Interlude: Queen’s Gambit, Offered

“Do I even need to give the order?”
– Dread Empress Massacre

“Mobility is how they have survived, Your Most Serene Highness,” General Altraste said. “We have easily five times their number on the field, but divided and constantly forced to march in different directions. The moment the Legions are trapped we have won the battle.”

The man’s long and elaborate mustache moved distractingly as he spoke, though Cordelia forced herself to ignore it. Diego Altraste had duly embraced the Arlesite practice of turning his facial hair into a spectacle, keeping it waxed and curved with near-religious dedication. The First Prince had always thought the custom made men look like buffoons, though it would not be diplomatic to voice as much. Her court in Salia had scrupulously observed the latest fervours of southern nobility, as it would have been too easy to dismiss her as a barbarous Lycaonese otherwise. She herself rarely partook. A First Prince set fashion, they did not bow to it. Watching dainty Alamans ladies weave their hair into Rhenian war braids after she’d adopted the style for a few months had been a rare source of amusement in a year that had provided precious little of that.

“I am aware of the numbers, general,” she replied. “And of how they have failed to lead to victories, no matter how oft repeated to me.”

“I understand you are displeased by the fall of Lutes,” the man delicately said.

Quite the understatement, that. Iserre’s northern border was not a heavily armed one, as its ruling family’s relations with Cantal had been more than cordial for decades. Their lines had intertwined so often it was a popular jest in Procer that to split the difference between the royalty of Cantal and Iserre one would need a very sharp knife. The Carrion’s Lord descent into the Principality of Iserre had only one sharp obstacle, the old fortress-town of Lutes. A remnant of the days when ancient Arlesite tribes had pushed deep into Alamans territory, Lutes was a spit of rock with tall wall and taller towers. One that boasted fewer than ten thousand souls, but unlike most of Iserre the town had been garrisoned. Bandits had tried to take it more than once in the past, and so Prince Amadis had found it prudent to station troops there after the Great War. Disaffected fantassins were but a hungry day away from banditry, after all, and there’d been quite a few of them in Procer after Cordelia ascended the throne.

None of the First Prince’s commanders had kept to the illusion that Lutes would hold indefinitely, but there had been an expectation that it would slow down Praesi advance into Iserre. Perhaps long enough for the Levantine reinforcing army to make shore southwards enough it would be able to reinforce the gathering forces in the capital of Iserre, preventing its loss to the Legions. Instead the town had fallen literally overnight. The Carrion Lord had struck bargain with bandits, who’d infiltrated the fortress and opened the gates to his forces after night fell in exchange for the lion’s share of the loot. The defenders were caught unawares and half-asleep, bloody massacre ensued and when dawn rose the Legions of Terror were marching south once more. Worse, the fact that the Black Knight had kept to his terms with the bandits had spread across the entire region. The temptation of treachery would only deepen, and the Silver Letters were not responding near swiftly enough for her tastes.

“I know little of matters of war,” Cordelia said. “Yet it occurs to me that with the fall of that fortress, we have effectively lost the northern half of the principality. They cannot occupy it, of course, but more importantly we cannot defend it. And now you come to me with a scheme that involves abandoning yet another city to the enemy.”

That this conversation even needed to be had was infuriating. A mere sixteen thousand men had escaped the Red Flower Vales to wage war on the greatest nation of Calernia’s surface and yet the last four months had brought only word of defeat after defeat. Exiled vagabonds were burning a swath through the heartlands of Procer, which was a disaster in too many ways to count. Cordelia knew better than anyone how fragile the Principate truly was, at the moment. The land had not yet truly recovered from two decades of civil war, though she’d had few other choice than to wage yet another conflict – it would have been near-impossible to rebuild if the mass of fantassins left from the Great War were still there to agitate. Cantal being made a ruin had been a heavy blow, and if Iserre was put to the torch as well would mean starvation in the south-east come winter. The bloody Praesi were burning every granary they couldn’t carry, after all, years of accumulated grain going up into smoke.

The most aggravating part was, she thought, that she still had armies to field but that she could not send them after the Black Knight. Now that Catherine Foundling had made it clear the Dead King’s assault was imminent and not months away, the host under Uncle Klaus had to hurry north at the expense of all else. The northern invasion force under Princess Malanza was already marching towards Cleves, but the woman had made it clear that the Callowan campaign had left the army a wreck. The Black Queen had apparently assassinated almost every professional officer in it, then butchered her way through a significant portion of the most reputable fantassin companies. Malanza had described her host as having more generals than lieutenants, and the First Prince did not need to be a seasoned veteran to understand the dangers of that. If Malanza held tall walls, she might weather the storm long enough for Uncle Klaus to arrive. If she did not make it to Cleves swiftly enough, the shores of the Tomb would fall and the Dead King would gain solid foothold in Procer.

The last significant Proceran force was guarding the border with the League of Free Cities, and it could not be moved. The political consequences of that would be dire enough – if Cordelia could no longer offer protection the Princess of Tenerife would seek another patron and further damage the First Prince’s position in the Highest Assembly – but the strategic ones were worse. The League had yet to declare war, but it had mustered its armies. The moment the twenty thousand soldiers in Tenerife left the south became wide open to invasion. She’d attempted correspondence with the Hierarch to probe intentions and six months past the man had finally deigned to reply. Cordelia almost wished he hadn’t. The missive had been three pages long, most of which castigating the notion of inherited rule as Wicked Tyranny, Procer itself as A Rapacious Pack Of Foreign Oligarchs and her suggestion of formal truce talks as Treason Against The Will Of The People. Which people in particular, she’d noted, he had not specified. He’d at least recognized her title of First Prince, as it was the result of an election.

