Chapter 37: Offing

“Callowans as a people can be summed up by the fact that, before the Uncivil Wars had even come to a close, it’d become a common boast among the populace that the Black Queen had not even spent a sennight in Keter before having several counts of arson and murder to her name.”
– Extract from the personal memoirs of Lady Aisha Bishara

Follow the food. So went Thief’s advice.

That Malicia or a flesh puppet were in the city was a given: Neshamah wouldn’t bother to seriously negotiate with a High Lord. It would have been like a man having to keep a serious face while making a pact with mutton chop, in his eyes. I’d personally been of the opinion that it was a near certainty that the puppet would be the one in Keter, since the Empress leaving the Tower unattended for more than a few weeks was a recipe for usurpation. Akua, however, had made it clear that with the right precautions it was possible for Malicia to be here in person while a puppet held the Tower for her. She was not the kind of Empress that had a strong presence outside Ater: apparently even by imperial standards she didn’t leave her seat of power often. It made sense, in a way. Malicia wasn’t a fighter, and for decades she’d had Black to send after messes sword in hand. Her almost cripplingly-focused talents were in rule and intrigue, and they were most effectively wielded from the Imperial court. Diabolist noted that the court at the Tower wasn’t necessarily the centre of power in a Tyrant’s reign – Terribilis II had barely held one and distributed most its traditional authority to Ater’s bureaucracy. Malicia, however, had inherited a festering snake pit of a court from her predecessor Nefarious and then promptly encouraged the most murderous leanings of the highborn by rewarding the victorious in those struggles with riches and influence.

That, however, had been decades ago. Before the Conquest or my birth.  Now that Malicia had spent years removing the aristocrats from the bureaucracy and Black had unceremoniously drummed them out of the Legions, her hold on Ater and the Tower was extremely hard to shake. She could afford to let the High Lords break their teeth on her power base while she placed most her attention on the negotiations in Keter. Akua even speculated that she might be baiting out would-be usurpers in order to have them out in the open when she returned home with a Keteran alliance. That turnaround was likely to see their own families turn on those ambitious few, neatly decapitating any nascent opposition without her having to lift a finger. It certainly sounded like Malicia, I had to admit. A plan with several ancillary benefits unfolding quietly while her enemies swung at mist.  Regardless, it’d been a priority to find out whether we were dealing with the actual Empress or a puppet. From a narrow perspective, it didn’t matter which it was if we managed to slaughter them all anyway: the result would still be us with the only bidder at the Dead King’s auction. Looking at it more broadly, though, the difference was major. For one, if I killed Malicia in the flesh I’d be gaining a ‘legitimate’ claim to the Tower.

Kill the Empress, be the Empress: that was the law of the Wasteland. If you managed to scatter all the other carrion birds pecking at the corpse, anyway. Getting involved in the flaming tar pit that was your average Praesi succession was the least of what I needed right now, and pretty high on my list of ‘things I would prefer never to have to deal with’. Malicia would have to go if the Liesse Accords were going to be implemented properly and I couldn’t deny that the longer she had to scheme the more dangerous she became, but as long as the Empress lived there was a lid on the Wasteland jar of crazy. Much like Cordelia Hasenbach, she wasn’t someone I liked facing but she remained very much preferable to whoever would step up if she was removed from power. I wouldn’t put it beyond a High Lord trying to climb the Tower to take a swing at me as their foremost ‘rival’ even while the Empire was being attacked by Ashur. Particularly if their lands were far enough from the sea. There were dozens of examples in the histories to be found of Praesi cheerfully emptying a whole quiver into their foot just like that. On the other hand, taking Malicia prisoner just wasn’t feasible. Not in Keter. And for all that Praesi ambition could end up biting me, there was also a decent chance that instead the Empire would collapse into civil war as every prominent highborn tried to claim the Tower. I couldn’t even dismiss the possibility that the legions in the Wasteland would try to proclaim Black as Dread Emperor and fill mass graves with whoever objected to that.

I didn’t relish the loss of life it would involve, but if Praes was clawing at itself it wasn’t looking at Callow. It might be a risk worth taking.

“So I’ve got a report for you,” Archer announced, strolling through the wards.

She had a bottle in hand, I noted. That was definitely not what I had sent her out for.

“If you blew off reconnaissance to get drunk, there will be consequences,” I mildly said.

“I would never,” Indrani assured me. “I just happened to find a cellar while on my very serious fact-finding mission, and it would have been criminally negligent of me not to investigate.”

“Was it locked?” I sighed.

“Is it really a lock if it breaks?” Archer mused. “That’s a question for the philosophers, Catherine. We’re straying off topic.”

So I’d need to offer Athal an apology, then. Hakram’s suggestion that we just make a scroll template with blank spaces to fill in with the latest thing she’d done was becoming increasingly tempting.

“This is what we call Atalantian baptismal, Cat,” Indrani seriously told me, putting the bottle on the table. “I’ve heard that if an entire glass is drunk in a single sitting, it will outright kill a man.”

“I’m considering killing as well, at the moment,” I informed her.

“That would be a grave miscarriage of justice,” Indrani told me. “Since I found it inside the only other palace that has servants in it.”

My eyes narrowed. I’d asked the Dead King for further time to debate his offer before our next conversation and sent both Archer and Thief out find the tracks of any Imperial presence in the city. Follow the food, Vivienne had said. Malicia’s delegation would need to eat, would be offered all the trapping of hospitality as the honoured guests that they were. That left traces, in a city where the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants were walking corpses. I set aside the pile of scrolls that held our now-irrelevant bargaining position and dragged out the rough sketch of the palaces surrounding the Hall of the Dead I’d asked Masego to make. There were five in whole, forming a circle interrupted by the same number of avenues going into the city-fortress. The Silent Palace, our own, was slightly to the left of the gates into the Hall.

“Which one?” I asked.

Indrani jabbed her finger onto the parchment. Slightly to the right, on the opposite side of the black stone spire.

“The Threefold Reflection,” I said.

Athal had helpfully provided the names of every existing palace when I’d casually asked as much, feigning idle curiosity. The dark-haired man had also revealed there were old sorceries protecting each of them, though he hadn’t gone into detail. Not all that surprising. This whole city was a fortress, not even the guesthouses would be toothless.

