Fatalism III

“I fear the man of one book, even if that book is about the pastoral habits of the common Callowan cow. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a cow? They are a depthless abyss of cold nihilism.”
– King Edward IV of Callow, the Sufficiently Paranoid

In the days before the founding of the Principate, Salia had been little more than the ancient tribal grounds of the Merovins. Though rich in game and copper – mined, one no longer admitted in polite company, by slaves from rival Alamans tribes – it’d been a modest village of less than five thousand. The Merovins were known as hunters and warriors, not farmers, and had preferred to raise lodges in now-cut forests rather than gather in a city-fortress as the Arlesites to the south had practiced since times immemorial. That it’d been chosen as the seat of the council that founded the Principate had been due to a potent mixture of luck and politicking by Clothor Merovins. Salia had been well placed to host the armies returned victorious from the First Crusade and the fall of Triumphant, and had represented something of a compromised between the already-squabbling factions of Alamans chiefs and Arlesites kings who both desired the council closer to their own holdings. It was a famous story that Clothor had sold all his possessions, down to his last pair of boots, to bribe the recalcitrant into agreeing.

Like so many stories on which the foundation of realms were built, it was a lie. Clothor had been one of the wealthiest men in the not-yet-Principate, having discretely stolen the Callowan tributes meant for Dread Empress Triumphant that were getting readied when the continent-wide rebellion against her reign began. Still, there was a grain of truth to the story: the man had near-beggared himself buying alliances with lavish gifts and promises, though he had kept his boots. And still Cantal had nearly been chosen at the site instead. It would be a very difference Principate that now stood, Cordelia thought, if the chieftess of Cantal had succeeded at her own intrigues. But Clothor had been both wilier and the better speaker, going on to win the contest and then the crown itself: the very first of the First Princes of Procer. One of his very first orders had been to raise what was now the Chamber of Assembly on the grounds where the celebrated council had taken place, and it was surrounded by those centuries of history that Cordelia Hasenbach now sat.

Salia was now the largest city of Calernia: when winter came around and the labouring manants who’d toiled on the fields throughout spring and summer flocked to city with their seasonal wages, near nine hundred thousand souls dwelled within the boundaries of Procer’s capital. The city had been turned into a work of art by First Princes and Princesses, spires and churches and sprawling gardens – some of those meant only for winter, even, built so that the frost and snow themselves would become adornments. There was ugliness as well, entire districts of huts where the peasants took sick and died in their own wastes while the wealthy partook in exotic banquets mere miles away. And yet Cordelia had found she loved Salia, for all its flaws, with the same depth she loved the Rhenia of her birth. It was a city unlike any other on the continent, the ever-beating heart of an empire that risen from nothing to stand above all realms that saw the sun. Where else could one find Arlesite poet-duellists declaiming in contest with Alamans lay brothers in gardens that depicted different acts of a play with every season? Or grim-faced Lycaonese veterans trading drinks and war stories with fantassins who’d served in wars halfway across the continent?

The wealth of Salia was in the people, not the coin or the facades, and it was a rare day where the First Prince of Procer did not wake humbled that they had been placed in her care.

Yet in that sprawling, glorious and riotous mess there was one place of utter stillness. One that had not changed since the savage days of Procer’s founding, where it had been hard men and women wearing furs and stolen riches – never without a blade, even when bathing – who had changed the world: the Chamber of Assembly, seat of the Highest Assembly of the Principate. The walls were naught but whitewashed limestone, the rafters were ancient oak that creaked when touched and the chamber had carried a faint scent of wood smoke ever since the palace around it caught fire during the second Liturgical War. A halfway-skillful merchant would own finer hall than this after a decade’s work, and yet never once had the royalty of Procer asked the chamber should be built anew or replaced. For within there stood twenty-four thrones, none younger than six centuries. One for every principality in the realm, dragged from all over the Principate to stand forever in this room. Princes and princesses ruled from palaces all over Procer, but there was only one Chamber and one Highest Assembly: the words spoken in this smoky hall resounded to every corner of Calernia.

Cordelia’s own seat was the same that had been set by Clothor Merovins himself. A spit of grey granite polished by the waters of the lake it’d been dredged from, without even a back to lean against. Cunning Clothor was said to have mourned before all that he’d emptied his treasury so deeply bestowing gifts upon his allies he could not even afford to have a proper throne carved. The blonde prince rather admired the man who’d been her earliest predecessor. A great warlord, yes, but one of the rare examples of that breed who’d understood the worth of the softer ways of statecraft. Many kings and chiefs came to that council with thrones that now stood before her, gilded and set with jewels or made of enchanted stones and rare trees from the Waning Woods. Yet Clothor Merovins’ humble spit of granite was the only one that stood on a dais, an inch higher than all the others. In truth, two seats in the chamber rightfully belonged to Cordelia. The same she now sat, and another far to the back.