The Tyrant of Helike had sent a secret missive along the other letter, swearing eternal friendship and making assurances that he’d increased the size of Helike’s army twofold as a ‘purely defensive measure’. He went on writing of his deep regrets for the recent civil war in the League, which he was apparently trying to cast himself as mournful of after single-handedly starting and winning. The First Prince had not known until then it was possible for someone’s calligraphy to come across as blatantly insincere, but her horizons had since been expanded.

“Your Highness,” General Altraste said, “may I be frank?”

“I expect all my officers to offer me truth, no matter how unpalatable,” Cordelia replied, and meant it.

“If we try to defend the city with every force at our disposal, we may very well still lose it,” he said. “And that defeat would be the end of Iserre. I will not pretend the plan I offer is pleasant to behold: it will require ugly sacrifice. But if we do not cut the rot before it spreads, it is not only Iserre we risk losing.”

Cordelia did not answer. She looked out the windows instead, watched Salia below her. The tall bell towers of the many churches, the mansions and palaces of royalty. The people still filling every nook and cranny of the largest city on Calernia when autumn was painting leaves red and gold. She thought of a cold night in Rhenia, when she’d been seven and come across her mother drinking alone in the hall. Mother had still been half a goddess in her eyes, back then, implacable and undaunted. She’d asked her why she looked so sad. Sometimes survival is an ugly affair, my sweet, Mother had told her. It would be years until she learned that her mother had just ordered a pass collapsed and every village beyond it abandoned to the ratlings. Too many soldiers had gone to Hannoven to aid in turning back the warbands come with spring thaw. Hundreds of Rhenians had been left to die to tooth and claw, abandoned in the cold. The thousands that would have died had the ratling made it through the pass were spared.

“Do what needs to be done, general,” Cordelia Hasenbach quietly said.

“Interesting,” Amadeus said.

The others insisted on treating him like he was made of glass, yet for all that his body had become pale and sickly his mind had not dulled. Spreading an aspect across sixteen thousand soldiers – closer to fifteen now, he corrected – exhausted him to the extent he could barely stand, most days. Being carried like on a litter an invalid had been a private humiliation, though he was not one to let petty pride get in the way of necessity. He was currently more useful as a logistical asset than a field one. Still, the sweat and shivers had been an unpleasant surprise. He’d not known sickness in a very long time, and this was perhaps as close as a Named could come to it.

“We won’t get to plunder a waystation twice,” Scribe said. “The Circle of Thorns is recalling all assets in the region and the Silver Letters are withdrawing everything but observers.”

Those two organizations were, respectively, the foreign and domestic intelligence apparatuses of the Principate. The Silver Letters occasionally also dabbled in assassination or a spot of sabotage in the past, though under Hasenbach they’re curtailed those activities to Praesi agents only. He had great respect for the Circle of Thorns, personally. They were one of the most skillful and well-funded spy networks in the history of Calernia, and had been pursuing Procer’s interests abroad with regular success for centuries. It also operated with only middling oversight from the throne: even at the height of the Proceran civil war, the Eyes of the Empire had been forced to fight them tooth and nail for every success in the Free Cities. Their information was, as a rule, reliable and delivered to the appropriate individuals in a timely manner. The Silver Letters, on the other hand, had been made sport of by Imperial agents for decades. They had connections with the gutter and the servants as well as the ruthlessness to properly use them, but they lacked the professional training and arcane tools the Eyes of the Empire had gained since Alaya climbed the Tower. Their internal squables had been exploited by Scribe’s agents with relish, though only ever through careful intermediaries – they despised the Eyes to the bone.

“It does not matter,” Amadeus finally said. “From what we have learned we can deduce more, and sooner or later we will succeed at getting our hands on royal correspondence.”

The household guard of Cantal had burned their ruler’s personal papers when it became evident the capital would fall, which was good and clever service yet somewhat inconvenient to the Black Knight. He’d personally commended the captain responsible and offered the man an officer’s commission in the Legions, though sadly he’d refused. Out of respect he’d allowed the captain poison instead of the blade, though the execution had been a given. Amadeus was fond of talent, yet not so fond he would leave it in the service of his foes. Grem strode into the tent moments later, parting the flap and letting in the scent of smoke and blood. Two villages had been sacked today, though legionaries had only ever marched on one. It remained a matter of great amusement to Amadeus that the Proceran campaign was yielding a greater harvest of traitors than the civil war in Praes ever had.

There was reason to it, of course. The fresh auxiliaries gained by his host were bandits who’d been at odds with local authorities long before he ever came, and who intended to melt back into the countryside with their loot the moment the Legions left. His army was seen as a passing storm here, an opportunity to be exploited. When he’d fought to put Alaya on the throne it had been with the stated intent to crush every significant Praesi power block underfoot and have them remain in that state for the foreseeable future. That he’d been a Duni backed largely by orcs and goblins in the initial stretch of the war had only added to the perception that Alaya’s supporters were hungry outsiders that would throw away all old privileges and influences in order to rise. Few Praesi of authority had been willing to lend their aid to a faction so estranged from traditional avenues of power, not until it became exceedingly clear it would win the war.

“Heard you found the letters of some Proceran spies,” Grem said, striding towards a seat.

The one-eyed orc glanced at him first, lips thinning in dismay. Amadeus kept his irritation off his face. He was exhausted, not dying.

“A waystation belonging to the Circle of Thorns,” Eudokia specified. “The letters were meant to be carried to Salia at least a week back, but our advance disrupted the journey.”

“News from abroad, then,” Grem grunted. “Shame. Knowing what the Silver Letters are up to would be a great deal more useful. That’s twice we ran into bandit groups fighting over succession, now, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”

“Damage control by Hasenbach, most likely,” Amadeus agreed. “Yet their correspondence has been… enlightening. Klaus Papenheim is on the march.”

