wouldn’t get me anywhere I wanted to be. Praesi stories would just make it worse, as a rule, so it had to be either Callowan or old and worn enough it was up for grabs by anyone.

Unless… Akua. She’d been on her own idea of good behaviour since Second Liesse, which had taken a while for me to puzzle out. She should have been scheming to get out, and to be frank she probably was, but she was also very much trying to be useful. To get out of the box more often, in part, but there were deeper reasons. I had beaten her, or at least she believed as much. According to the sack full of razor blades that was Praesi philosophy, that meant she was my follower now. That was an old story, and though the Wasteland had practically turned it into a religion it wasn’t just a Wasteland favourite. Or Evil’s in general. Early crew of heroes runs into a seeming enemy they fight out of misunderstanding, then fall together either facing a common foe or when the misunderstanding is finally cleared. Everyone’s friends, some cackling villain gets stabbed in unison and the Heavens pat everyone’s ass approvingly. Hells, that was more or less how Archer had ended up joining the Woe now that I thought about it. So I needed to be metaphorical Archer, fighting the crusaders out of a silly misunderstanding somehow involving three bloody days of battle and at least thirty thousand dead.

I am a crusader, I thought. What did I want? To fuck over the Wasteland, a sentiment I wasn’t exactly unsympathetic to. Kill Catherine Foundling, since she’s an abomination and also an asshole who keeps killing our guys. How did I cease being the asshole who kept killing their guys? Well, maybe if they stopped trying to kill m- no, not productive. Plenty of heroes were guy-killing assholes, I reminded myself, in and of itself it wasn’t a deal breaker. Larger perspective. Looking down from Above, what was happening in Callow? Praes is still in charge, I thought. The borders, the separate laws and the coinage wouldn’t matter to something like the Hashmallim. A villain was still on the throne, the former apprentice of the Black Knight. My army was more than half Callowan, these days, but I still had a detachment of mass-murdering Praesi household troops and the greenskins. Goblins had an unfortunate propensity for stabbing, and orcs did eat people. Wasn’t even that large a part of their diet, and it wasn’t like they ate people alive – it was illegal, if nothing else – but even occasional corpse-eating did tend to disqualify people from standing on the shiny side of the fence. As far as Above was concerned, I was a Dread Empress wearing the Queen of Blades’ clothes.

But I was in charge in their eyes, wasn’t I? The legalities we’d been quibbling about all day didn’t mean dust in the eyes of the Gods. That was the whole reason to remove me, wasn’t it? A villainous ruler for Callow was bad for business, regardless of the earthly practicalities involved. Which meant that if I made a choice, Above took that as a choice for all of Callow. There was an opening there. If I pulled the rug out from under the heroes, it worked for the entire kingdom. My eyes narrowed. I didn’t have to stop being a – unfairly characterized, I believed – murderous asshole. I just had to be their murderous asshole. Metaphorically speaking. Probably. And the way to achieve that… what was the name of Cordelia’s Friendly League of Upstanding Nations again? Ah, right. I cleared my throat, meeting the Grey Pilgrim’s eyes with a grin that was all teeth.

“To answer your question,” I said, “I intend to seek signatory status with the Grand Alliance within the year.”

Pandemonium erupted, the Pilgrim’s face went blank and my grin only got wider.

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188 thoughts on “Chapter 21: Tug-of-War

  1. ruduen

    The combination of Catherine learning to keep her mouth shut and learning to read the flow of stories is quite a dangerous one, indeed.

    I think that’s even one step beyond not monologuing.

    Liked by 27 people

    1. Dainpdf

      She already did the latter, some – look at her confrontation with the Winter Fae. She’s just way better at it now.
      But the tongue biting moment is powerful.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Just a little bit of confusion here, couldn’t she have said the deal was with the Queen in Callow, not with the Dread Empire? She already said that before, in pretty much the same context.

        Like

        1. Dainpdf

          The problem is that, on paper, she’s still under Malicia, and so money paid to her could end up in Praes. This would either make her betray Malicia or force her to accept feeding them at no cost.

          Like

    2. stevenneiman

      It’s kind of an interesting thing to note how her tragic flaw, talking when she knows she shouldn’t, is a classic of both heroes and villains. On the Villainous side everyone knows what happens to villains who monologue, but it still happens enough to keep it fresh in people’s minds. On the heroic side, everybody likes a smartass protagonist who won’t shut up, with the exception of the villains who think he should be intimidated.
      Here, she’s also done another very interesting narrative thing, turning one of her story elements (pragmatically mandated self-mutilation) against another (not keeping her mouth shut). I’m curious to see if there’s a special significance to this.
      Finally, this is a brilliant play in one final way. By basically declaring that she’s going to hold against Malicia while simultaneously “struggling” with her old habits and the power of Winter, Cat just made herself the most outmatched hero present, which means that she pretty much just stole the Grey Pilgrim from them and there’s pretty much nothing they can do to get him back. Even if he doesn’t want to help her, his Name is going to make him, because that’s what he does. He helps outmatched heroes.

      Liked by 18 people

      1. Dainpdf

        But she’s not playing a Hero role. She stated she didn’t think she could swing that. She’s playing “redeemable villain.

        Like

        1. stevenneiman

          She’s been playing up the fact that she’s just looking after her own people from the very beginning, sought peace that didn’t involve the Principate looting her homeland at every opportunity, offered to help deal with the real threat, and now she’s indicating her willingness to join with the forces of Good. That definitely seems like a redeemed (past tense) villain to me, especially given that she’s playing on the war being a big misunderstanding. One with major risks of backsliding, perhaps, but redeemed nonetheless.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. RanVor

            She’s doing the same thing as always – trying to con the Creation into recognizing her as someone she isn’t. And, as always, she is succeeding admirably.