One of the triplet thrones of Rhenia, Hannoven and Bremen, famously carved from the same pale chalkstone on which First Princess Frederonne Merovins had wed the Prince of Hannoven, sealing her conquest of the Lycaonese principalities by twining bloodlines. Her own father had died assaulting the walls of Rhenia, where even after the fall of every other Lycaonese principality the hosts had held out with desperate defiance, but Frederonne had shown enough foresight to predict that fighting the Lycaonese to the bitter end would leave her own people to defend against the Plague and the Dead in their stead. Cordelia’s Rhenian throne was covered by a silk banner displaying the Hasenbach heraldry of crowned bronze mountain peak on deep blue, signifying that she had named no sworn delegate and still held the voting rights for the principality. The technical matter was complex, and relied on the legal fiction that she was two different people: the Prince of Rhenia, her birthright, and the Princess of Salia which was a title bound to the greater one of First Prince. Before the last of the Merovins died the principality of Salia had been its own realm and remained under their rule even when one not of their bloodline was First Prince, though the ruler of Procer had right of administration over the city, by custom.

It had been over a hundred years since then, however, and Cordelia had come to benefit from the additional vote and attendant legalities more than she’d ever expected she would.

“The assembly recognizes l’assermenté for Prince Amadis Milenan of Iserre,” the Master of Orders announced, thickly-accented Lycaonese voice perfectly pronouncing the Old Chantant term.

The white-haired Master was one of her own Rhenians, one with a talent for languages she’d put into place within a month of ascending the throne. In this battlefield of courtesies and ceremonies, there were few advantages more precious than an arbiter of ceremonies entirely loyal to her. Cordelia’s eyes blue eyes flicked at the sworn delegate of Iserre, one of Prince Amadis’ seemingly never-ending parade of kinsmen of middling talent. Olivier Milenan was young, barely in his twenties, and handsome in much the same way as his very distant uncle. Not the sharpest of intriguers, this one, though hardly slow. She suspected he’d been chosen by Amadis largely because while of princely blood Olivier’s branch of the family was impoverished and so the sum entire of his fortunes rested on the goodwill of his crowned kinsman. This one would not cross his uncle, lest he got back to rotting in the gutted mansion where he’d been raised in utter obscurity. Rising to his feet, Olivier Milenan straightened his back.

“By ancient oath, I speak only the words of my prince and none other,” he said.

“You were heard by these hallowed grounds,” the Master of Orders replied. “Let no lie mar your tongue, no heresy your soul and may the Heavens grant you righteous purpose in this exchange of words.”

Every individual in the chamber save those two repeated the sentences with practiced cadence. As First Prince, Cordelia was exempt from such proceedings. As Prince of Rhenia, she was not. Other royals were few in attendance, in this particular session. The rulers Creusens, Orense and Valencis had graced the capital with their presence, as well as her old ally the Prince of Brus, yet every other was a sworn delegate. It mattered little: their instructions would be royal, if not their bearing.

“My countrymen,” Olivier Milenan spoke, his voice well-trained and pleasant to the ear, “I stand before you today to speak of grave matters. The Principate has upheld its duties to Creation and undertaken the waging of just war against the wicked crowns of the East, yet in doing so a heavy price has been exacted. While our armies manoeuvre and quibble, Dread Empress Malicia’s hungriest hound pillages and rapes his way through our realm heedlessly. Already Cantal has suffered such depredations, and now my own native Iserre seems destined for the same savage fate.”

It had not taken long, Cordelia mused, for the first instruction of the Master of Orders to be disregarded – let no lie mar your tongue. The Carrion Lord’s horde of murderous vagrants might be looting everything granary in sight, but they at least observed their own regulations: rapists and murderers were hung. The man’s rhetorical flourishes were not of great import, though what would follow them was. The First Prince had already deduced the gist of the motion the man would present. She had, after all, a letter addressed to a bastard among her papers. It was the number of those willing to support the motion that truly mattered. This was the first formal session held since the defeats in Callow, though half a dozen informal ones had taken place. The important difference between the two was that in a formal session, any motion put to the First Prince would enter the public records. Including the votes and if her personal Right of Refusal was used afterwards. That she would be driven to that was unlikely, as she should still have enough support they would fail to secure a majority, but it was possible for her and her allies to be forced to vote in a manner that would damage their reputation with the people. If you have the votes to corner me, Milenan, she thought. Do you?