“The place is… unsettling,” Archer said, grabbing the seat across from me. “The layout is wrong. Hallways lead where they shouldn’t: I went through the same threshold twice and ended up in different places both times. I’d call it a maze, but you can map out a maze. There’s wizardly bullshit at play here I think might rule that out.”

“Did you find out how many people are in the delegation?” I asked.

“I kept out of sight,” she said, shaking her head. “Got a look at one of them, though. Tall man in steel plate, silent. Black iron mask over his face.”

I nodded.

“I’ve seen those before,” I said. “They’re called Sentinels. The personal guard of whoever holds the Tower, though there’s enough they count more as a personal army. Supposedly spells and potions keep them unconditionally loyal.”

“Might be we have ourselves the real Empress, then,” Indrani said.

“They’re exactly the kind of guards a puppet would bring as well,” I said. “Won’t talk, can’t betray and they probably have triggers inside their body that’ll kill them if someone tries to grab and extract.”

“Would they obey a puppet, though?” Archer asked.

“I have no idea,” I admitted after a moment. “But I know who we can ask.”

I exerted my will and tugged at Akua’s leash, gently. There was resistance. I tugged a second time, and when I did not feel her moving towards me I rolled my eyes and simply dragged her here. The shade poured out of the wall about thirty heartbeats later and only then did I loosen my grip. Diabolist was grimacing.

“That,” she said, “was exceedingly unpleasant. And I barely had time to bid my farewells.”

“Do it again,” Indrani grinned.

I ignored her.

“Would Sentinels obey a flesh simulacrum the Empress occasionally takes over?” I asked.

Akua’s brow rose.

“If instructed to, certainly,” she said. “Authority over them can be even granted by certain court titles, it is not held sorely by the Tyrant.”

“Not a tie breaker, then,” I told Indrani.

“Was that the sum total of your inquiry?” Diabolist asked, sounding a little miffed. “I was having a conversation of some import.”

“Tell me about it,” I invited, repressing a grin.

Occasionally yanking Akua’s chain had lost none of the satisfaction even after the novelty faded.

“We will be expected to meet with the Dead King two days from now, at twilight,” Akua said. “Excuses can be stretched no further.”

I drummed my fingers against the table as Archer cracked open the bottle from – Atalante, was it? Strange, I remembered reading somewhere they were the religious ones in the League. The House of Light tended to frown on drinking to excess. The Callowan one, anyway, for all I knew it was different down there.

“So that’s our window,” I said. “Two days. Hopefully Thief has more to add, because we’re low on information at the moment and I don’t relish the thought of attempting an assassination half blind in Keter of all places.”

Whether or not Vivienne had anything to say remained a mystery for several hours after that. Hakram returned before too long, having exhausted the few points I’d sent him to seek clarification on with the Hosts to keep up the pretence of ongoing debate on our part. I went for a walk after that, in part to clear my mind but mostly so I get away from those fucking wards. I knew why we’d had Masego put it up, but it didn’t make staying under them any more pleasant. I decided to get something useful done while I was out and about, so I moved towards the highest circles of the Silent Palace to get a look at the terrain between us and this Threefold Reflection the Empress allegedly resided in. The layout of this place was all interlocked circles so getting oriented was easy, but I’d failed to grasp the varying heights. The circle furthest out was one of the lowest, the rooftop almost a terrace. From the flat black marble I could get a good look at the broad open space that separated the palaces from the Hall of the Dead, but little else. There were, I noted, patrols now. There’d been a few of those before that I remembered, but nowhere as large or frequent. Was Neshamah tightening his watch? You told me Malicia was here and that she was at odds with me, I thought. Considering that little talk we had the day before about how betrayal is a passing thing, that was as good as an invitation to kill her.

Evidently, that didn’t mean he would make it easy for me. This was a test of sorts, I decided. I doubted that breaching the laws of hospitality would rank in even the worst hundred of the sins to the Dead King’s name, but he’d keep the pretence. He might not actively obstruct me, but unless I remained discreet there would be consequences. That didn’t bode well. The Woe had many talents, but discretion was not usually counted among them – though that was in large part my own fault, it had to be said. I could barely make out the edge of the Threefold Reflection from the side of the Hall of the Dead, but I’d meant to get a good look and this told me less than nothing. Casting a look at the grounds below, freshly-scrubbed paving stones, I shrugged and leapt. I’d gone without armour for the day, so my knees barely bent when I landed. Cloak fluttering around me, I nodded at the approaching patrol as they turned to me. Archer had told me of the breeds of dead there were to be found in the city, but there were no differences to my senses. They all felt like little balls of will working a corpse, and though some might feel stronger it was not a certain thing. For one, the officers were supposed to be the Binds – those with souls and real intelligence – but the presence for some of the officer-armoured dead were almost entirely faded.

I’d have to rely on sight to tell them apart, and sight could be tricked.

“Just going for a walk,” I told them.

A corpse in a lovely sculpted iron breastplate and conical helmet nodded.

“If you require escort, Great Majesty, it can be provided,” he offered.

“Won’t be necessary,” I said. “Though I thank you for the courtesy.”

They resumed their patrol without a word, offering polite nods when they passed me by. How long had that one been dead, I wondered? I could be centuries. I’d glimpsed flesh beneath the helm, but that meant nothing. Necromancy could preserve that near indefinitely. Strolling as casually as a girl could with a sword at her hip and a cloak embroidered with the banners of her defeated foes could – not all that casually, I felt safe in assuming – I passed by the palace separating mine from the Threefold Reflection. It was the largest of those I’d seen, and the Silent Palace dwarfed the one in Laure. The Garden of Crowns, Athal had called it. Wasn’t seeing a lot of those, but the garden part seemed accurate. Instead of a single massive construction, this one was a display of smaller pavilions lost in a beautiful sprawl of stone and greenery. The beauty was somewhat spoiled by the fact that the trees and grass seemed to sprout directly from granite, but that might just have been me. It was empty, or so I thought. Then I caught sight of a silhouette seated under a shaded living oak arbour, looking down at a crystal-clear pond. Man, not a woman. Creation had not seen fit to have me run into Malicia, then. Torn between moving on towards the Threefold Reflection and having a closer look at this oddity, I eventually went for the oddity. The palace wasn’t going anywhere.