            Like

          2. Dainpdf

            Redeemed… When her forces include Orcs and Goblins, with said Orcs actually getting the permission to snack on dead enemies? That’s not going to fly.
            Nor is the use of goblinfire, which Cat now knows includes diabolism in its fabrication.
            Cat can play the peace-seeking goals card, but that at best gets her to Well-Intentioned Extremist.

            Like

            1. Metrux

              Well, don’t know about orcs, since we know nothing of their own culture, but goblinfire was ALSO used by heroes, the Lone Swordsman being the one mostly shown. Also, she used a sword made of an angels feather, and she’s a villain, so… Yes, it is going to fly, because this is not humans looking at each other and pointing: “This is evil!”. It’s reality in this world saying “This is how this story began…” and reality give no shits about the true nature, only about what it seems like. That, more than anything, is what diferentiate Good from good and Evil from evil.

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          1. Dainpdf

            It sort of is… But she’s playing it at the “asshole with potential for good” phase. Again, she consort with maneaters, murderers and diabolists. One of whose souls she has bound to her cape.

            Like

    1. Oshi

      She might actually. If Praes survives and Callow joins the alliance. She might be able to leverage this into a peace treaty (probably with concessions that let her pacify her opposition) and achieve what she wants…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. RanVor

        Actually, I thought about that for a bit and came to the conclusion that Malicia wants pretty much the same thing Catherine wants for Callow, but for Praes. So yes, she would be very pleased with this resolution.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Dainpdf

          Because if this offensive starts to go badly Cat has no reason to keep that offer up, and actual incentives not to. Mainly, that Malicia has her economy by the balls.
          At the very least, the Crusade would need to negotiate passage with her.

          Like

        1. Taichi22

          The Romance of Three Kingdoms is about this good when everyone goes to sit down at the table, but there’s usually a sword dance or some poisoned wine about half the time, because they really don’t give a shit about good etiquette.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Byzantine

    Well… She did offer, at the very start, to ferry them all straight to the Tower to tear the whole thing down. It should not be a surprise she is entirely willing to flip sides – and the table – to end this pointless war, break Callow free, and end the narrative that keeps getting Callow invaded.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Of course, any truce that observes the lands ruled by Catherine means that if she takes the tower, all of Praes falls under the umbrella as well. All she has to do is beat her own “allies” to the throne.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Jane

        Unfortunately, the truce only applies to the signatories and their soldiers, who only constitute a small portion of the Crusade (especially after having been bloodied by Catherine); the rest of Procer’s armies, and their allies, would still be free to attack. It also only applies for fourteen months, several of which would be eaten up by claiming the tower.

        It would be a delicious abuse of the terms of the truce, however!

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          If she successfully applies, which she has to at least be aiming for now for Grey to not being happily calling BS, it’s going to be expanded a lot farther than that.

          Like

    2. Ah, but lying Villains lie. So, she was lying. Had to be. It’s a trick. Somewhere. Therefore, she was twisting what seemed to be the truth into a big, fat lie.

      She has always been the Tower’s creature; Villains will always want to climb it, thus will she remain, despite her suggestion of toppling it; doesn’t mean a thi— Oh, Crap. xD

      Liked by 3 people

      1. No, villains never lie, if the truth will hurt more.

        And they *especially* never lie when the heroes have a lie-detector. They just come up with a plan that doesn’t involve lying, and then smugly say “If you think it’s a trap, why don’t you check your lie detector?”

        Liked by 6 people

  3. Catherine scores a point.
    How do you escape being the Villain? By becoming the asshole ally, the “befriended villain turned Good”. Petition the Alliance and suddenly you can put a positive spin on things.
    Also, that bit about her biting off and swallowing her own tongue was delightfully horrifying.

    Liked by 12 people

  4. Draconius Sinister

    Weird to think of Cat sitting there silent for a minute or two thinking this through, but glad to see she kicked the Pilgrim in the conversational balls.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Metrux

      Also important to remember that in most negotiation tables the way of speech isn’t the same as in a normal conversation. It is slower, and no one will call someone out for taking their time to think. After all, everything is a weapon or a shield in the negotiations, and making someone answer faster could very well be seen as bad intentions that, theoretically, shouldn’t be upon a negotiation table.

      Like

    1. Jane

      While I doubt this is actually the case, I like to imagine that between being Fae and having a construct body, her toothy grins at times like these end up becoming unnaturally toothy. Like, “Human mouths aren’t supposed to stretch that wide or have that many teeth” toothy.

      Liked by 17 people

  5. Jane

    Well, that’s a beautiful play. Now they pretty much have to accept truce terms, or Hasenbach will use their recalcitrance to bury them.

    “We could have had Callow on our side without a hundred thousand dead and constant rebellions, but you couldn’t even be bothered to bring me her offer?”

    Combined with how their disastrous performance in the Crusade will tarnish their reputation, she could easily use such a thing to ruin their houses for a generation, even if she had no intention of taking Cat’s proposal seriously.

    Of course, I imagine this will cause her some longer-term problems, but hey, that’s Future Cat’s problem. And Cat has never shied from causing Future Cat new problems – she knows full well how many headaches she deserves, for having caused her so many problems in the past.

    Hm. I wonder if Pilgrim still gets a third chance, after a play like this?