“Our cities are empty, our fortresses gather dust,” Olivier orated, voice resounding. “Why? Because we have sent our soldiers to war, observing the decree of our anointed First Prince. Do not mistake this for intriguing, my friends, for none stand more loyal to Her Most Serene Highness than the braves of Iserre. I merely weep for the fate of my people, who must wither and die even as their valiantly crusading cousins stand leashed and impotent mere weeks of march away. Where is the Iron Prince, I ask you? What right does the Prince of Hannoven have to part kin from besieged kin by such cruel decree?”

There were murmurs of approval at that. Uncle Klaus had never been popular down south, in part because he’d led her armies in their crushing of theirs yet also because he himself made no mystery that he held most of them in contempt. His decision – though it had been presented as hers – to let the Legions of Terror march into Procer without pursuit had only deepened the enmity. The sworn delegate from Bremen loudly spat on the floor, scarred face purple with anger, much to the distaste of the closest southerners. Uncle Klaus had carried her crippled cousin back through five leagues of marshlands under ratling pursuit after a skirmish went south, Cordelia knew. If blades were allowed into the chamber, she might very well have drawn. The Iron Prince was misliked here, but he was fiercely loved by his own people.

“The Prince of Iserre asks not for glory or reward, though for this realm he has greatly bled,” Olivier said. “He only asks for loyalty to be repaid in kind, and the heart of Procer to be protected from the foul works of the Praesi. Iserre motions for a formal petition to be presented to the First Prince, requesting that the army under the command of Prince Klaus Papenheim be tasked with the defense of Procer itself.”

Cordelia kept her face unruffled. The choice of a petition petition had been a clever trick of procedure, she had to admit, and one that’d surprised her. Milenan was within his rights to make a direct request to the First Prince, though not a demand – the Principate had joined a crusade, which meant she had supreme authority over all armed men and any attempting to wrest it from her would be committing treason. Would that her opponents were such fools. If it had been a direct request, every delegate and royal casting their vote in favour of it would be effectively declaring they had lost faith in her ability to prosecute this war. In the middle of a crusade, that would be costly to their popularity at home as the people’s mood had grown distinctly vengeful. A petition to request, on the other hand, would produce a formal document open to any attending sitter’s signature that would be presented to her after the session. The vote over the motion itself would not be added to the record, keeping the implicit rebuke to her entirely private.

It was clever in the sense that it allowed principalities neither in her camp nor Prince Amadis’ to express their dissatisfaction: they could back the motion to have the petition, then withhold their signature on the document. Young Olivier had been busy in his uncle’s service, she realized, and moreso than she had thought. He’d never have presented the motion if he did not believe it would pass. And when that petition is made passed along to every prince in Procer, Cordelia thought, which we both know you will do, the unity of your uncle’s own faction will be brought in contrast with my own dying alliances. With a single act he was forcing her to publicly deny a petition that would be very popular in certain parts of her realm, wounded her prestige in the Highest Assembly and signaled to fence-sitters it might be time to place their coin on the horse pulling ahead. Alamans intrigue at is finest, this: three birds with a single stone, all headed for the thrower’s own kitchen. How best to strangle this, then, before the blow caused a bruise?

“The assembly recognizes l’assermentée for Prince Arnaud Brogloise of Cantal,” the Master of Orders announced.

The sworn delegate, her dress and apparel perfect to the extent that even Cordelia could only be admiring, inclined her head respectfully before speaking.

“The Prince of Cantal seconds the motion to petition the First Prince, and moves for immediate vote over it,” she simply said.

Striking swift, was it? They had succeeded at arranging this under her nose, but assuming victory could be won by simple haste was rather bold of them. The Master of Orders glanced at her and she cleared her throat. His eyes went down to her lap, where he found her hands folded primly.

“The assembly recognizes the Prince of Rhenia,” he smoothly said.

There was a ripple at that. The three Lycaonese in the back wore open smiles, and her old comrade Prince Frederic of Brus was leaning forward eagerly.

“The Principality of Rhenia thirds the presented motion,” she smiled calmly. “Moreover, it requests for both the vote and preceding address to be entered into the formal public record.”