I tread softly on the pebble paths that winded through the greenery, keeping an eye on the stranger. Too pale to be Soninke or Taghreb. Either an outside acquisition by the Empress, or entirely unrelated to her. I confirmed the second thought when I came close enough my otherworldly senses picked up on what lied within the man: power. Not a Name, no. That kind of power had a peculiar taste to it, life and weight and something like inevitability. What I felt from him was cousin to that, or perhaps just the remains of it. Like words engraved in stone left unreadable by time and tide you could still barely make out some letters from. Revenant, I thought. Indrani had told me they kept a shade of what they’d once been after their raising. The dead man did not react even when I’d come well within earshot for a mortal, staring silently into the pond. I could make out shapes in the water, fish and water lilies. The way light caught on them allowed me to realize they were not living things but sculpted and painted stone. I put aside the mild discomfort I felt at the sight and studied the man closer. Late forties, or so he’d been before his death. A crown of white hair came in sparse tufts, and the beginnings of beard could be seen on his jaw. His clothes were rich drapery, though the colour had faded with the centuries, and there was a sword on his lap. None of this mattered half as much as the brooch on his chest: a tasteful little twist of silver with two golden ornaments on it.


“There is no need to stand there, child,” the Revenant said. “It is not my pond, nor my ruinous light that shines down upon it.”

I swallowed.

“You’re a Fairfax,” I blurted out, and immediately cringed.

Catherine Silvertongue struck again. The Revenant turned to study me, pale brown eyes surprised.

“King Edward of Callow,” he said. “And you are Deoraithe. A daughter of House Iarsmai?”

It had to be an Edward, didn’t it? Callow had those like the Principate had its never-ending gaggle of First Prince Louis – too many to know by rote save for the numbers at the end. Suddenly I was glad I hadn’t worn a crown. It would have felt tasteless in front of a Fairfax of the old blood. When he’d spoken that title it had been with that muted ripple of power, the one that said it hadn’t merely been a title for him.

“Just a foundling,” I replied, shaking my head.

“Named, then,” he sagely said, and with a courtly gesture invited me to sit.

I settled into the stone seat by his own, tongue-tied.

“Would that be Edward the Fifth?” I said, desperately trying to remember which of those had gotten themselves killed while crusading.

“The Seventh,” the king chided. “You will know my daughter Mary, at least. She was but three when I was claimed, she must be the longest-reigning monarch Callow has ever seen.”

Oh shit. He was talking about Mary the Songbird. That entire reign had been a mess: the Marquess of Vale had fought a short but bloody civil war to seize the regency and refused to give it up even after she came of age. He’d kept her imprisoned in the Songbird’s Cage until one of her cousins rebelled and overthrew him. She didn’t survive the assault on Laure, smothered with a pillow by her captor before the palace could be breached. There were at least half a dozen songs and plays about the tragedy. Her cousin took the crown, after, and all House Lerness of Vale hung save for the children.

“I have heard of her,” I diplomatically said. “I’m sorry to tell you that House Fairfax is gone. As far as I know, the last member of it died during a Praesi invasion over twenty years ago.”

The man chuckled.

“It was dead long before that, girl,” he said. “I share not a drop of blood with the famous Eleonor. My forbear merely kept the name to justify her rule after her husband had the poor taste of dying before getting her with child.”

I blinked. Yolanda the Wicked, that. Scholars centuries later still debated or not whether she’d been a villain or just extremely unpopular. Some argued she’d been demonized because of her Proceran origins and that she’d had lawful claim to rule, even though her children did not. The other side tended to point out she’d had the rest of House Fairfax murdered to ensure said children did in fact succeed her. This felt like a history lesson, until I remembered I was sitting next to breathing history. Well, moving anyway.

“Catherine Foundling,” I introduced myself, since girl and child were starting to get on my nerves.

“I would welcome you to these grounds, Catherine Foundling, but there is no welcome to be had in this earthly pit of devils,” King Edward said.

I nodded my thanks, for lack of a better answer.

“If I may ask, Your Majesty,” I said. “You seem…”

“Lucid?” the dead man smile. “The Abomination’s little jest. Most of my fellows are of more taciturn bent. You see, when he came for me I told him that even in the face of eternity I would spit on him and all his works.”

My fingers clenched. Evidently, Neshamah had decided to test the truth of that.

“Do not look so appalled,” the king gently said. “I will yet have the last laugh over that dark creature, even if I must wait until the Last Dusk for it. Though I am bound to serve in this place it is only a passing thing.”

“So you’re the guardian of this,” I probed, hand moving to vaguely encompass our surroundings.

“In a manner of speaking,” King Edward said. “This is the Garden of Crowns, young Foundling. None serve here who were not royalty while they drew breath. The power once bestowed on me by Above has merely earned the role of the sword guarding this palace.”

My eyes narrowed.

“So there’s a former Named guarding all five palaces,” I said.

“Indeed,” he agreed. “Though the Abomination changes the watchers at a whim. The Bloody Sword once kept vigil over the that unpleasant pyramid beyond the Garden, but has since been replaced. Other than I, the only one who has remained for more than a century is the Thief of Stars.”

“Oh?” I said, blood running cold. “And where does he guard?”

“She,” he corrected. “The Silent Palace. It amused the Abomination to bind her there, as she attempted to rob it whilst living.”

So we’d had a heroine with a talent for discretion breathing down our neck the entire time without a single one of us noticing. Lovely. This assassination plot was already getting off to a great start.

“You display great curiosity as to the nature of this pit,” King Edward said calmly. “I will not inquire as to your purpose, as I would be bound to then speak it. But you are born of Callow, are you not?”

“I am,” I warily agreed.

“It has been a very long time,” he said quietly, “since I have spoken to one of my people. And I have worried, over the years. We warred with the Principate mere decades before they came, beggars at my door, asking for our swords to march north for their sake. Yet I know the gratitude of princes is an ephemeral thing. And to the east, the Enemy ever lurks. You spoke of an invasion?”

The snarl in his voice when he spoke of Procer had a warm feeling in my belly, I wouldn’t deny it. I’d run out of patience with them as well, it was reassuring to know I was in good company there. Unfortunately, I had few good tales to tell him.