    Liked by 5 people

    1. wagnerap

      Pilgrim made two diplomatic narrative plays, somehow I think the the third play will be a sword in the back. I just can’t see this not being the princes graveyard, though it might become it anyways if Cordelia hangs them.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Death Knight

          I imagine the Princes being forced to accept the truce to save their own asses will really, really, REALLY rub the Saint the wrong way. Enough to finally snap en end them all.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Someguy

            I thought the Graveyard of Princes is Cat’s Treaty table where she destroys their political ambitions/careers and ensures that they will not profit?

            Like

            1. RanVor

              I’m not sure if that can be called an example of Catherine’s battle tactics, which is what the Graveyard of Princes was first brought up as.

              Like

      1. Jane

        Mmm… It just doesn’t feel like the right moment for this to be the Prince’s Graveyard. There’s been too much focus on the Heroes for that, and not enough on the Princes. Not to mention, it still feels like there’s more to be done with Rozala and Arnaud – and if they don’t die here, that pretty much just leaves Amadis ready to die, and that’s not really enough.

        Plus, the narrative feels like its been building towards a hard-fought diplomatic victory, and switching to a major Heroic ambush feels like it would undercut that. I could see a spiteful attack by the Saint to close things out, especially if EE has no further use for her, but I don’t see the rest of the army going along with that at this point.

        Liked by 11 people

        1. Komploding

          If Saint does bite the dust, that would leave a spot open in the heroic group Saint and Pilgrim talked about earlier, Cat technically isn’t a villain because she has so much Fae in her, could she somehow wind up in that spot? The Heavens don’t seem to mind abusing technicalities to get their way.

          Like

      2. Dainpdf

        Two plays: the first met with refusal, the second met with an unexpected pull of the rug. The fact that she made a twist out of it is important, because it takes momentum away from the Pilgrim throwing a second twist at her on the third act.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. crescentsickle

          What’s interesting is that the Pilgrim should also know this intimately given his age and experience. This set of three isn’t a turn, but a rising action for his opponent to demolish him in the third play. Since it’s focused on these talks, I’m not sure it will extend into the future, a guaranteed win for Catherine hanging over his head.

          However, I wonder if he’ll actually try to play for the third act knowing he’ll lose anyway, because Catherine has locked herself into a narrative where she is, nominally, a hero fighting against the oppression of Evil Praes.

          If he plays the third act, and loses horribly at turning things around on her, she wins in a very big way at nailing down that narrative… locking her in as an actual hero, putting her at odds with her close band of followers, against her mentor, against Praes, etc. In that situation, even if the Pilgrim loses the third act very hard, he will win overall, both with cat sabotaging herself and for turning someone away from Evil.

          It’d be a moment underscoring “Win the battle, lose the war.”

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Dainpdf

            Cat underlined the fact that she can’t play a heroic role in this one. Not with who her allies are, and without turning on Praes. She’s going for the “redeemable hero everyone loves” role. Like an early anime antagonist.
            The Pilgrim didn’t anticipate this. He considered her beyond redemption, so he didn’t think she might go for that. That’s why this is so potent – it’s clearly a twist from everyone’s reaction.
            I think he expected her to try for a twist on number three, with the narrative momentum already greatly against her, and with the advantage that he’s a Hero. Now he needs the twist, and a double twist at that, so he’ll have a hard time.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. Metrux

            Also, as she noted before, any choice she makes serves for all of Callow and her band of Named. Because, for the Heavens, it doesn’t matter the technicallities, she is the villain queen. So, since they don’t matter, anything she does is with the fullness of her followers behind her.

            Like

        2. I’m not really sure why the Pilgrim would want to disrupt this process though. If she seeks to join the good guys, Catherine becomes “Good” , is no longer a “Villain”, and therefore is no longer ” corrupting” her company by ruling as a “Villain” .

          The only ways it’s likely to fail is by either Catherine not seeking status in good faith, or by First Prince refusing her out of political reasons.

          The narrative supports her, given she’s already made so many overtures for peace. The thing I’m worried about is that this twist is the something the Narrative drove her to do. Where’s the Catherine who swore to slay demons and angels both, to keep them out of Callow?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Dainpdf

            I think the problem is her being Evil will taint her joining the alliance. This is the story of the Fae all over again: Summer tries to invade Winter. Winter sues for peace. They accept and are joined… Only for Winter to cunningly devour Summer from the inside.
            And guess who is the sole heiress of Winter right now?

            Liked by 1 person

    2. Dainpdf

      I don’t see Hasenbach putting that argument forward. Doesn’t seem like it’d play well with her base, especially after she spent all that energy whipping them up for a Crusade.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jane

        Well, I also don’t see the negotiations failing, so she’ll never have a need to use that argument 😛 .

        It’s just, a request to join the Grand Alliance (with sincerity verified by a famous Hero) is really something that needs to be kicked upstairs, especially when you’re well-known to be disfavored by the First Prince. It would be presumptuous for any Prince to settle such a matter themselves, but it would border on treason for someone known to be working against her to sabotage such a promising alliance.

        If they were sweeping through the area, easily annexing it, they’d have the bribes to buy enough allies in the Assembly to blunt any objections Hasenbach could make, as well as clearly framing the issue as the desperate flailing of a defeated leader not worth treating with, but when it looks like Cat could draw things out for another bloody year if diplomacy fails? Villain or no, it’s too good an offer for any politician to deny serious consideration to, and everyone involved knows it.