The orc’s hairless brows rose.

“He’s finally willing to chase us?” he said. “I didn’t think his niece’s position in the Assembly was that weak. Would Iserre falling really unseat her?”

“He’s marching north, old friend,” Amadeus said. “The letters also mentioned that an eye needed to be kept on the Stairway in case Duchess Kegan decided to raid into Arans. It was deemed unlikely – and I agree – but the implication that there was need of a watch at all is telling.”

“It means Malanza’s not going to be holding the pass from their end,” Grem said. “That’s their two largest field armies on the move.”

He paused.

Shit,” he finally said. “You’re sure?”

“We are,” Eudokia said.

“Then the entire north is about to be hip-deep in dead men,” Grem bluntly said. “I can’t think of another reason for Hasenbach to pull out. The Iron Prince only let us burn our way through the heartlands without lifting a finger because he judged toppling Callow as quick as possible was how the war would be turned around. He wouldn’t leave the Vales if he had any another choice, not after committing for so long.”

“That is my assessment as well,” Amadeus said. “And it means our horizons have just expanded a great deal.”

“Hainaut’s the longer coast, and it’s a maze of cliffs and passes,” Grem continued, thinking out loud. “No, Malanza won’t head there. Your apprentice ripped through her officers, that army’s running on fumes and fantassins. If it’s spread out for coastal defence half of it will bolt when the Dead King comes out. She’ll head for Cleves. It’s where Keter aims for, whenever they try to land a force, and it’s fortified almost as heavily as a Callowan city. She’ll count on the walls to hold the army together and wait until Papenheim makes it north to contest Hainaut.”

“Both those forces will not return south for years,” the Black Knight said. “That leaves them conscripts and Levantines. The army in Tenerife is unlikely to budge so long as the League doesn’t declare for anyone.”

“The Dominions has two field armies of thirty thousand,” Grem said. “I’m not worried around the one going around the lakes through Salamans, it’s not going to pursue unless we tweak their nose. But if we scrap with the one that just made shore, this campaign is finished.”

Amadeus had, in a rare flight of fancy, called this war an invasion when speaking to Ranker. It was not, practically speaking. No territory taken had been held, and this entire affair could more accurately be termed a large-scale raid. One pursued in a manner that would shake the First Prince’s position in the Highest Assembly while also aiming to damage the Principate’s ability to wage war past winter, but those were deeper strategic pursuits. Tactically, the Legions of Terror were behaving as a roving force avoiding field battles and attacking only soft positions. Raiders, by any definition. That the countryside and cities had been emptied by the massive conscription preceding the Tenth Crusade allowed Amadeus’ army to draw on its comprehensive siege experience to breach and sack cities a more traditional force would avoid, but that ability should not be mistaken for actual fighting strength. If the Legions engaged a Levantine army outnumbering them twofold, even a victory would be so costly his forces would be effectively knocked out of the war. That would be the beginning of a death spiral, Amadeus knew: without the strength necessary to forage his army would begin to starve, further slowing and weakening it until even thinned city garrisons would be enough to stamp it out.

“We know for a fact they’ve slowed down to a crawl,” Scribe said. “Even if they began a forced march tonight we should be able to take the city of Iserre and withdraw before they arrive.”

“It’s a tempting target,” Amadeus noted. “The food stores would keep us fed through winter easily and the treasury would allow us to significantly expand the ranks of our auxiliaries. Prince Milenan’s capital was spared by the civil war: it’s one of the wealthiest cities in Procer at the moment.”

“My very point,” Grem said. “If it’s that good a prize, why is Hasenbach botching its defence so badly?”

“I suspect it is beyond her control,” Scribe said. “The Dominion has expressed doubt that the terms of alliance signed cover the defence of Procer itself.”

“They can’t seriously expect that to hold up,” the orc growled. “They’d be stabbing an ally in broad daylight. If they screw another crusader in the middle of a crusade their reputation is dust.”

“Eudokia is of the opinion that they’re shaking down the First Prince for concessions,” Amadeus said. “Letting Iserre burn would make her fold quick enough, no matter her objections.”

The orc’s sole eye turned to him.

“And you?”

“Six months ago, the Ashuran committee liaising with the Grand Alliance formally requested access to the Thalassocracy’s most accurate maps of Praes as well as the tally of trade goods compiled by its merchant captains,” Amadeus said. “There can be no doubt that the signatories are already debating how best to partition Praes after the crusade. There are also known proponents of the extermination of all humans within Imperial borders in the Dominion’s upper ranks, though they remain a loud minority for now. They still represent a significant portion of the Levantine armies we are facing at this very moment, which grants them leverage. The First Prince is currently losing control of the Highest Assembly, desperately in need of reinforcements to face both us and the Dead King and it’s an open secret she fought against the results of the conclave in Salia and lost. If Levant was ever going to turn the screws on her for concessions, now is the time. All the stars are aligned.”

“Queen Catherine is also still unaccounted for,” Scribe said. “In a way she’s the most immediate threat of all. She could appear on the outskirts of Salia with the entire Army of Callow, and even if the Augur warns Hasenbach in advance her armies cannot magically cross half of Procer to arrive in time. Every single plan they make has to take that under consideration.”

“They can fight a better war than this,” Marshal Grem One-Eye said. “I won’t deny anything you said, but you both know I’m speaking the truth. There’s the scent of hubris in the air, Black. I don’t like it.”

“So there is,” Amadeus murmured. “I suppose there’s only one question left to ask, then.”

“And what’s that?” the orc said, eye narrowed.

“Shall we roll the dice one more time, old friend?” the Carrion Lord smiled, slow and thin and utterly cold.