“We call it the Conquest,” I said. “They won at the Fields of Streges and swept over the Callow. Until recently we were under occupation.”

“That patch of grass has been watered by more armies than rainstorms,” King Edward ruefully said. “It does not matter. The beast swells fat with the meat of us but it ever chokes on our bones. There will be another Eleonor, sooner or later.”

I didn’t know how to tell him that none had come. That if she’d ever been born, the closest thing I had to a father had cut her throat before her name could be known. That I might the closest thing to her we had, and wasn’t that a horrifying thought?

“We’re under siege,” I said. “The Tenth Crusade marches right through us and attempts at peace have failed. The princes of Procer wants to carve us up and I am unsure how far up that desire runs.”

“Procerans are always hungry,” King Edwards said darkly. “And when that hunger leads them to the brink, they weep for others to pay the dues in their stead. Hold the Vales, young Foundling. And watch the Blessed Isle for a Wasteland knife.”

I bleakly laughed. How could I tell him that the ruling Dread Empress was out for my blood, trying to crush me underfoot, and that she was still the closest thing I had to an ally at the moment? The dead man idly brushed his fingers against his brooch, then spoke up hesitatingly.

“It is unseemly to ask, I know,” he said. “Yet, my daughter…”

I thought of pale green eyes, and the kindest lie I’d ever been told. That it wouldn’t get easier.

“She is still,” I said with a smile, “spoken of in song.”

The naked relief on his face only made it worse.

“She would have loved that,” he said with a quirk of the lips. “She had a lovely singing voice, my Mary. And she was good, even as a child. Kind. That is a rare thing in a ruler. There is a place for harshness, but kindness is the mother of prosperity.”

I nodded slowly. I couldn’t stand to stay here any longer, next to the man I’d lied to and his long-dead memories, so slowly I rose to my feet.

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Your Majesty,” I said, bowing.

“Don’t,” he said. “I am not a fool, young Catherine.”

He smiled, like we shared a secret.

“The first Albans were seneschals of Laure long before they were kings,” he told me. “And Eleonor, for all her virtues, was born a mere knightess. There is no shame in one’s birth. We are what we bring into this world, not what brought us into it.”

He rose as well, and touched my wrist.

“Stand tall, Queen Catherine,” King Edward the Seventh told me. “Stand proud. We have been broken before, humbled and rent asunder. We have crawled through the blood of our kin and suffered the yoke of tyrants. It does not matter. We do not yield, we do not bend even when the sky comes tumbling down on our heads. Keep your grudges close, child, and never forget them.  We are Callowans, and for every slight there is a price.”

Ours will be long, the song went, and paid twice.

Woe on us all, but if the Gods demanded my home be ashes then the Gods would burn.

141 thoughts on “Chapter 37: Offing

  1. Stormblessed

    Hmmm… another of a these transient chapters where Catherine speaks with someone hiding her truest self. I guess in a sense this chapter is supposed to remind us of the bonds between her and Praes. How she cares and hides from Blacks while hating and working with Malicia.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Person2

      Kind of. While that is an interesting observation to make, he 1) doesn’t know she’s a villain and 2) no one else knows she was ‘approved’ by a dead Callowan Revenant of the Dead King.

      I guess this does give her a stronger metaphysical tie to some kind of ‘name’ if she still had one and probably makes her infinitesimally stronger.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Dantalian

        Why wouldn’t he know she’s a villain?
        She’s peacefully walking through Keter, even though she’s Queen of Callow.

        Heroes simply don’t make deals with the Dead King, they just throw themselves at him.

        Liked by 19 people

      2. He must at least suspect she’s a villain seeing as she’s casually strolling through Keter.

        I think this is continuing the “sword from the stone” theme. By pulling out the sword she’s proven to be worthy of becoming a Queen. Now, she’s been legitimized by the past in the only way available to her.

        Even though no one will know about this, for the purposes of the story she’s even more than a person destined to rule – she’s an inheritor of the Callowan legacy.

        Liked by 6 people

          1. burguulkodar

            That would be interesting enough to be possible, actually. Mayhaps Cat will include his freedom in the bargain she strucks. Who knows.


  2. SpeckofStardust

    “Callowans as a people can be summed up by the fact that, before the Uncivil Wars had even come to a close, it’d become a common boast among the populace that the Black Queen had not even spent a sennight in Keter before having several counts of arson and murder to her name.”

    For the metaphysical presentation of winter she does tend to solve problems via fire now doesn’t she?

    Liked by 13 people

    1. Yotz

      General Callowan attitude regularly evokes remembrance of Dammaz Kron, yes.

      Also, a story of an olden King returning as a Ravenant general at the head of an army of the dead to fight for his former land just because he still have several bones to pick, and is too stubborn to die without setting the score…

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I remember reading a story once where a god-killer escaped legal consequences because the only relevant crime on the books was *attempted* deicide. No one had ever bothered writing up a legal punishment for successful god murder, on account of no one anticipating anyone actually succeeding at the task.

      Liked by 11 people

        1. Tales of MU I think. Warning: it’s a very sexually graphic story with a heavy emphasis on BDSM, and last I recall the story was (after several books) put on hiatus and had yet to be returned to last I saw.

          It’s got some pretty excellent worldbuilding though, I’d recommend it for that alone.


      1. Gydd

        Tales of MU had a character mention that particular lacunae.

        Only other character else who would/could is Telwyrn from TGaB, and for her, laws happen to other people.


  3. I wonder is thief a transitional name she can perhaps gain a small bit of weight to her name in order to transition into a more noble or villainous name. Maybe the thief of night teaches her that somethings are not worth stealing or sacrificing and she turns on Catherine allowing diabolist to join the woe or the other hero tells her the history of Callow and how diabolist is just like the dead king thus she attempts everything in her power to end the noble.

    Anybody else nervous about who or what diabolist was speaking to that had need of her being pulled away. She is always up to something.

    Five towers five named sounds like the dead king has formed his revenants into a band of heroes we have a rogue, a noble name, so far only thing missing are mage, healer, barbarian.

    Liked by 3 people

        1. Someguy

          But she’s not the first or the only one to have stolen [the Sun] or [Fire] before, that was done following the paths of her predecessors. She is bigger than that, she’s now in Government, I’m seeing in my mind’s eye [Thief of Nations]. Rulers waking up in a world where their borders, holdings and titles are gone, people not having a cultural idendity of any relavence or coherence, Black’s crushing of the Callowan rebellion in Book 2 on a worldwide scale.