        Besides, regardless of what Hasenbach might privately think, she’s been looking for a plausible reason to destroy Amadis and his allies. This would be giving her one on a silver platter; why not take advantage of it to solidify her political position?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dainpdf

          The thing is that it’s not a promising alliance. Cat asking to join would actually be pretty terrible for Hasenbach because, if Amadis fails (which is looking likely and is the only situation this is relevant) she won’t be able to afford more war with Callow; on the other hand, letting Callow under Cat to join the alliance would be political suicide domestically and would also taint her vision for it.
          Oh, and it would make it almost impossible to invade Praes by land without the cooperation of Callow.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Metrux

            Okay, let’s start… This is a double play. Actually, could even be counted as a triple play. First, we have the heavens, headed by the Grey Pilgrim, who wants Cat dead or turned. Since she is not lying, and planning on asking withing the year to join a crusade, he can’t go against her. It would be against himself and against the heavens to simply deny it, especially since he might loose after the denial.

            Second, we have the first prince. She wants Amadis out, for her it doesn’t matter if he dies or not, she only need him to loose power so that he won’t stop her plans from the inside. He loosing the war, he going against her orders and not gaining enough alies, or he making another great blunder, all is positive for her, even if the war is lost. She probably sent him as a win-win for her, since if he wins, she won, if he looses, he lost. So, if they accept it, that’s treason since they couldn’t, and she wins. If they refuse, that’s treason because they couldn’t, and she wins. If they bring it back to her… They might not be traitors, but they still lost. She will love any of those, but might not like the implications for Callow.

            Thirdly, we have the nobles on this host. They want to grow in power and prestige, and, most importantly, to get out of this alive. Their situation is desperate and they just lost. How they lost? Well, no matter what happens now, they are dead, either to war, to the heroes or to hasenbach, be it true death or political one. They are the biggest part of hasenbachs opposition, so if/when they come back, the ones who would “politically suicide” her can’t do it.

            You already brought this Callow won’t let troops pass before, and I already said before, Cat already offered to do just that. This is a non-issue.

            Now, let’s start analyzing the aftereffects. Since she just declared that in good faith under a negotiation table, she became a traitor to the tower. Since all her choices are also of her whole kingdom, if she is accepted into the crusade it actually means she changed from villain to hero, which means no one has an excusable reason to invade Callow. And since they know she will petition for that, but it will be months in time, it actually doesn’t matter, because they are obligated to accept the chance she will join, and they can’t in good faith do anything else but wait for her to petition it.

            I think this should clear up some things.

            Like

            1. Dainpdf

              One: the Pilgrim is not so muhh the leader of the Heavens as their servant. The Heavens don’t want Cat in the Alliance, because she is Evil and, as we’ve seen with the Fae story, Evil in an alliance destroys all. Plus, Cat alluded to the fact that the Heavens don’t care for her.
              Hasenbach doesn’t want these people dead. For one, they’re people she has a read on. For another, they are competent officers. As a last point, they also care for the country. And she wants to root out evil, create an alliance of good, not reduce her forces.
              Hasenbach answers to more than just the nobles in this host. She answers to an entire country that hates evil, and in the alliance to a bunch of countries that do. She can’t bring the squire of the Black Knight in.
              About Cat breaking with the tower: she has done this *precisely* not to explicitly break with the tower yet. Because she can’t, for narrative reasons.

              Like

              1. RanVor

                Just like Malicia answers to an entire country that hates good, except unlike Malicia, Cordelia can’t just tell them to fuck off and do what needs to be done anyway.

                Like

        2. Dainpdf

          Oh, and a small addition: Cordelia doesn’t want Amadis gone, just broken. And yeah, he has nowhere near the power to let Cat in. Even Hasenbach doesn’t – it’ll need to be discussed with the other countries.
          But that’s not an issue – Cat has only declared she intends to ask to be included; she hasn’t actually asked yet.

          Like

      2. RanVor

        This doesn’t matter. Cat declared an intent to join the Grand Alliance. No matter how full of herself she is, Hasenbach knows very well she doesn’t actually rule it, and Callow is too important for Procer to just sweep it under the rug. By refusing to take it into consideration, she risks reaffirming the Callowan enmity towards Procer and causing the kingdom to tighten its ties with Praes. By putting the matter forward, she risks letting a Villain into her precious Good Guys Club. Furthermore, Cat has yet to present any formal request to join the Alliance. Attacking in the meantime might yield the same results as an outright refusal. Basically, she has no option but to wait for Cat to make a formal request and then hoping it will be shot down before it’s too late.

        Cat has just bought herself all the time she needs to prepare for the next wave of the invasion.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Dainpdf

          Oh, I know this was a brilliant play. As I said in another comment, I just think Cordelia will find it politically untenable to vote “yes” on accepting Cat.
          None of the signatory nations will accept Callow, under Cat’s rule, as a signatory nation.
          In fact, notice the negotiations right now haven’t even recognized that Callow is a sovereign nation under her.
          Cat’s declaration is useful mainly because it greatly strengthens her narrative, rather than because it will be politically useful. Unless she manages to twist Procer’s arm into supporting her, that is.

          Like

          1. Forrest

            Except they likely would want to accept since bringing in Callow would be greatly beneficial to all of them. They only then would want to find a way to dispose of Cat down the line. Especially since foul play is not exactly out of their rule book.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Dainpdf

              How? She is Evil. And Winter. If you’ll look at the Fae story, you’ll notice Summer generally doesn’t end up well when it signs treaties with Winter. Also, outwardly, she’s in league with the tower. Not exactly what you want when you’re trying to invade Praes.