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106 thoughts on “Interlude: Queen’s Gambit, Offered

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Grem is seeing the trap. He doesn’t know the shape of it, but this is too easy. The people they have been fighting are smarter then this,can fight a “better war then this.” But, a very tempting legit target is still a very tempting target. So the payoff might be worth the risk since A. from their perspective, it might just be an error instead of a trap after all, and B. If it is a trap, they could still get out of it with what they wanted. These are people who’ve beaten traps before. And Black looks like he wants to take the risk, hence “Roll the dice one more time.”

      Liked by 11 people

      1. The Crusaders could be trying to play a Villain/Hero story angle. One of the things Villains need to learn is to never attack someone that they heavily out number if there is a Hero in their midst because that gets the Gods above to knock over the scales. Grem could be suspecting that the city has a band of Hero’s in it which plays that traditional story angle. There is even a famous incident where a Dread Empress ordered her Black Knight to attack a smaller group on top of a hill because it would be over by midday, and thus earning the rest of her name: The Technically Correct:

        “There’s only a thousand of them, I don’t care if they’re on a hill. This will be over by midday, Black Knight, mark my words.”
        – Dread Empress Sulphurous, the Technically Correct

        https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/warden-ii/

        In one of the chapters it is told the reason they lost is because there was a Hero on that hill and the Gods Above slammed the whole hand onto the scales.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Keep in mind that the First Prince has for a lot of purposes lost control of the Crusade. The Hero’s and the religious orders are running their own agenda as shown by the Gray Pilgrim and the conclave that defied the First Prince and meddled in politics. They could be deliberately setting things in motion, especially if they know she has been talking to the condemned heretic Catherine Foundling.

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  1. ALazyMonster

    I’m admittedly enjoying the fact that black has started being hammier (even if it’s cold ham) throughout this book.

    Also, from the way that the Tyrant’s letter was described I’m now just thinking of the Tyrant of Helike as Kumagawa from Medaka Box where he is so blatantly insincere that everything he says is in quotation marks. Which is fantastic.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. ______

      He’s letting Cordelia burn her rival’s capital and lands so she has to deal with the reputational damage from that. My bet is that he’ll keep going after Amadis’ allies, turning to Orne so he doesn’t have to fight the Levantines, and dig his way back into Callow.

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    2. Metrux

      Not Woe, Calamities. Though it has been said he asked to speak with Masego, so as much as it could be lie, he could be with the Empress right now.

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      1. Wry Warudo

        A late reply, but I meant Woe. Warlock is the only Calamity other than Black plotting anything, so there really isn’t much going on with them other than him, since we’re unlikely to get a POV of Assassin and Ranger is doing her own thing.

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    3. Jonnnney

      It seems more likely she is sacrificing the city rather than sacrificing the army that would defend it. She is keeping her options open rather than planning. Procer is never led by heroes so they don’t understand how to defend against an army led by a villain. However if black pushes this advantage too far the heavens may just start anointing random heroes to throw at him until he is caught by a larger army.

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  2. Nafram

    Interesting. It seems to me that Procer may be facing its end as a power player in the fate of Calernia. Its capacity to feed it’s own people is being sistematically erased, Principalities are being broken for decades at the very least and its military strength is dangerously spent already on the eve of an invasion from the Dead King itself, which won’t be without very heavy casualties all the while they have to deal with an enemy inside, hordes of bandits all over the Principate and opportunists on all borders ready to pounce on it should any sign of weakness appear. Even if they manage to defeat Black (and with the Pilgrim unaccounted for they actually might on the likely chance he shows up on the nick of time given how invested he seems on making sure Cordelia’s dream becomes reality) and save Procer from certain doom, it will take decades of peace to recover. Decades where the Chain of Hunger will be coming to attack again and again and again.
    Procer quite literally needs a miracle to survive

    Liked by 5 people

    1. WuseMajor

      Annoyingly, they might well get one, while the Queen of Callow has to go fight yet /another/ goddess just to get enough warm bodies to put in front of her army to maybe blunt the next attack coming at her nation just enough that she can still keep some farmers out in the fields so everyone doesn’t starve.

      It’s rank favoritism I say.

      Liked by 11 people

    2. Jason Ipswitch

      Anyone else thinking that the trap might be throwing Pilgrim and a band of Heroes at Black and his forces? They can do some sort of heroic last stand, and whether they win or lose doesn’t really matter, because they heroes will escape unscathed while Black’s forces will take enough casualties to wreck them.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Metrux

        Would be a good plan not something Procerans do, though. Procerans never relly on Heroes to fight their wars, they also are not used to fighting against Villains. At most there would be a Hero or another accompanying an army of their own accord, never something elaborate as this made by ‘wordly’ powers. Though it is still possible that the Heroes might choose to do this by themselves… Heroes are still rare in the Principate.

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      1. RoflCat

        Yet just by touching that 1 principality alone, he’s stoking all the paranoia of the rest of them, letting them kill themselves out.

        By specifically targeting Cordelia’s ‘enemy’ and avoid fighting her, he’s making the rest of Procer think he’s in cahoot with Cordelia (after all, they’re not above allying with enemies for their own profit)

        Then he just have to watch as Cordelia try to protect them even as they try to destroy her, occasionally stoking the fire.

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  3. I get the feeling that next chapter will be Masego and Warlock, or following someone else back in Callow.
    I’m thinking Abigail will get at least half of a chapter, and the rest of the Woe will probably appear onscreen at least once.