    1. I believe names such as “Thief” are full Names themselves, while the “Something of Something” names are mostly sidegrades or downgrades when a “Something” already exists or that the person is way too specialized in a specific region to just be called “Something”.

      Liked by 2 people

          1. spencer

            If she takes a Winter title that could be a good path to a ‘Thief of…’ Name. Thief of Stars sounds like a good title. Maybe Thief defeats the Revenant and assumes her Name?


  4. He thinks Cat’s a daughter of House Ismail on first seeing her.
    I wonder if that is solely because she’s a half Deoraithe as part of a delegation in/to Keter, or if she looks like an Ismail.

    Also, that opening quote is awesome.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ______

      By the way, it’s also a typo: the name of the ruling line of Daoine is Iarsmai (at least EE fixed it to that the last time I asked him about it).


        1. Thea

          Ismael came up before and it was actually fixed… once, when it was pointed out. I think another case was left as is, because nobody mentioned it. Both times it referred to Kegan.


  5. Snowfire1224

    It seems even a long undead king accepts Cathrine as a Queen, even if Procer won’t. Even if no one is ever told about this meeting, that has narrative weight to it.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Someguy

      It’s not like he has any high ground to stand on being of a bastard line thanks to Yolanda, it’s what you bring to Callow and strive for that matters.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Death Knight

    5 palaces, 5 Named guards. One is the Thief of Stars, counterpart to the Thief of the Woe. The other, Edward VII, former king of Callow, perfect mirror to the Black Queen of the same.

    I wonder who Masego, Hakram and Indrani’s counterparts in Keter are?

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Especially given a hint that Dead King changes those when it struck his fancy. It would be just like him, to specifically change undead Named guardians of palaces as a jest.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Dantalian

        It would be pretty funny if there was a flesh puppet in each Palace. One of them would be getting a bit of help from the Thief of Stars to hide itself in the Silent Palace.


    2. It’s possible Hakram’s counterpart will be an Orc Warlord. The Dead King predates Miezans so they were still around and seeing a Named Orc at the height of their power would be a nice contrast to what they are now.


    3. edrey

      on the other could thief become the thief of stars, she had stole the sun of summer, at least she could learn a couple of tricks from that one


  7. Hah, I was getting some *serious* Dark Souls vibes from this chapter. Stupid Idea, but I would be amused if Edward VII could follow Cat after all the stuff that is coming. I find that I really like him as he’s been presented so far.


        1. He will be like a grandpa that she never knew. It will neatly fall into her current family dynamic. An orc as a brother, a wizard as cousin, Archer as sister, Black as a father, and many murderous Named aunts and uncles.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Would be a fun twist to bring him back to Callow. Bad news, I allied with an undead army of doom, good news, it’s led by an old Callowan king. I wonder if that would balance out in the eyes of the people

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Being crowned queen of Callow by a former ruler a Fairfax no less

            Talbot would cry tears of joy, to see his great, great …great grandfather? Nobles would not be able to to doubt her claim and “good” would be confused to say the least but to be honest no Callowan care what outsiders think of them.

            The name she would transition to would probably boost the Broken Bells, they would in memory of their undying former king revenant, and to praise there current named queen/ immortal abomination they would be called the Unbroken Bells as soon as they die they would be ressurected by her necromancy becoming the first undead knightly order. A true testament to Chatharine bluring the lines between good and evil.


  8. Raved Thrad

    “We will never forgive and we will never forget.” And with an admonition from a past king of Callow to stand tall and proud and spit in the collective gods’ eye, no less. It is a great and terrible thing to be called kin by a king and to be counseled to hang on to your hate.

    On an aside, does anyone else think Catherine has some kind of power that makes people underestimate her? It’s like the first thing people think when they see her is “girl” or “child.” Oh, and “short.” She really hates that last, and so, she being a Callowan, the gods will burn.

    Liked by 2 people

        1. Metrux

          Which is even seen by way of Masego. He was but a small child when he became Named, but he kept growing until he met Cat. For Named it’s more a matter of how you see yourself, and are seen by the world.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yotz

            With Black also – he was old and feeling tired of life, and had started to show gray hair consequently, but after Cat stabbed him, breaking the mold of Fate, he is feeling reinvigorated, young and able to wonder once again, and his aging is visibly reversed as a result – to a point where it is seen almost like a second youth.
            That could be a thing of Evil Names exclusively, though – Good Names do not remove the Boon of Aging from the bearers as a norm, however young inside said bearers may feel. And Cat is a special case, of course.


  9. Argentorum

    Great chapter, my one nitpick (which returns for the first time we heard the rhyme) is that “ours will be long and paid twice” sounds kinda clunky. I’m a fan of:
    “Ours will be paid long and twice”
    *gets off soapbox*

    The world is going to burn at her feat. It’s going to be glorious.
    Say, I wonder if she can ask for King Edward back, you know, as a loan. What’s a rental hero between friends right?


    1. For every slight there is a price,
      Ours will be long and paid twice.

      I feel it rhymes better than your suggestion, as both lines here have 2 parts to them where naturally stop. Your line would be said in a single breath.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Lab Rat

      Your version also changes the meaning; “Ours will be long and paid twice” means that’ll we’ll hold our grudge forever and once we catch you , we’ll be even worse to you than you were to us. “Ours will be paid long and twice”, on the other hand, means that when we get our revenge, we’ll make it last a long time.


      1. Novice

        In Ranger’s interlude, we saw two former Named have most, if not all, of their personality intact. But you’re right, there’s always a possibility that this is part of the Dead King’s machinations.


      2. Zourath

        I don’t see him being a puppet, but he is probably also being used. The Hidden Horror strikes me as far too much of a subtle type to leave an obvious opening in the narrative like the king being puppeted, he knows the Bard would exploit it if he did. I think that he had the king guard there on the off chance an interaction like this played out, then just waited for Callowans to be Callowans.


  10. Decius

    “I will not inquire as to your purpose, as I would be bound to then speak it. But you are born of Callow, are you not?”