              Like

    3. Hasenbach: Let me get this straight. You were offered, by the Queen in Callow, free access through her lands to hit Praes. With her *backing*. You refused and decided to fight it out instead. Then you got your asses handed to you, your supply lines destroyed, and pushed to the brink of utter annihilation. Where, even after all the war and death, the Queen in Callow told you she still intended to sign on with the side of Good. Which you then refused. Resulting in your army limping back to the Stair while starving as the Queen in Callow’s army moved through Arcadia to back the Black Knight at the Vales, thus totally ruining both of our attempts to invade Praes through land.

      Why?

      Oh wait I know why. Prince Amadis? The Queen in Callow sent me ironclad evidence, witnessed and signed by the Duchess Kegan, that you were trying to divide Callow up for political benefit.

      Prince Amadis: Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu-

      There is just no way the Princes keep prosecuting this war now. Hasenbach would gleefully feed them to the political wolves.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. TeK

    And now, if our little upcoming Dread Empress climb the tower, and if they give Callow (probationary) signatory status, Praes will be part of the Friendly League For A Good Guys!

    Like

    1. Jane

      “In retrospect, we really should have included a clause insisting that members renounce the Right of Usurpation.”

      -Cordelia Hasenbach, upon hearing of the ascension of Dread Empress Foundling.

      Liked by 16 people

    2. RanVor

      I very much doubt Cat will ever climb the tower, for one reason – all the quotes from Juniper’s and Aisha’s future memoirs refer to her only as Foundling.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Jane

        At the same time, though, that she knows The Girl Who Climbed The Tower is pretty strong foreshadowing that she will. There’s going to need to be an equally strong subversion, like how her transition to Black Queen was broken at a dramatic turn, for the story to go in a different direction.

        Thematically, finding her ending through a different path than becoming Empress is quite likely, but following the narrative logic, there are some pretty important flags that will need to be set first.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Insanenoodlyguy

        But that ones simple. Cat, upon taking over, struck, reworked, or just pain ignored a lot of the old rules.

        First time her buddies took the knee and called her Dread empress, she rolled her eyes and said “for fuck sake’s, call me Cathrine Foundling. That title sounds ridiculous coming out of your mouths.”

        Like

  7. Silverking

    I understand the second trap that Pilgrim laid out, but I’m not sure I fully understand the first one. I think it’s like…

    Pilgrim: “Why don’t we have a nice little one-on-one chat, put aside the politics, just old Hero and young Villain having an honest conversation, see how it goes?”
    Cat: “Um, we’ve established that politics is the tone of the conversation, and this ain’t no open forum for peasants. Either keep your comments in regards to the truce, or keep your mouth shut.”

    …or is there something I’m missing?

    Like

    1. Jane

      While we don’t know the nature of the first trap, Catherine suspected there was an attempt to invoke a Narrative based on the lack of surprise from the Princes present and Pilgrim’s nature as a Hero. Catherine shut it down by refuting Pilgrim’s standing to speak, denying him an opportunity to start whatever his plan may have been.

      It’s possible she could have navigated whatever he had planned, just like she did the second time he spoke, but, well… He’s a Hero with decades of experience on her, and she gains literally nothing from giving him the opportunity, so it was much more expedient to simply refuse to engage.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Amoonymous

      From what I get, the Pilgrim was basically making the case that he should be free to be “at ease” with Cat and provide precedence for her to respond directly to what he’s saying, which would fuck up the whole “Don’t respond” strat they had going.

      The second time, I guess Cat responded because it was a question their side HAD to answer in order for the negotiations to proceed, and if she called the negotiations off it would lead to that whole “Arrogant Villain Queen” ending (and refusing to answer would halt the negotiations, effectively). Also, due to the weight of the question, I’m guessing either the rest of her group didn’t want to risk an answer or she kept them from answering…though that’s just my guess of how it would have played out.

      Maybe she could’ve tabled it like the previous one, but then that’d be too much or something? Obviously it would’ve been up to EE to decide how “Cat stays quiet” would’ve played out there, and maybe Cat would’ve chosen that option if she didn’t think of such a twist (and also because even when she stayed quiet, they had SOMEONE answer, just not Cat – which could loop around to the “too important” bit).

      Like

    3. Decius

      The first interrogation could be dodged because it was just the Pilgrim asking on his own basis.

      The last one could not be dodged, because it was the Pilgrim pointing out an actual problem that the official people being represented might have with the terms under discussion. If reparations are treason, then reparations can’t happen.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          yeah, but cat already saw the pivot here. no doubt if she’d continued being evasive or gave some technically-true answer he could have worked with that for a final “gotcha” question, but she just twisted it around. Oh he can ask, but it won’t unmake her now, unless she suddenly grabs the idiot ball, villian ball, or both.

          Like

  8. Bonesawer

    Dammit, Cat!

    It’s really irritating to see her keep falling into the nationalism that it is becoming increasingly clear is her Villainous Weakness. It’s her blind spot, in terms of problems both immediate and down the road, and ones that cut into her narrative and are going to be what she falls to. She just can’t avoid falling into it when she has the option to.

    Although, I must admit to being personally irritated by it more than the story justifies since I want Black to win.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Taketheirstuff

      She doesn’t really want to abandon being a villian, she wants to create an antihero narrative. This would allow her to run callow peacefully while still being allowed to do whatever villain things she wants

      Like

  9. haihappen

    “The lovely Taghreb’s lips quirked.”
    Is there any Taghreb present? If Aisha is meant, shouldn’t that read “Sonike”?