A glint of amusement passed in the Master of Orders’ rheumy eyes.

“As per law, such a request can only be granted by the First Prince of Procer,” he said. “I now put the question to Her Most Serene Highness, First Prince of Procer, Princess of Salia.”

Cordelia inclined her head.

“I grant the request,” she simply said.

The blonde prince felt every eye in the room turn to her. Faces had blanked, eyes gone thoughtfully. Even Olivier Amadis had been visibly taken aback before mastering himself and was now staring at her warily. Wonder now, boy, she thought. What I know that you do not. Uncle Klaus was preparing for a march north even as session was held, after all. Let the record show Amadis Milenan’s own nephew dragging his name through the mud even as the Iron Prince gathered supplies for his march to turn back the Dead King. Let every single one of these vultures be named as the handful that would abandon all of northern Procer to salvage their granaries. Scrape me raw if you dare, Milenan. I am willing to lose a little skin if in exchange I can have you and your fellows flayed in song in every tavern from Rhenia to Tenerife by the year’s end. The men who sold Procer. It has a ring to it, does it not? She met the boy eyes and smiled pleasantly.

“Shall we proceed with the vote?” she asked.

Her gaze swept the rest of the room. And now we find out what worth are the bargains you made, Olivier. Will they stick with you, when they smell a trap? There is no one in this room unware that he who rides the Ebb must beware of the Flow. Her prompting added to the sworn delegate from Cantal’s had made it inevitable vote would immediately follow before any further discussion could be had. The Master of Orders called on the thrones in sequence, and it was an effort for Cordelia’s face not to grow grim. Most of the supporters were expected. Iserre, Cantal, Orne, Creusens, Segovia and Aequitan. Prince Amadis and his closest supporters, those who had been defeated at the Battle of the Camps and were well aware that if the Iserran cause sunk they would soon follow it into the depths. Bayeux she’d expected as well, as parts of its countryside had been torched by the Carrion Lord. Orense, however, was an unpleasant surprise. She had saved its evidently ingrate prince from brutal Levantine raids barely more than a year ago. How quickly gratitude turned to naught. The sworn delegate from Valencis hesitated before abstaining, which was telling. If not for her ploy that would have been another vote in favour. Eight in favour, out of twenty four votes, and it could very easily have been nine. How many others had simply hidden their late change of heart more skillfully?

The motion failed, and she had scored a wound that would not show for months yet, but she could feel the wind turning. The matter of the coming conclave needed to be squashed, lest today’s abstentions become tomorrow’s knives.

Cordelia was not one to easily discard etiquette. Rules were the birthing bed of civilization: common foundation could only be found when people agreed on the most essential standards of behaviour. Etiquette was merely the regulation of relationships between individuals, and while it could be used to oppress it could also be used to free. Rules always cut both ways

Yet if there was one particular set she could grind into dust, it was the stringent courtesies governing audience between the Holies and the First Prince of Procer. It was a throwback of the Liturgical Wars, one no ruler of Procer had every felt quite secure enough to revisit. She was ushered into the Starlit Cloister by a handful of sisters who had taken vows of silence, her personal guard forced to remain outside, and led to a private garden. There she was guided in removing her dress and regalia before submitting to hour-long ablutions that left her without a single speck of artifice. Even her hair was unbraided, made to course down her shoulders without the slightest of stylings. It was wearing a white shift unflattering to her Hasenbach frame and barefoot that a brother finally sought her out, bowing low before informing her she was to be received.

The entire process was said to be symbolic, a stripping of earthly trappings before she could be allowed to speak with souls untainted by such matters. Cordelia herself was of the opinion that the point of the exercise was to humble the ruler of Procer and disarray them before taking them into the very seat of power of the Holies. It was a gauntlet of rather unsubtle pressure, and one she resented. The Holies, after all, were a purely Proceran notion: an assembly of the leading priests of the House of Light’s basilicas and cathedrals, with a smatter of administrators and highborn lay people added to the mixture. Still, unpleasant as this was it was a necessary unpleasantness. While the Holies might not wield authority in any official sense – their very existence was informal, and the requirements for counting among their number opaque to any outside of the House of Light – their influence assured that anything they agreed on would miraculously become policy shortly afterwards.

They must be convinced, at all costs.