    How will the revelation that this Revenant is disloyal to the Dead King but under certain compulsions play out? Surely the Saint of Swords, given the knowledge to do so, could cut the tethers that bind them; the Saint of Swords has cut several other things that aren’t even objects.


    1. Dainpdf

      The heroine is more likely to cut down the undead completely. A mercy, really. And, after all, it is the Dead King’s sorcery animating the undead. It is unknown whether severing his influence without removing what animates them is possible.


      1. Death Knight

        It depends on if the necromancy that power(s/ed) the revenants is a continuous application of magical energy. If it is then cutting the “strings” of the revenant would most likely cause him to collapse. If not, then cutting the connection to the Dead King would most likely free the revenant from the Dead King’s control. Unless the Dead King didn’t implant a magical “seed” inside the corpse that automatically restores the link as soon as it is cut. Given his intelligence shown so far, it is quite plausible he would have such a fail safe, at least in all the dead Named he values greatly.


        1. Dainpdf

          All necromancy so far has been of the first kind, so it seems likely that this is also that, especially since Cat mentioned the undead all feeling somewhat similar with the exception of the shade of name power she felt.


        2. Decius

          The Revenant that wishes not to know something because it would have to report it has ALREADY been freed from control. It makes most of its own decisions and acts independently already.

          Maybe cutting the bonds that compel specific actions would directly or indirectly result in the destruction of the undead directly. If so, it’s still easier than cutting them directly, since the bodies of Named have plot armor, and the SoS has already been shown to be unable to penetrate plot armor.


  11. “Callowans as a people can be summed up by the fact that, before the Uncivil Wars had even come to a close, it’d become a common boast among the populace that the Black Queen had not even spent a sennight in Keter before having several counts of arson and murder to her name.”
    – Extract from the personal memoirs of Lady Aisha Bishara

    Heh. Guess that Cat’s fear of Callowons rebelling if word got out that she allied with the Dead King never came to pass. They must REALLY hate the nations of the Tenth Crusade when they wouldn’t mind allying with the the greatest monster in Calernia just to return the slight against them.


    1. Simpli

      Keeping in mind that they are having an Evil Ruler and Rulership sets the morality and personality of your territory and people – that might also mean that they are becoming more ruthless and hate-filled, no matter who their target of ire is.


        1. RanVor

          It kinda surprises me how everyone seems to take GP’s words as a face value just because he is a hero. Even if he doesn’t outright lie, there’s no way he’s objective in what he says.


          1. Dainpdf

            It’s not because he’s a hero. It’s because he’s the personification of wise advice, and he’s one of the big hitters.
            We also take Akua at her word when she prattles about the treacherous tendencies of wastelanders.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. RanVor

              He’s already shown he’s not above manipulating Catherine to achieve his goals, and even when he doesn’t, he’s definitely heavily biased. I wouldn’t say he lied to her face or even intentionally hid information from her, but I highly doubt what he told Cat is the full picture of what is actually happening.


              1. Dainpdf

                That is true. But it does mean that Cat probably has a palpable influence on her people, even if the part about it bringing damnation is not necessarily true.
                And I hope people stop talking about Cat like she’s not a villain. She admits she is, and she wanted to keep Akua’s evil weapon of doom. She didn’t want it made, but she was for keeping it.
                She’s not Akua, but she was willing to bring the Hells into this.


                1. Death Knight

                  The only reason she is considered a villain is because of the in-story definition of a villain. If you don’t swear to do the Heaven’s will then you’re considered a villain whether you are or not. That is just the perception that the populace of Calernia at large have which is probably why there hasn’t been a Hero allied with below before Catherine.

                  I actually found it suspect that such a hero hasn’t presented itself yet. Especially in Callow that are notorious for their grudges.

                  I could easily conceive of a situation where a Callowan peasant loses his family to a scuffle between a Judgment-sworn hero and a villain. In the aftermath, as he kneeled over the still warm corpses of his family amid the ashes of his home he feels an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. Of weakness that he could not stand up the Gods’ favored champions. In that moment he swears death and vengeance to villains and heroes alike and leaves on a quest to seek power (Ironic and/or hypocritical I know). He swears never to stand by helplessly again as the people he cares for get trampled underfoot by a bunch of powertripping assholes. So he sought out the legendary Lady of the Lake to train him in the ways of murder.

                  Initially she refused, but our would be hero would not be convinced otherwise. He kept asking and asking, repeatedly getting rebuffed and even getting beaten to within an inch of his life by the half elf. Still he would not give up. He knew in his heart he would gain the power to beat the shit out of all those goddamn assholes even if it cost him his life. Their existence is a pain on his life and he cannot abide them living. This conviction would be enough to qualify him for a Name. Maybe Heir or something. His conviction impresses Ranger enough she decides to teach him the ways of the hunt. He practices relentlessly, LEARNING ways to kill everything that walks. PERFECTING the methods his teacher shows him and eventually TRANSCENDING them to deal with those pesky story save bullshit.

                  Eventually he leaves Refuge and earns the Name The Sword of Vengeance while standing above the still warm corpses of the Hero and the reanimated Villain that put him on the path. As he looks at their dead bodies his resolve strengthens. He decides to become the Sword that will smite all foreign invaders to his land whether they be hypocrites in the west or the lunatics on the east or enemies within. The Sword that protects with the righteous fury of vengeance.

                  …So I am no EE so forgive the shitty story quality, but shouldn’t those turn of events have probably happened in the past? Or similarly?


                  1. Dainpdf

                    Sorry, Tl;Dr. Will read the story later.
                    But as for Cat only being a Villain because she’s not sworn to Above… She is under the Gods Below. As Akua has stated, Praesi will backstab the Gods Below if it serves their interest and that’s part of their devotion. In the same way, Cat will burn the Gods Below for Callow… And that’s part of her villainy.


                2. RanVor

                  Whether or not Catherine can be considered a villain is irrelevant to my point which is exactly what I’ve written in the first comment, namely that people believe Grey Pilgrim unconditionally without any evidence, and I find it weird and a little disappointing.

                  It depends on how you define a villain, by the way.


                  1. Dainpdf

                    It is not the strongest argument, but he is an authority. The narrative he’s trying to set up also works for him teaching Cat things. As a last point, there is some evidence which he himself pointed out in Callow.