    Like

  10. BBM

    Queen of Blades. Huh. That’s… Almost too an apt comparison.
    So, there will be an alliance, then Cat’s going to backstab everyone, name herself Queen Bitch of the Universe and not all their little soldiers and ships will stand in her way again.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Starcraft reference, the Queen of Blades is the Zerg queen who allied with the Humans and some Protoss to help her gain control of all Zerg under the premise that she was a more reasonable option for Alien Overlord; then after succeeding in taming the Zerg, promptly turned around and backstabbed everyone. Although there are noises that she was mind-controlled into doing that.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t think Cat wants to conquer the world or climb the tower or whatever else. She might do those things if they were the only way to protect Callow, but I think she’d strongly prefer to just have peace and be able to rebuild Callow into something prosperous.

      Like

  11. I don’t get why this is such a great idea. I mean she thought about how breaking from Malicia would be bad and then she breaks with Malicia?
    Once she is a signatory she will have to join the crusade against Praes. She has seen the data and she should know that even if they win, it would just mean kicking the can down the road…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. TideofKhatanga

      If she breaks from Malicia by answering “Yes, I do intend to pursue independence from the Tower”, like the Pilgrim goaded her into with his phrasing, it’s bad. It says nothing but “I’m a Villain backstabbing my villainous boss”. It turns her into another footnote in History books, another backstabbing villain who met her fate at the hand of the righteous.

      If she breaks from Malicia by answering “Actually, I wanna join the Good Guy Alliance Against Evil”, her narrative isn’t that of a villain betraying her boss because reasons, but that of a villain going for redemption. And THAT is a completely different narrative in terms of consequences. Most importantly, it’s a completely different narrative for the crusaders, they can’t simply shut the door on her. “The heroes deny the redemption of the villainess sincerely trying to reform” never went well for the heroic party. They could argue that she’s trying to trick them, but Cat doesn’t have the reputation of a trickster. Also, Cat has put herself in the role of the wise ruler pushing for peace, refusing her now labels the heroes as “heavens-backed murderhobos waging an hypocrite war against a peaceful kingdom”, which will weaken them HARD. It might actually give Cat enough plot armour to make her invulnerable for the remainder of the crusade.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Metrux

        Actually, the true masterstroke is that they have to consider all of this, but none of it actually matters. Because this just gives her a year where they can’t touch her, BEFORE she even makes the request, a year she needs to regrow her strengths… And, even more, they can’t just say “okay, we’ll wait for your petition” and then keep the army in her kingdom. This would be the same as refusal, and they can’t simply refuse her, so they NEED to retreat and wait in good faith. Even the heroes shouldn’t interfere because of Grey, except, maybe, the Saint.

        Liked by 3 people

  12. So what’s she going to do with the half of her army that’s Praesi? Most of the greenskins probably won’t care, but I find it hard to believe all of them will hate the High Lord’s enough to make war on their homeland

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Praes is very used to civil wars, power grabs, surprise coups and bits of it fending other bits from thinking about climbing the Tower.

      Most would do what they always try to do: back the winning horse. One sin; one grace.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. RanVor

      You forget that majority of the Fifteenth sees Catherine as a revolutionary of sorts. Not only they don’t mind going against Praes, they *expect* it.

      Like

  13. BLH989

    I can see how this ends.

    Saint of Swords: “There is no way in hell I’m letting you do that!”
    Catherine: precedes to fill Saint’s lungs with goblin fire and undead goats
    Catherine: There! Now you have to let me join the hero club!

    Like

  14. 1queenofblades1

    Hahahaha who says Catherine Foundling cannot into diplomacy?

    The Procerans gave her the rope to hang herself. Cat just tied it around their balls and pulled.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Someguy

      “It admittedly took me a few years to make my peace with the fact that Lady Foundling’s take on diplomacy is essentially to bring a bottle of cheap wine and a sword to the table, then remind the interlocutor that while the wine might be awful it is still arguably better than being stabbed.”
      —Extract from the personal memoirs of Lady Aisha Bishara

      Cat just killed the 10th Crusade and turned it into the beginning of the “Uncivil Wars” mentioned in the chapter quotes.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. grrtt

        The first of the Uncivil Wars was the Liesse Rebellion, the second was the Summer Campaign, and the third was Akua’ s Folly. We don’t know how many Uncivil Wars there are.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Read The Gods are Bastards, Mother of Learning, Ward, Iron Teeth, and Legion of Nothing.

      Or if you’re completely hopeless like so many of us and you’re caught up with those too, pick randomly from a list of Hugo and Nebula winners. I bet no one here has completed that quest, getting distracted on tangents is half the point. I hit one Vorkosigan novel, and of course I had to read the other 17 before going back to the award winners list

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Eduardo

        Well, I am caught with all of those and to at least mitigate my adiction added Savage Divinity to the list. I am seriously considering that the author of Savage Divinity is a machine.

        Like

        1. Savage Divinity is going on ~2 years now, but yeah Ruffwriter is dropping 3 chaps a week excluding occasional vacations.

          Also, his chapters come out on alternate days as PGTE, so you have something to read 6 days a week usually.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. I have. It’s amazing, but… it’s so very complex, and I find myself constantly knocked out of the flow of the writing and rejecting suspension of disbelief because of its form of worldbuilding. Which is not to say it’s bad worldbuilding – it’s very good – but it’s a miss for me. Trying to understand the kabbalah references and whatnot, I have to say that my brain shorts out and every possible iteration of letters and numbers can be made to mean *anything* irl, if you go deep enough into it, so if I suspend disbelief of numerology and kabbalah etc. then I fall down the rabbit hole with every suggested ‘meaning’ made for a word. I mean, the story is internally consistent and logical within its own framework, but the nature of that framework to a math-minded person like myself ends up being as if I accepted the premise that 1=0, then tried to recalculate trig tables with that.