The corpulent brother guiding her did so through a handful of sunlit corridors before pausing before a thick oaken gate. He bowed once more, observing the required angle perfectly, and left without a word. Cordelia allowed herself the weakness of a moment’s rest to gather her bearings. She silently marshalled her arguments, brought to mind faces and names and associated interests. They could be moved, as all men could be moved. Through the wood she heard a spatter of female laughter and the sound of cup being dropped, brow rising in response. Her hand rose to the heavy iron ring on the door, knocking thrice before pulling. The absence of a footpad to serve that purpose in her stead was yet another petty little test for any seeking audience. The door creaked open, and immediately Cordelia’s face stilled. She’d had audience with the Holies only once before, shortly before her coronation, and this was not the ornate hall where she had then been received.

It was instead a cramped arched dining room, filled with only a long table and a handful of seats. In the back a woman was leaning her seat so far back half the legs were off the floor, feet resting atop the table. She was old, skin creased and her forehead mottled with spots under a braid of stark white hair. The eyes, though, the eyes were sharp. Dark and patient.

“Good evening, Your Highness,” the Saint of Swords nonchalantly call out.

Her mind spun. She’d set out aiming to find out which of the Chosen had demanded the conclave, and already she had her answer. She absent-mindedly noted a handful of details in quick succession – there were two cups, not one, and one had been toppled. It’d spilled liquor all over the table. The other goblet was in the hands of the heroine, inclined at an angle that allowed her to recognize water within. They were alone in the room, the only other door behind the Saint, and the chandeliers casting light allowed moving shadows to be cast into the corners.

“Laurence de Montfort,” Cordelia calmly replied, inclining her head by the barest of fractions. “An unexpected pleasure. I was led to believe I would be addressing the Holies.”

“I sent them away for a walk,” the heroine still known in Procer as the Regicide shrugged. “This is a talk for adults, not squabbling children.”

Most royalty in her position, Cordelia thought, would be wondering if they were about to be carved up. She knew better. There were matters in which the First Prince did not trust the judgement of her uncle – tax policy, trade, putting his seal to a budget that did not overwhelmingly favour the army – but he was a very sharp judge of character. A hard woman, he’d said of the Saint, but she always means well. The blonde prince claimed a seat at the opposite end of the table without waiting for an invitation. The Chosen was not the host, here, only another guest.

“I take it this conclave is your work,” Cordelia said, settling down and forcing herself to ignore the unpleasant itch of her shift against her skin. “Should I expect the Grey Pilgrim to join us as well?”

“Tariq’s busy skinning of the many cats making a racket in your backyard,” the old woman dismissed. “I’ll be following him as soon as this business is finished.”

“And what business would that be, exactly?” she asked. “Your reputation does not mention an interest in statecraft.”

The Saint of Swords set down her cup on the table, then dragged her legs down. Her chair returned to the stone floor with a sharp clack.

“I find I am disappointed in you, Cordelia Hasenbach,” the Regicide said. “You’re promising in a lot of ways, I won’t deny. You’re taking a hatchet to the rot, however politely, and you’ve been herding the crowned wolves well enough. But this? You should know better. You’re Lycaonese. You know the Enemy’s face.”

Cordelia cocked her head to the side, keeping the pretence of calm in truth rapidly leaving her.

“Not merely the conclave,” she deduced. “It is your own notion to have the Black Queen named Arch-heretic of the East.”

The old woman grinned harshly.

“They were eager enough, truth be told,” the Saint said. “Just needed a little push. That I needed to give it at all is what got me in such a meddling mood. You’re flinching, Hasenbach. You’ve been down here too long, the iron’s beginning to rust.”

The First Prince’s lips thinned. It had been a very long time since she’d been offered such blatant disrespect.

“You know less than you think,” she said.

“‘Ol King Bones is stirring, you mean,” the Chosen replied.

Cordelia’s fingers tightened in her lap, a rare lapse of control on her part. How did she know? Had the Heavens whispered the secret in her ear? No, it did not matter. If she did know, why would she act so recklessly?

“You should be aware, then, that further prosecuting the war against Callow is unwise,” the First Prince said. “War on two fronts is foolish at the best of times. War on two fronts when one is the Kingdom of the Dead is lunacy. We cannot start a life and death struggle with the Black Queen when the marching dead gather north. It will be the ruin of the Principate, Saint. No amount of miracles can make hosts fight two battles simultaneously.”

“You mean,” Laurence de Montfort said softly, “to make truce with the Enemy. Listen to yourself, girl. Your ancestors would cut your bloody throat for this.”