                    1. RanVor

                      Not really. The evidence you speak of can be interpreted in a number of ways, and not all of them align with GP’s position on the matter. Yet (almost) everyone treats it like it was a proven fact, ignoring the obvious interest Grey Pilgrim has in misleading Catherine and even more obvious bias characterizing pretty much everyone with a strong opinion on any given matter. Note that it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not true – just that we shouldn’t take everything he says as a face value.

                      This is especially jarring considering that the Dead King is given a reverse treatment in the comments – everything even remotely related to him is immediately suspected of being a trick meant to manipulate Cat to his sinister ends. Again, it’s not necessarily wrong, but it makes the readers look paranoid.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Dainpdf

                      Uh… You do remember this is the guy who outwitted the Bard, who tricked an entire nation in order to ascend to power, and who Cat keeps saying is untrustworthy? It’s only paranoia if they’re not out to get you.
                      On the other hand, the Pilgrim has always been trying to outwit Cat, but in his position as advisor and wise man cherry picked truth is a better tool than outright lies.


                    3. RanVor

                      It’s funny how everyone keeps misinterpreting my comments no matter how clear I make myself.

                      I DID NOT TELL ANYONE TO TRUST THE DEAD KING. I’m merely saying not everything is a deception. Seeing threats where there are none is as dangerous as not seeing the ones that are. I’m pretty sure the Dead King has other things to do BESIDES manipulating Cat.


                    4. Dainpdf

                      You implied people were overreacting when it comes to him and compared him to the Pilgrim. I merely put forward all the reasons we have not to trust him, and some we have to trust the Pilgrim.
                      Now, if many people keep misunderstanding you no matter how much effort you make, it may be that your measure of how clear you are being is flawed, or you are misunderstanding them.


                    5. RanVor

                      Actually, I brought the Dead King up to underline the commenters’ inconsistency in being suspicious. Trusting the Dead King is foolish, that much is true. But taking Grey Pilgrim’s word on the matter without taking into account the enormous disparity between his worldview and the actual situation Callow and Catherine are in is just as foolish. This, and only this, is what I’ve trying to say from the very beginning, and any implied meanings are entirely imaginary.


                    6. Dainpdf

                      I believe I put forward sufficient explanation for why the Pilgrim’s word can be trusted to be true, if cherry picked, while the Dead King’s can’t. It’s not inconsistency if there is reason.


                    7. Dainpdf

                      Did you? You provided no counterargument to the idea that the Pilgrim’s narrative role stimulates him to provide true advice, that contrary to Neshamah we have some idea what he wants, and that it is not in his nature to outright lie.


                    8. RanVor

                      As for the Dead King, the general consensus seems to be that everything that happened since Cat first set a foot in Keter has been a part of the evil plot carefully orchestrated by the Dead King in order to trick Cat into doing something. While the existence of such a plot is pretty likely and some of the events that have transpired since Chapter 33 are probably part of it, I very much doubt ALL OF THEM are, and this is one of the less likely instances.


                    9. Dainpdf

                      Well, Neshamah has proven to be a meticulous planner, and he’s had a few centuries to plan whatever this is.
                      Also…we don’t know what his plan is, so we best be ready for anything.


                3. GP quite likely wholeheartedly believes in the trickle-down corrupting effect of having Team Evil ruling any land. However, Team Good also has rather staggeringly direct mind control techniques they use on both Named and muggles alike with all the subtlety of Trump at an international conference — and, GP has that number on speed-dial, so he couldn’t fully spot the hypocrisy for what it is (he gets part of the way, then seems to get shutdown and diverted into killbot mode). But, see, that isn’t corruption. Oh, no. That is meet, right and Good… even if it throws an entire city and countryside into, e.g. the maws of the undead who weren’t actively doing anything at the time or could wipe a country off the map for four generations just to make a point.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Novice

                    I don’t know about Good rulers using mind control. Callow has been ruled by Kings and Queens of Callow on the side of Good, and yet that didn’t stop their nobles from being self-serving assholes. Just ask Mary the Songbird.


                    1. The rulers themselves don’t have to. The Heavens do it off their own bat, often without telling the rulers. This is going by how Cordelia is getting the carpet whipped out from under her. Or how Liesse was going to be “saved” by mindraping the entire population through guilt trips… And, none of the Callowan lords or ladies who supported the rebellion were told about the incoming Angel ahead of time by Team Good, or asked their opinions about it.

                      My point was: it’s not having Evil™ rulers that corrupts a country any more than having Good™ ones blesses it. People aren’t that simple, and Good™ acting like compete jerks can still corrupt a nation just fine by sheer knock-on, butterfly effects. While blaming the other side for the results of their own actions, of course. And, that’s even without the Heavens stepping in directly.


                  2. Dainpdf

                    Yeah, Good isn’t necessarily good… It is very willing to sacrifice the few for the many, as it sees, while Evil a courage the sacrifice of the many for the goals of the few.


            2. The thing is, there’s a ton of evidence for Praesi being backstabbing bastards and not so much for villains corrupting the world.

              Like, GP is literally the only guy who thinks this. If it was indeed the case, wouldn’t the House of Light object more strongly to Cat being crowned? How about Black – he’s lived and breathed Namelore for forty years so you’d think he’d give her a heads up. Hell, you’d at least expect a snide remark from Bard or something. But there’s nothing.

              Though you make a good point with the wise mentor angle.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Dainpdf

                For evidence, one might look at Neshamah’s rise, and what the Pilgrim pointed out in Callow itself.
                Black is concerned with Namelore mostly as it relates to breaking Creation into his image. I don’t think he’d care much about corruption, but even if he did he wouldn’t be likely to tell Cat things that might make her deviate from the path he wanted for her.
                And the Bard? She’s barely talked to Cat yet. And she’s more the “manipulate things so evil is defeated” type than the “trade philosophical insights with the villain” one.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Black (or Malicia) would definitely point it out to Cat. Suddenly radicalizing an entire nation would make ruling a lot tougher and they’re both concerned with keeping Callow mellow – they would let her know just so she could adjust.

                  With Bard, I meant more her conversations with William etc. At some point, you’d expect her to bitch about how a villain is objectively going to corrupt the country, but she never does.