    Black straining himself is slightly concerning, but also a masterful strategy, leans slightly on the Heroic idea of weakening yourself for your allies to survive which is always useful.
    And poor Cordelia, she is not in the best of places at the moment, lots closing in on her, I do not see her staying First Prince much longer, and do not see her having quite enough will to earn a Name if she does lose her title as First Prince

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Maginot

      I think you’re right. I’m dying to see what the Augur’s “woe to the south” looks like with Masego and Warlock. One can assume that Hierarch and the Tyrant will make an appearance, though I’m loving the indirect reference here.

      I have a theory about where we are going though. Doesn’t the Crusade’s whole bit about it being unacceptable for Callow to have a villain sound a great deal like the Catholic Church position toward protestant rulers before the 30 years war. Then the Peace of Ausburg and the Peace of Westphalia said each country could set the religion for their state, despite being loudly decried by the Church, the nations rolled with it.

      It certainly seems like all the smart ladies have had similar thoughts. Cat and the Woe with the Liesse accords. Hasenbach and her Friendly League of Upstandings Nations, which the Pilgrim indicated were a very important vision/system for the future. Even Malicia’s treatise and her willingness to do business with “Good” cities in the League. I wonder if all three got together it wouldn’t be similar scripts they were working from.

      God I hope she has some good and smug lines when she rescues Black…

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  4. Now let’s talk about the Queen’s Gambit.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen's_Gambit

    The Queens gambit can be found in the link above, and is a fairly popular chess opening move set.

    In the Queen’s gambit, white (who I am assuming is Procer, cause Black *should* be black), is putting pieces into position, to control the center of the board.
    Now Black has the option to either Accept or Decline the Queen’s Gambit.
    If accepted it puts black into a much worse scenario, and loses control of the center of the board, but… gives Black a potentially strong setup for the late game.

    Now, due to the rolling the dice I do believe that Balck is doing that, he is sacrificing something (not nessacarily positioning like in the Chess QG), for a potential to snowball him and his Legions into the Late Game.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Rook

      I’m betting he doesn’t accept or decline the offer. Option C, respond with your own Black Queen’s Gambit

      That is to say, a Foundling Gambit. Set it all on fire and run away

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Metrux

        It does appear he want to accept, actually, taking the food from the city, which should “Keep the man fed through the winter”. If he can leave this trap without too much losses, he may very well keep the army alive all the time Procer is being hit by the Dead King, a very big advantage on the late game.

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  5. Antoninjohn

    What the First Prince is doing is trapping Black by using Iserre as bait in order to have her armies encircle his, then Cat will hit her army in the back and then Gate Black and his army out

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      1. IDKWhoitis

        If Cat murders Sve and takes her Power, Cat may be able to twist the confines of Arcadia to do whatever the hell she wants. If the meta story allows she might be able to pull it off (Larat already hints she could do this already, and Cat has been learning it’s mostly her preconceived notions that prevent her from doing the craziest Fae bullshit.)

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Someguy

      I think Black will ignore Iserre and aim to hit Cleves before Malanza can get there, then turn back to hit Iserre once Altraste’s forces are chasing in the wrong direction on the wrong momentum. This way, south-east Procer will starve in winter and Altraste & Malanza stuck in Cleves with no fort, no granary and the Dead King able to attack in winter.

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        1. IDKWhoitis

          Queen’s Gambit Offered -> Queen’s Gambit Declined ->Procer moves in White Knight and Grey Pilgram -> Black pulls Founding Gambit (Set fire to the board/Hit Malanza army from behind.)

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Berder

    Errata:
    Being carried like on a litter an invalid
    (carried on a litter like an invalid)

    though under Hasenbach they’re curtailed those activities to Praesi agents only
    (they’d)

    He wouldn’t leave the Vales if he had any another choice
    (any other choice)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Damn, every time Amadeus is discussed or showed, it is pure gold…

    I hope you’re ready to eat your words now Cordelia. What was it again? I will have the head of the man in a matter of weeks and his army decimated? Well, right now you’ve lost Cantal and the Black Knight is ravaging Iserre.
    Even assuming the Procer plan works perfectly, judging by the devastation described it’s two provinces which have been knocked out of the war.
    Before the Dead King is about toinvade.
    Before the ban on dwarfen weapons Catherine negotiated is about to come into effect.
    Before the Tyrant stops amusing us by swearing everyone ‘eternal friendship’ and proceeds to set the south of Calernia on fire.

    The sun is setting for the Tenth Crusade, and if Cordelia manages to keep her title of First Prince until next year, it’s going to be a genuine miracle…

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Well, no one expected Malicia to be in talks with Neshamah… Poor Cordelia. I hope she manages to keep her throne – we can’t afford for the Chain of Hunger and the Dead King to overrun Procer.

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  8. Someguy

    “Amadeus had, in a rare flight of fancy, called this war an invasion when speaking to Ranker. It was not, practically speaking. No territory taken had been held, and this entire affair could more accurately be termed a large-scale raid.”

    To be fair, a Home Invasion is still an invasion and this is done on a larger scale.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I really love the Hierarch/tyrant duo. I hope we see more of them and that they are not going to be used as the bogeymen in the south for the rest of the story.
    But I doubt it, since every other power (except the gnomes) used this way has started moving.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Novice

    I feel really bad for Cordelia here. She is second only to Catherine when it comes to how fucked her realm is promising to be. I’d almost root for her since she is being practical in all her decisions thus far but alas, she’s currently fighting Black. I’d always root for the freaking Carrion Lord (such a badass title).

    Although, it’s quite a bit worrying since Black is throwing more and more death flags this chapter. Can we at least have one last reunion between master and apprentice before he dies, if he dies?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Novice

        Nah, the Drow has already been fucked even way before the start of the story. Malicia can still hide behind Callow when it comes to ground invasions (especially after the Conclave kerfuffle) and it looks like the enemy naval fleet has stalled after sacking a single coastal city. So yeah Cordelia and Catherine is still on the precipice way more than Praes.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dainpdf

          I thought you just meant effed up in general. If you mean specifically “how much more effed up it looks to get during the story, specifically due to invasion”…
          Nah, the Drow still take the cake. After all, they’re being invaded by “the only nation in Calernia that is not just a regional power” with the intent of extermination.