“My ancestors were guarding a handful of passes and crossings,” Cordelia sharply replied. “I am charged with the entirety of Procer, and my failure would mean the slaughter of millions. I would rather be censured by the blind dead than watch the risen kind butcher half the Principate. You are gambling with the lives of more people than you have ever seen, Saint. What worth will your soft sentences be, when the Army of Callow falls on our flank and Keter devours the rest?”

“You don’t understand what this is, do you?” the Saint smiled. “This is not the War of the Grand Alliance or the second invasion of Callow. It’s the Tenth Crusade. You slapped the gauntlet down, girl, and now Below’s picking it up. There is no compromise to be had anymore, no subtle manoeuvering. You declared war on the Hellgods, and the sword will not return to the sheath until one side falls.”

“A crusade can be waged intelligently,” the First Prince said. “It must, or it will fail like those before it.”

“That’s where you misunderstand,” the Saint amiably said. “You think all of this…”

Her hand moved to encompass their surroundings.

“Is inviolable,” she continued. “It’s an understandable weakness. You rule here, after all, and love for your people is no sin. But everything dies, Cordelia Hasenbach. Even empires.”

The blond woman paled.

“This is treason,” she coldly said. “As good as a confession you seek the destruction of the Principate.”

“This whole damned house is rotten to the bone, girl,” the Saint said. “You’ve toiled and troubled and fought like lion, but it’ll die with you. You know that already, deep down. Maybe the Principate was what it should be, ages ago, but it has not been in a very long time. It’s greed and power and lies, hungry wars and treachery made into the mortar of palaces. The sickness is all it knows, now.”

“You are mad,” Cordelia spoke in a hushed whisper. “Gods Above, your mind has gone and you would take all of us with it.”

“Oh, we’ll bleed,” the Saint mused. “We’ll lose badly, at first. And then we’ll claw our way back up, inch by inch. Evil always wins at the start, but it’s us who owns the conclusion. And from the ruins something better will rise. This empire’s already a corpse, but we’ll send it off with a pyre glorious enough it’ll redeem the old faults.”

“I will have you arrested,” the First Prince of Procer said. “I will have you killed, if that is what it takes.”

“You just worry about getting the armies marching,” Laurence de Montfort dismissed. “Odds are I won’t survive the scrap, but that’s all right. It’s a good war to die in. It’ll be the crusade that settles it, you see: too many old monsters came crawling out on both sides. Won’t be the kind of losses a side can recover from.”

“You are not listening to a word I say,” Cordelia whispered, aghast.

The Saint of Swords rose to her feet jauntily. The First Prince’s muscles clenched, though she managed to flinch when the Chosen approached her. The old woman clapped her shoulder.

“Keep your chin up, girl,” she said. “Sacrifice is always ugly business, but we’ll come through in the end. To rise from the ashes, there needs to be a fire first.”

The Saint of Swords strolled out, boots slapping against the stone, and the sound of the door closing behind her was the death cry of an era.

104 thoughts on “Fatalism III

    1. ______

      That’s ’cause they were called “Fatalism” I and II. He did the same thing with the previous one, called it “Fatality II” (and then fixed it, but you can still find the traces in the page address and on Reddit).

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        1. Yotz

          May be.
          Narbonic managed to tell a story inside a story with filenames, afair. A bit too late for that here, I fear – after wandering so deep in the book IV; but – you never know, maybe EE was playing that game from the beginning, with carefully placed “typos” and random oddities…

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          1. And now I’m gonna go through reread the seroes while reading a typo thread. I do remember that, in very first chapter, EE wrote: “some believed they must rule over the creatures they had made, while the others believed their children should be guided to greater things. So, we are told, were born Good and Evil.”, and then changed it to “some believed their children should be guided to greater things, while others believed that they must rule over the creatures they had made. So, we are told, were born Good and Evil.”. If he is/was playing metagame, this is where it starts. What if the story is changing retroactively as it progresses? Holy sheieiiit

            Liked by 3 people

  1. Someguy

    “I fear the man of one book, even if that book is about the pastoral habits of the common Callowan cow. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a cow? They are a depthless abyss of cold nihilism.”
    – King Edward VII of Callow, the Sufficiently Paranoid

    Has he checked if the cow was a “project” by one of the Dread Emperors’?