              I don’t know if that made sense. tldr: I like the writing, but I choke on the applied symbolism.

              Like

        2. Sparsebeard

          The wandering inn’s author is surely the most productive though, I mean two or more 10000-15000 words chapters each week with no pause like ever.

          And the story is probably my favorite one… although all the other stories listed are very great too…

          Like

          1. Wandering Inn has a lot going for it, but the author’s word count is not one of those things. I think it would be better cutting it down by 1/3. There are entire swaths I skim over while rolling my eyes. Remember that week where every paragraph began with “This is a story of…”. Ugh.

            Don’t get me wrong, the creativity and character development in that story is top notch. The writing just rubs me the wrong way a lot of the time.

            Like

            1. Sparsebeard

              I don’t agree, while there may be some rare passages / expessions that may profit from editing, this is in a minority of chapters (well, I mean like most web novel it would probably change quite a bit if they where edited and PGtE is no exception).

              The is still the fact that a LOT happens in most chapters of TWI, I mean most chapters have as much happening as many chapters of other series. For exemple, all of the negociation between Callow and Procer would definitively have been one chapter, with perhaps other things also happening.

              Not that this is a critic of PGtE, the author is also a machine, and it’s a different kind of story where there seem to be script for the whole story with a clear beginning and ending.

              Whereas, TWI is more like and adventure where the story is pulled by the characters weekly choices in a set, awesome, world, you get the sense that the story can go on forever with characters appearing and dying according to the world’s whims… It’s kind of like a very long tabletop RPG where every player pulls the game in it’s own direction.

              Liked by 1 person

      2. I can’t stomach The Gods Are Bastards – a bit SJW for me, leaning too heavily on those themes to distinguish the moral divide between good and bad guys – but I can recommend The Wandering Inn for nuanced characters and uplifting moments (seriously, I’ve cut onions more than once reading that one), and Savage Divinity for its brilliant pokes at Xanxia / reincarnation story tropes, as well as just amazingly solid writing. There are other stories that are good, but those two round out my top three with this one. TWI might end up being my favorite of all time.

        Like

          1. Wait no, that was uncalled for and this story has a female protagonist as well, so my rebuke makes no sense. My apologies. Anyone using SJW unironically is just hard to take seriously. If I may, I don’t think you’ve read past the first book, which the author himself has he really wants to rewrite because it really isn’t that good. It gets a whole lot better later on, with many of the things you might think of as SJW being either clarified or acknowledged for being somewhat hypocritical at times. The Silver Legions are still female though.

            Liked by 1 person

        1. Sparsebeard

          Personaly, I love both TGAB and TWI but I’ll admit that I find TWI better as I might pass a few updates of TGAB and then catch up but will always read TWI’s chapters within 24 hours of publication…

          Also, you might want to avoit using loaded terms such as SJW which will trigger about half of the public if you want you’re opinions not to put of potential readers…

          Like

        2. Yes, I can see why someone who uses SJW as a put-down wouldn’t like the beginning of TGAB. Ironically, the story AGREES WITH YOU in this! As another commenter mentions, the early chapters with Trissiny are to show how wrong she is despite being so certain she’s right. That’s not actually revealed until a bit later, and there aren’t any hints that that’s what it’s doing. (You’ll see several pointed complaints about that I left in the comments, early on.) I would strongly advise anyone to just bulldoze through those early chapters if you have to, the story blossoms into so much more than that.

          Counterpoint: if you did intend SJW as a dog whistle to see if there are others like you here, perhaps TGAB just isn’t for you. (I think Webb himself would strongly disagree, it should be said.) The story espouses some “progressive” ideals, but it’s always conscious about not coming off as preachy. It just depends on whether you approach the story with good faith or not. For some people, even acknowledging there are two sides to an argument is unacceptably preachy.

          Liked by 2 people

  15. Gunslinger

    Bravo, this chapter was brilliant. I’m not sure how Malicia would take this announcement. It would still be official that Cat’s breaking away, just without the narrative of evil turns against evil.

    Like

    1. Part of her would be delighted to send Cordelia an honest gift basket of heating poltices and headache cures with a note amounting to “my sincerest condolences concerning your Foundling-related migraines — these might help… a little”.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Why are we assuming this requires Cat/Callow to break away from Praes? The whole point I thought was to be able to remain on peaceful terms with both.

        To me the only question remaining is whether the delegation was in shock, or in shock that she didn’t see the obvious fatal flaw that everyone else did 😮

        Like

        1. I’m not assuming any break between Callow and anybody else. However, negotiating with all sides, attempting to take them to the cleaners while being a harder nut to crack than is worth the bother of cracking? Hello, Switzeland!

          The proposed international Accords strike me as having a little Red Cross on them, no? 😉

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Nethermore

        I case you weren’t just being witty (or someone else isn’t aware), I was referencing the “Magnificent Bastard” trope as found on tvtropes.org.

        Like

  16. Mike E.

    That was good…now to see if the GP lies about Cat having been truthful with that statement (and I assume she is being truthful, else the GP’s reaction would have been different).

    Love that Cat is learning how to lose the small battles in order to win the big ones. There was another story (HPMoR) I read where one of the growth arcs for the main character was that they actually had to learn how to lose, vice escalating unnecessarily just so they could always had to win every contest regardless of the future cost.

    Also Cat literally biting her own tongue (off) to keep quiet, nice twist of a common phrase.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Cicero

        Only if the hero is inexperienced, and then gets a mini-redemption arc to teach him the folly of rejecting other people’s repentance.