          Like

          1. Novice

            Thinking on it, yeah you’re right. I guess I just ignored them since I don’t really see them surviving one way or another. Even without the threat of extermination, they’d still be reduced to irrelevance because of what the Night does to them as a culture.

            Liked by 1 person

      1. Novice

        If she didn’t invade Callow, she wouldn’t be able to get to Praes. If the Crusade couldn’t get to Praes, the Grand Alliance will fall apart and thus any talks about extending the Alliance beyond the current Crusade.

        Like

        1. RanVor

          Except that’s blatantly untrue. They could have accepted Cat’s offer and let her gate them directly to Ater. Grey Pilgrim knew the offer was sincere. But they were too arrogant and prejudiced, and now they’re paying the price.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Novice

            Except the Conclave would still happen and Cordelia would then be forced to treat Catherine as hostile. Which if they had accepted the gate, they would then be between a hostile Callow and Praes with no supply lines. They are arrogant and prejudiced, I agree. But they have made the right choice there.

            Like

            1. RanVor

              Did they? The Bard (because of course it was her) would have much harder time pulling off the conclave if the Battle of the Camps didn’t happen, and Cordelia would be in much better position to stop it. The House of Light would have to have really solid arguments to declare Cat the Arch-Heretic of the East for nothing.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. RanVor

                And even if they managed to fuck up that monumentally, it would still be their own fault that Callow is hostile to them.

                I just realized you’re arguing that they were right to antagonize Callow because they would do it anyway eventually.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Novice

                  See, I think you’re just lumping the entire Crusade into a single monolithic entity when we’ve already seen the opposite. Cordelia might be the First Prince but she doesn’t have the absolute authority in this campaign. We’ve seen how much she struggles to keep the Crusade from slipping out of her grasp (which I believe she eventually will, if she didn’t already). Treating Callow as hostile from the very start is the correct choice in the realpolitik sense.

                  I’m not saying what she has done is the correct moral choice. Good is not good after all. I’m just saying based on what Cordelia knows, based on her tenuous position and on her goals; she’s done better than anyone else in her position could have done.

                  Like

                  1. RanVor

                    Treating Callow as hostile from the very start is the source of almost all of their current problems. That’s why I don’t feel bad for Cordelia – she really has no one but herself (and her stupid subordinates) to blame.

                    Like

                    1. Novice

                      I don’t know about that. Seems to me that expecting rationality from the religious in a Crusade is more likely the culprit. As I’ve said, they can’t go to Praes without going through Callow. And they can’t go through Callow peacefully because of the fanatics braying at the edges, waiting for the flimsiest excuse.

                      Like

                    2. RanVor

                      Nobody would mind fanatics if the Crusade was successful. Also, nobody has seen the conclave coming at the time, so it couldn’t possibly be a factor in their decision making.

                      Like

              2. Novice

                You don’t think the leader of the Crusade treating with the villainous Black Queen wouldn’t eventually set off the conclave? That the Proceran House of Light wouldn’t try to fuck over the First Prince in a bid to restore the political influence they’ve lost in the aftermath of the Liturgical Wars?

                Hells, declaring Cat as the Arch-Heretic instead of the Dread Empress is already grasping at straws. You don’t think the House of Light wouldn’t find another bullshit excuse to do what they want?

                Like

                1. Cordelia accepting Cat’s offer to shortcut the Crusade’s forces directly to Praes – and, IIRC offering to help against the Tower and the High Lords – and in the process accepting Callow into the Grand Alliance isn’t exactly grounds to move the House of Light.

                  The Conclave, and what came from it, is not the idea of the priests. It’s the idea of an as-yet unidentified Chosen/Hero, presumably Bard.

                  Sure, it is entirely possible that the Conclave would still have happened and had the result it did when it did. I happen to think it would have been a much harder lift to pull off, and a lot easier to stop.
                  Plus, accepting the shortcut to Praes likely would have resulted in Malicia expediting her efforts to get the Dead King moving, and Cat likely wouldn’t have accepted the invite, which means that the Dead King probably would have invaded Procer before the Conclave could have happened.

                  It would be far more difficult to successfully label Cat Arch-heretic of the East when she is actively helping you against the Tower and even harder to do so when the Dead King is invading, and Cat is your best hope of getting your armies back from Praes without repeated and massive sealift efforts. Labeling Cat Arch-heretic of the East would likely need to be put on hold. At least for a while – it’s still be on Bard’s to do list, but it’d drop on the list for everybody else.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. Novice

                    You’ve got a point. We’re all just speculating an alternative here. But I still think the unknown entity that moved the current Conclave would still be able to force the Alliance to be antagonistic to Callow in this alternate history. I feel said entity has malicious intent toward Cat here. I don’t think they’d give peace with Callow a chance.

                    Schemers be schemin’.

                    Like

                    1. RanVor

                      The “Unknown Entity”, a.k.a. the Wandering Bard (because let’s be real, it couldn’t be anybody but her) doesn’t actually have as much influence as you seem to believe. She can manipulate people, but she needs a foundation to build upon. The Battle of the Camps was that foundation. Without it, she wouldn’t have strong enough arguments to enforce prioritizing Cat over Malicia as a target, and Cordelia’s position would be much stronger, which would result in her having a much greater freedom in working to stop the conclave.