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Daltos

      Unnecessary, cows are already descendent of devil spawns. Similar to the goat. But much more patient. Honestly if you wanted to wipe Procer out without a protracted series of battles then you simply need to signal a cow uprising, As an agricultural society cows would be everywhere, and within easy reach of Procer’s food supply and storage. One bad night and Cordelia would wake up to half the country side in ruin and all the fields on fire with bands of cows prowling beyond every city, sieging and paralyzing all of Procer at once.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. That sounds like the sort of plan that one of the kookier Dread Emperors would come up with. In fact, I’m pretty sure that one of them *did* come up with it and that’s the story of how King Edmund earned his nickname.

        I’m picturing some real serious-faced spy story full of intrigue, and King Edmund is the comic relief character who interrupts every scene to babble about how the cows are the *real* mastermind behind it all and everyone ignores him because there’s some serious spy business going down in Mercantis or something and they don’t have time for this shit.

        Then Praes launches an invasion backed by angry sentient cows and King Edmund is *so* smug.

        Liked by 8 people

    2. Yotz

      Oh, no, no – cows are just sapient, you see. In fact, they managed to gain sapience long before any other creature did – they are the Precursors of Calernia. The thing is, with complete absence of manipulative appendages they was to forced to uplift others to serve as their slaves. Cows are the reason Gnomes fled the surface of planet, and Dwarves are largely sit underground. But humans are sufficiently dim-witted and scatter-brained to be perfect menials, believing themselves to be the masters of the Great Race. They even will help with Great Bovine Eugenic Program, to breed a better masters for their future slave-offsprings.

      Just imagine the cold, calculating sentience behind the eyes of such creature, and you will understand why that particular king had title of Sufficiently Paranoid…

      Liked by 10 people

  2. Anon

    So the Saint’s plan is to let things go to shit, then let the ‘good wins in the end’ story play out to its natural conclusion, what with the chosen band of heroes and all that?

    That seems…..hugely shortsighted of her. Unless she has some way to guarantee the destruction of the gods below in some way, there’s no way the ‘win’ she wants will be permanent.

    Even with any number of past crusades ‘winning’ in the past, from precedent, all that Saint would accomplish is maybe a generation or two of ‘peace’ before evil rears it head. Basically maybe the inverse of Black/Malicia.

    The only way for good to truly ‘win’ in the way she wants is for either a pure ‘good’ society to take hold and rule forever, and/or to control people’s thoughts a la the Dead King and brainwash/condition them to the forces of good unflinchingly – and she definitely doesn’t seem to have a plan for that.

    On the other hand, this whole fiasco of Cordelia letting the secret of fire out of the box does potentially mean a powerup for Cat down the line….the question will be what price she ends up paying, once the gods above/below try to start re-forcing her back into a ‘story’ role now that the 10th crusade has become ‘all out’, rather than ‘measured’.

    (Also, does the grey pilgrim agree with all this shit? Remember that he, at least at one point, wanted peace as Cat did, but wasn’t willing to ‘betray’ Procer to do so….)

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Byzantine

      Saint seems to not be nearly as smart as she thinks she is, which leads to situations like this.

      She is doing this because Catherine pissed her off and the invasion force chose truce to fighting to the bitter end.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Big I

      >Unless she has some way to guarantee the destruction of the gods below in some way, there’s no way the ‘win’ she wants will be permanent.

      She’s not going for a permanent win. It’s the philosophy of the Wandering Bard as told to the Lone Swordsman; every time Good wins, their “score” creeps a little bit higher. The whole approach of heaven is to let Evil rise and then slap it down. It’s a cycle that burns down Callow every few generations and looks to be doing the same thing to Procer this time, but they don’t care because they win in the end and they think it’s a winning strategy long term.

      The Wandering Bard, who appears to be heaven’s principal agent, wanted the Crusade. When the Swordsman failed to deliver she let the Diabolist kill 100,000 people just to create a pretext for it. She stopped the elves killing the Diabolist because she wanted her to succeed. Now she’s letting the Dead King “eat the baby”.

      The Good guys don’t care about people’s lives.

      Liked by 6 people

    3. Matthew

      This makes me hungry for Black. Black’s whole thing is beating the story and breaking the story and now you have Saint going all in on “THE STORY WILL SAVE US!”

      Liked by 14 people

    4. IDKWhoitis

      There is no Procer or Callow to the old heroes. There is only Good vs Evil.

      The pilgrim was using the idea of letting Catherine go and sparing them a Crusade it make a point. It didn’t matter if he spared Callow or Procer, because either way thousands would die. So that was an academic matter to him, so he didn’t care that thousands would die. Meanwhile, Cat represents the most dangerous and vile of evils, the sort that thinks they are doing what is “right” and “necessary”. Pilgrim cant let that sort of thing persist, it’s the same type of Evil that the Dead King, the Old Horror, is.