                  Just to clarify, I’m not dismissing the possibility it’s true but I am weary of accepting it at face value.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Dainpdf

                    No one said anything about “radicalize”. If anything, increasing the traditionally evil traits in Callow makes them *easier* for both her and Praes to rule. Well, more her than Praes.
                    Regarding the Bard, I believe we never got all her conversations with William. Plus, she didn’t really need to give him that – he was already motivated.


      1. Dhael

        I get the feeling that Callow is more agnostic towards the gods, as both the God Above and Below have constantly used Callow as a battlefield for their wars for many, many generations.

        The Grey Pilgrim may be simply underestimating just how deep Callowian grudges go and how little they actually care which side they’re on as long as those grudges are paid in full.

        Callow always repays its debts, no matter how long it takes. And Callow has a *lot* of debts to call in.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Insanenoodlyguy

      We just saw that even back in thr day, callowans were about the grudge. It makes sense, even if GP is wrong. The east invades and serves the gods below, fuck them. But the north invades and says it is the will of the gods above. Well fuck them too! The queen is a villain? She’s from Callow, fighting for Callow. And even the priests just said “well fuck the holy decree”, good to know they are from Callow too. She’ went to deal with the dead king? Oh ,it was to fuck with Procer? Yeah that sounds like her.

      And then they find out she torched the place. Thats classic Black Queen. Good ol Cat, best ruler in forever

      Liked by 4 people

    3. Cicero

      Well, first of all, Callowans just had Procer declare all of them to be heritics, infuriating them.

      Second, there is an aspect here of proof of hostility to the Dead King. As in “see, the Black Queen didn’t really ally the Dead King, she was there less than a sennight and she burned down some buildings and murdered the true villain – the Dread Empress. The Black Queen was obviously planning to doublecross the Dead King from the beginning.”

      Thus continuing Cat’s pattern of walking the fine line of an anti-hero.


  12. Rook

    The threefold reflection is a bit of a scary name for the place. Very similar situation to the threefold crossing. In the home field of an opponent who’s all but invited her to metaphorically cross swords, with it being the blatant major trial in her path.

    Not a great situation if there is any connection as far as the nature of the trap, considering Black failed it outright and Cat’s crooked crossing of it ended up with her chained to Akua’s will until she mutilated herself to get out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dainpdf

      Well, the similarity is in “threefold”, but threes have always been relevant to the story. I don’t put that much stock in this particular coincidence.


      1. Argentorum

        Unless I’m misremembering, Akua’s trial was the “fourfold crossing.” Not threefold.

        The Four Catherines were Canon, White Knight, Smuggler Queen, and Legionary.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. ______

        To top that off, it was called a Fourfold Crossing: Catherine’s first “fight” with Akua was an illusion too, and here she has enough of smoke and mirrors of her own.


  13. Burnsy

    Thief: “So how’d you get a name like that?”

    Thief of Stars: “I stole the jewels from the crown of a Dread Empress, said to be as many and as beautiful as the stars themselves.”

    Thief: “Neat. I stole an actual star once. From a demi-god”

    Liked by 13 people

  14. oaclo

    Man, am I crazy or has this whole story been setting up Cat for a Fisher King ‘story’?

    It’s been established that the Fae come back in cycles every time they die and she is definitely a Fae at this point. Seeing as there apparently no more Winter Fae on their continent, would it be too crazy for her to revive in the winters when Callow is threatened for eternity?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. jacobhollander

      As Russia has General Winter so does Callow have Catherine Foundling. Don’t invade in winter or prepare for an army of undead suicide goats and excessive usage of goblinfire.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Dainpdf

    Interesting. I start to wonder if the Dead King’s scheme includes the idea of having Cat kill a guest and using the slight to drive her into a (more) unfavorable bargaining position.


    1. lennymaster

      Her bargaining position can not get much more undesireble. She is in a bidding war with Malicia for the Dead Kings help, trying to limit casualities while neither of the other two care the least bit about dead civilians.


  16. Death Knight

    EE, is the necromancy that powers the Revenants and the undead of the Dead King a sustained endeavor or is it similar to Still Water in that it only required a spark of magic to initiate?


    1. ______

      She’s the main user of Nefarious’ certified remotely controlled puppets. Hakram’s Find is a nerfed version of Providence as applied to directions, relying on it (especially in that particular situation) is more or less repeating Hanno’s mistakes.


      1. Sure, but how is following food any better? Presumably both the puppet and Malicia herself need to eat so it’s not as if the current method differentiates between them. Using Find would probably be a lot quicker.

        The situation is also quite different than with Hanno. Black knew the White Knight was on the opposite side of the battlefield and had a good idea of when the engagement was going to happen. Malicia likely doesn’t know Cat is after her, hell she might not even know Cat’s in Keter.


    2. Metrux

      His Find is not a perception, but a luck based Aspect. He does not sense where something is, when he Finds something it is where it was, but he simply was at the right place at the right time. So he could wander around and Find her, but… He’d be alone and impossibilitated from doing anything for the moment. Not the best of plans.


      1. Is that right? I don’t recall it being stated as luck though I might be missing it.

        It does seem to give him a sense of where something is though. Read through the Extra Chapter: Deadhand – the Aspect very clearly nudges him along in a particular directions to find Thief.


  17. Cthulhu

    My take FWIW

    Cat is badly overmatched here. She should tell the Dead King that she cannot meet his terms because it will lead to the destruction of Callow and further, she has no wish to bid against the arrest Empress, her ally. She should then tell the Dead King she will continue to fight the crusade and hope he will join that fight as an ally and friend. She should then go home due to the religious mess in her Kingdom. Then, she should find out if the Dead King will let her leave.

    Run away. Run the fuck far away. Let Malicia cut the deal with the human embodiment of evil. Go home Cat and live to fight another day.

    Killing Malicia is INSANE. Foolish. Deluded. You are making it an enemy of the empire and the Dead King.

    Oh one last thing: stop letting the Diabolist talk. She cannot he trusted and is manipulating you. Kill her now before she becomes a the client at


    1. Joan

      Wasn’t Diabolist the one who proposed this? To withdraw from negotiations and let Malicia strike a bargain with the Dead King to fight Procer so Callow doesn’t have to?

      I agree that is her best move, and attempting to assassinate Malicia makes NO sense at this time.


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