                      Besides, if the “correct decision” resulted in the Crusaders being crushed and forced to retreat, the country being counter-invaded and the Dead King moving south for the first time in centuries, then either the Crusade leadership was horrifically incompetent, or the entire enterprise was doomed to fail from the very beginning. Either way, Procer still brought it all on itself.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Oh sure, Bard (it basically has to be her) would still want Cat gone in the worst way.
                      The problem for her would be that it would be far more difficult to get people to put such a high priority on getting rid of Cat when Cat has been helping them against the Praesi. And it would be even harder to pull off if the Dead King had launched his invasion before the Conclave.
                      Remember, Papenheim and Malanza’s armies would have been in Praes, with no easy way back except for Cat. And if they went and declared Cat Arch-heretic of the East while they had 100k men in Praes, they’d at best be abandoned by Cat and left to their own devices against the Praesi, which would end poorly for them, while there’d be no way to reinforce the fortified northern border against the dead.

                      Sure, Bard still would have tried to convince people, but you can only talk people into doing what you want them to do if they are willing to listen to you.

                      Like

    1. Cicero

      I suspect it’s the opposite. After Sabah. Black is more willing to take risks than he used to be… at least with his own life. Probably not with his remaining friends.

      Like

  11. IDKWhoitis

    I’m currently guessing Dead King is going to pull some Black-Level shenanigans and use a still living regiment to take Cleves before the Procereans know what’s up. He owns enough Procerean corpses, uniforms, banners, and has enough people who could literally be trained for such a thing. The cityguard may just buy the story at face value if a “crusader force” arrives to reinforce the city, since what sort of nutjob would betray the living for the dead?

    Also, I’m betting Black is going to go straight for the city, regardless of traps, and go for a Akua’s Folly gambit. Probably lure White or Grey into the city to murder them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Metrux

      That’s really not something he CAN do. I keep seeing people coment that, but from the stairway to north Procer they won’t come close to Black, he’d need to move at least twice as fast, maybe thrice, while not fighting for more food and leaving another army to run at their backs. Sure, if it worked would be completely disastrous for the First Prince, same as if a meteor shower destroyed their palace, but none are things Black can do right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Amadeus may be driving himself into the ground, but he’s so obviously enjoying every minute of this active retirement gig he’s got. It’s scary-awesome.

    Part of me hopes that just by expecting death at the end of it, he gets life just to spite him. He’d probably appreciate the joke, too — after a while. ;P

    Liked by 3 people

  13. EE, I have a very important question, dunno if anyone asked that. Do Named have to poop? It’s never mentioned in the stories how they do it. Well, Heroes may have to poop, Ashen Priestes did threaten some Heroes with diahrea. But do Villains have to poop, or they can use their vast and terrible powers to fix this? Ok, maybe it depends on the Villain, I don’t believe Dead King or WB has to poop. Or the personal perception of the Named, like how they get taller or prettier. But does Catherine has to poop now that she is of Winter? Please, respond, this is very important, I’ve been holding this question for too long.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

      Cat mentioned offhand at some point that villainy stopped her menstrual cycle, if that helps. More saliently, Winter has stripped her of the need to eat, so she probably doesn’t poop even if most villains do.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m half-hoping Black diverts from ripping up Iserre and either goes to punch out Salia or to bushwhack the nearer Levantine army.
    On the other hand, if Black can take Iserre without too much damage to the defenses, even if he gets trapped inside the city, the Legions ought to be able to hold the walls for a while – hopefully long enough for Cat to come pull them out.

    Like

    1. Agent J

      Honestly, I don’t want Cat to have to come bail him out. He’s supposed to be some Machiavellian genius, so I’m fully expecting our lovable bastard to have a brilliant end game. My personal bet is that he’s arranging the board to create opportunity, y’know, that thing the Augur can’t predict. Kill the Augur and the Proceran threat becomes a great deal more manageable.

      If he just smashes and burns things until Cat comes to bail his sorry ass out of the fire, I’ll be very disappointed in him. He’s cleverer than that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d prefer Cat not need to bail him out either. I’m sure both of them would prefer that too.

        Unfortunately, as good as he is, as good as the generals with him are, you can make all the right moves and still run into trouble. In addition, it seems that if Black gets significantly slowed down anywhere, he’ll have trouble.
        And they know he’s moving towards Iserre.
        Plus, he’s a Villain taking a chance/ rolling the dice while invading/ raiding a Good nation.
        With Bard both gunning for him and unaccounted for, and an undetermined number of Heroes with the Levantines. Oh, sure, most of them involved with the Crusade will probably be with Malanza and Papenheim, or with the Ashuran fleets raiding the Praesi coast … but we know at least one unknown Hero (probably Bard) is in Salia.

        Plus, y’know, Augur is around for providing information on what Black is doing and planning.

        Black is heavily outnumbered, and even with him using an Aspect to boost the strategic speed of his Legions, there are still physical limits on how much he can dodge around the forces hunting him.

        It wouldn’t take much for Black to run into enough trouble that he either has to abandon his campaign in Procer or get into a situation where he’ll need Cat’s assistance to get out.

        For that matter, with the Dead King moving against Procer, Black has a lot less that he needs to do to break the Crusade.
        Indeed, there are reasonable arguments for Black abandoning his campaign in Procer, and leaving them to fight the Dead King and get the Crusade’s forces gutted by the undead. If Black and his Legions left the Crusade to fought the Dead King in favor of rebuilding the fortifications in the Vales and/or fortifying the Stairway, the bulk of the Crusade would burn itself out on stopping the Dead King. The Dead King conquering a chunk of Procer is probably something that Black wouldn’t look forward to – indeed, that could ultimately cause greater national cohesion in Procer, transforming them into a single nation instead of a loose confederation of Principalities.
        Besides … I doubt he’d be happy to learn what Malicia’s been up to since the war started – cutting a deal with the Dead King, turning on Cat and Callow. He might not be to the point of actively turning on Malicia, but he’d likely be more than willing to actively refuse to help her against Cat.