        Like

  17. Jonnnnz

    I am beyond annoyed with the Pilgrim here. He is overbearing with his twisting the rules in bad faith to murder Cat under the guise of truth. He pretended to be reasonable at the start, but he has shown exactly zero compromise other than on things he would have agreed to anyway. The kindly old man act is only skin deep when he bothers with it… And right now he is not.

    Like

    1. Good doesn’t really compromise all too often, it feels like. Might be a sign of where Catherine stands too, given that she doesn’t really compromise either.

      They both do care to reach an understanding though, even if they are fencing while doing it.

      Like

      1. Metrux

        Named don’t compromise too often*. It’s actually what is needed to be a Named, as said by Black there after she became the Squire. To be Named is to hold something within yourself so firm it “makes you special”. This kind of people tend to butt heads 😛

        Like

    2. TideofKhatanga

      He is a kindly old man, and fairly reasonable too compared to most Named. But he has a duty, and that duty is completely incompatible with letting this generation’s greatest villain-to-be alive. The Grey Pilgrim’s kindness isn’t an act, it just doesn’t extend to Evil.

      He reminds me of a quote from Carlos Hathcock about killing a lot of people as a sniper in Vietnam: “Hell, anybody would be crazy to like to go out and kill folks. I like shooting, and I love hunting. But I never did enjoy killing anybody. It’s my job. If I don’t get those bastards, then they’re gonna kill a lot of these kids we got dressed up like Marines. That’s just the way I see it.”

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Agent J

      That’s actually what I love most about it. We saw just how much of a charade his kindly geezer act was during his interlude. Analyzing and manipulating the princes/ses with remarkable ease. Using his cultivated image to great effect when dealing with heroes and villains alike. All with the single minded purpose to further the Greater Good. He’s an interesting character. He reminds me more and more of the Wandering Bard.

      Like

  18. Just This Guy, Ya Know

    I love that she “intends” to join to Alliance. Which she definitely can. She can just set conditions that it will be near impossible for the First Prince to pass. Doesn’t mean she isn’t being truthful.

    Also, it gives her a way to isolate the Saint, which is always a good thing.

    I wonder if joining the Grand Alliance means she actually a.) has to declare war on Praes and b.) actually has to contribute troops who will fight.

    On the other hand, I do worry about the change that The Black Knight and Malicia were trying to cause, preventing the constant wars between Praes and Callow by folding Callow into Praes and making it so Praes wasn’t on the verge of starvation regularly. On the other hand, if this then turns into a Praesian civil (or uncivil) war, that might work. If Praes stops existing and becomes part of Callow, then the Dread Empire is gone, there is no need for Crusade, she gets to wipe out the nobles, etc.

    I do wonder what her game plan for what happens when she’s gone is. She’s working to set up an efficient bureaucracy in Callow like Malicia has in Praes, so those would hopefully continue to function, no matter how inept the next rulers are. Given that Praes is a Roman Empire analogue, I am wondering about an Eastern Roman Empire here. The Byzantines were known for their impenetrable bureaucracy, but it did keep the Eastern half of the Roman Empire running for another thousand years after the fall of the west.

    Like

    1. Jason Ipswitch

      If an orphan girl from Callow climbs The Tower and becomes Dread Empress (with a little stop as Queen of Callow along the way), that seems like a win for Black’s ideas. At least to me it does. Once it’s established narrative that Callowans can become Dread Emperor/Empress, once little Callowan girls and boys dream of climbing The Tower, Black will have linked the two nations together in a way that will be nearly impossible to undo.

      Like

      1. that was Black’s method, not his goal. Black is a man powered by spite, He looks at the heaven’s winning every battle without putting in the effort and being as close to perfect as possible due to providence and he wants to tear the system down. If Catherine takes the tower as a villain and gets the crusade to fuck off then he’s won, but if Cat joins the heroes it’s a victory for good, not evil.

        Like

        1. Allafterme

          But you don’t consider ramifications of such an action. Hasenbach wants everyone on her Grand Alliance. But if a villain, however how reformed, would immediately cause the Levant to drop them. That is 1/3 of the alliance. The Golden Bloom can’t be invited like Hasenbach pondered too. It is a GREAT way to break the alliance from its seams…

          Like

          1. RanVor

            Well, this league is already kind of a farce, considering one of Cordelia’s reasons for initiating a crusade was to stave off a war with Levant and Ashur, her fellow members of the Grand Alliance. What kind of alliance they are if they can’t even keep themselves from fighting each other unless there is an immediate threat in the vicinity?

            Liked by 1 person

  19. This chapter made me realize what the Wandering Bard’s goal in pushing Black to the destruction of Liesse was. She was trying to get him to catch his finger on the hem of Evil Turns On Evil. Whether Malicia actually got weaponized Liesse was small peanuts compared to what the Wandering Bard was going for, which was Black and Malicia turning on another. Which they will.

    It doesn’t matter if both of them know it would be suicide. Malicia is being compelled to bury Black because they’re both wrapped up in the Evil Turns On Evil narrative now. The Wandering Bard wasn’t just trying to drive a wedge between two enemies of hers, she was hurling the two greatest threats to Good bodily into a fucking narrative woodchipper.

    Good gods my fear of and respect for the Wandering Bard just shot up a *lot*.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. JJR

    It’s a surprising move by Cat, but I think the Pilgrim can still turn this around on her with a simple question.

    Pilgrim: “Seeking signatory Status is one thing, but finalizing it, accepting it, is another thing entirely.”
    Cat: “I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”
    Pilgrim: “What I’m asking is; if we open the door for you, will you come in or stnad there with indecision?”

    And then Cat bats someones water glass off the table and scampers away.

    Like

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