        Like

    1. Novice

      Good ≠ good. The whole Good and Evil (and one of the major themes in the Guide) is all about choosing between the Gods Above or Below. The Elves of the Golden Bloom for instance, genocided the original inhabitants of the forest and yet they’re still considered a Good nation.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Oui

    Soo, apparently stories don’t matter anymore. Black is doing monstrous, classic villain things straight from the A Villain’s Guide to Getting Yo Ass Murdered by the Heavens and there are no consequences at all. Hell, he’s also weakening the only nation capable of fighting the Dead King, at least for a while (I’m seriously beginning to doubt that, though, seeing that everyone is walking over their armies). Sure, he’s weakened but that seems to be all. Odds are so stacked against him that he should be writing a testament. Neshamah and the Bard have been playing this game for a while now all because of ‘the balance’, but Cat and Black’s plot armour seem to be much stronger and they need not bother.

    Like

    1. The Narrative doesn’t discriminate. When a situation is brought about the narrative flows as it ought to. As you say, Black is in a perilous position. He’s trapped with no hope of escape, running a mysterious plan nobody knows while also enjoying his regained vitality. The narrative won’t let him lose because:

      A. He’s got no hope of escape, therefore logically he will escape.

      B. He has a secret plan. It’s a secret and therefore must come to fruition, thereby making the suspense worthwhile for a dramatic reveal during said escape.

      In addition, supporting points include:

      C. The regaining of his vitality has made him more interesting, which compounds the previous two points. He’s an interesting character with a good backstory which grants him a basic level of protection via the narrative in general terms.

      D.The character itself is baddass. Any death would have to be suitably epic and the scene set does not allow for such a death.

      E. Major characters who are invested in him are not present to watch him die (Cat and Malicia). Incidentally, Black also promised Malicia to return to the tower at some point which is foreshadowing and so must also be acted out through the narrative.

      Liked by 3 people

  16. Kel the Seer

    The Crusade was called against Praes, it just “so happened” to go through Callow since it was on the way. “Liberating” Callow from an Evil ruler to divide it up between the Procerans and strengthen the First Prince’s position while also removing the threat of unemployed Fantassins is all just a publicly unstated bonus.

    It almost seems like Black is pulling a 3 for 1 with his rampage.

    1) Protecting Praes by hobbling the Crusade. Even though he and Malicia are on the outs, he still has some sense of duty to the Empire he helped architect.
    2) Unofficially help Cat in the short term by also blunting the Crusade so Callow can get its feet back under it.
    3) Long term help Cat by making Procer into the new Callow. A weakened kingdom nominally aligned to Good that all the crusades have to march through to get to the Evil kingdoms.

    Yeah, Cat gets the better deal, but Amadeus knows his days are numbered, and she is still in his mind his apprentice and the one best suited to carry on with his new way of fighting against the Gods Above.

    If Amadeus being stretched so thin leads to his death in a trap, I am curious to see what will happen to Cat. Emotions inside, I think it has been intimated that there might be a few scraps of Squire in Cat that Winter hasn’t bothered to devour yet. What happens when a radically weakened transitional Name gets the trigger to Transition?

    I don’t think she will become the new Black, but given Cat’s luck, it will happen either right as she is about to win a fight, or is struggling to deal with the sheer volume of Night that will try to flood her if she kills Sve.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Rhys

    I love the Hierarch and the Tyrant so much! They’re just so deliciously CRAZY I can’t wait to see what they do in response to everything that’s coming.

    That is, assuming they choose to do anything at all. But I can’t imagine them taking a backseat for something as monumental as the mobilisation of the Dead King’s armies.

    Like

    1. The short version is,
      1. Cat got formally designated Arch-Heretic of the East – the first person other than a currently reigning Dread Emperor/Empress to be so labeled.
      2. The House of Light in Callow got declared heretical for crowning her.

      The backlash from that in Callow is, in short, they (the Callowan House of Light) declared the Conclave heretical and fallen into earthly pursuits, and formally designated all Heroes that had trod Callowan soil to have Fallen from Grace (aka, they aren’t Heroes, they’re Villains). I think they might have declared the 10th Crusade to be not of the Light too.

      There are a few more details, but that’s the short version.
      For more details, see Chapter 36: Enchere.

      Like

  18. FYI this part doesn’t make any sense: it was a popular jest in Procer that to split the difference between the royalty of Cantal and Iserre one would need a very sharp knife

    To “split the difference” means to meet halfway, as in when negotiating. If I offer you $9,000 for a car that you want $10,000 for, splitting the difference means we agree at $9,500. Obviously then, one cannot “split the difference” between two people or anything like that.

    Like

    1. Cicero

      Splitting the difference between Cantal and Iserre royalty would mean taking the differences between the two, and finding the midpoint to split the difference.

      For example, if Cantal royalty always wore wide brimmed hats while Iserre always wore no brimmed hats, splitting the difference would mean wearing medium brimmed hats. This analogy can be applied to more intangible traits as well.

      This the difficulty in splitting the difference implies that Cantal and Iserre royalty are so alike in both tangible and intangible traits that there really is nothing to split.

      Like

  19. Hey so who else thinks that Black might just roll into this heavily fortified city and just, like, take it? There’s been a lot of mentions of his army being a raiding party and not taking territory, and clearly Black is going to somehow subvert Cordelia giving him a city. So I think this is building up to him taking a city and just sitting there, threatening massive swathes of Cordelia’s holdings by simply existing. Maybe providing de-facto shelter for bandit groups as an added insult to injury.

    Like

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