      So yes, Piligrim is on board and everything is persistent.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. RanVor

        >>the most dangerous and vile of evils, the sort that thinks they are doing what is “right” and “necessary”

        Fun fact – the same description can be applied to the Grey Pilgrim.

        Like

    5. Daltos

      It might just be that she puts too much stock into ‘stories’. As a Named whose lived and fought as long as she has I can imagine she, like black, has started to see the world as a sort of stage play. Sort of like black, but since stories favor the good she’s much more passive about it.

      I think she’s hoping or overly confident that she and the pilgrim could nudge things along a certain way. A sort of civilizational cycle story like how Chinese Dynasties work. Rebuilding/Revolution leads to Good Times which leads to Decadence which leads to Crisis which leads to Rebuilding/Revolution. I think she doubling down on this Crises period so that the balances that be create a ‘better’ society as a result. Nothing ventured nothing gained sort of deal.

      Procer, with its toxic self serving aristocracy paving the way for a more enlightened/greater somethinb something. Where the survivors/inheritors develop a better system or foundation.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. SpeckofStardust

    Cordelia don’t worry, Callow is going to not do anything to you as long as you stay on your side of the mountain range.

    Oh and saint, you are an arrogant fool if you think that the end times are now.

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    1. Someguy

      Saint thinks her nonsense will be the result but this is only because Bard is aiming to reset the board due to the wheels of realpolitik moving to crush Stories. If done quickly and systematically enough, Bard will be stuck in nowhere indefinitely as no new Stories rise.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. She is more of fool than just for that. Way back it was explained to Cat that Arcadia was a reflection of Creation. What happens in Creation will thus happen in Arcadia and the Summer and Winter courts were the reflection of the struggle between the Gods Above and the Gods Below. Notice that at the end of Cat’s war with the Summer Court she basically caused there to be no more separate courts? Since they are a reflection of what happens in Creation that ought to tell you that there is. or soon will be, no separation between the Gods Above and the Gods below and thus no more good/evil divide. So the the “Hero’s” backstabbing the First Prince should be no surprise as they start acting more and more like Villains and thus don’t get the miracle win in the end.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. FactualInsanity

        Interesting perspective.
        It’s always been my belief that the endgame for the Guide would be throwing off the black and white separation enforced by the gods, but I didn’t consider the resolution to the Arcadian arc to be a foreshadowing of that.
        If I could be bothered to create an actual account, I’d definitely be liking your comment.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          That’s a really good question. We haven’t heard much of them at all, and we’ve never seen any of them “on screen”. I don’t think we will.

          Like

    1. Rook

      It uh, it isn’t wholly out of the picture actually. Cat defecting from Evil, Cordelia defecting from Good, Hierarch from Neutral.

      One for each methodology as well, not just alignment. Practical, political, and utter raving lunacy

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Jane

      “Expect” may be a bit much – she could still find a way to calm this tiger down and sign a peace treaty while nominally remaining a Good-aligned ruler.

      It would certainly be a natural development from the way she’s been portrayed and the way the plot is going, though, and I would much rather find a way for her to end up on Cat’s side, given how much I like her character.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This is the Saint of Swords handiwork? Damn, I thought this was Bard’s work. Though I suppose Bard might have had some measure of influence on Laurence.

    Also, the Saint of Swords is even worse than I thought.
    Though, in fairness … she’s not entirely wrong about at least some of the problems in Procer.
    But her “solution”, such as it is, is a terrible one. Like, mindbogglingly terrible.

    Liked by 11 people

      1. One of them might be trying to work out what to put in the largest fruit basket she can find for Cat and Vivienne.

        Because Cordelia’s just woken up to the larger problem both tried to tell her about. :/ For once, I think Callowan vengeful pride would bend a bit, if the note starts with “Fuck the Saint of Swords. Yikes, you weren’t kidding about the cray-cray in the Hero camp: you have no idea how sorry I am that I thought you were.” and goes on from there. 😛

        Like

          1. It’s a start, no? And “fuck all the Gods” is a good way to start a letter to your fellow screwed-over. Even if you helped with twisting one or two of the screws on them, before. Because if Procer falls like a house of cards, Callow is in for a lot of fun, too. And, rubbing her nose in it for revenge won’t stop the refugees.

            After all, Cordelia has only just know woken up to how the Gods (well, mainly Bard) actually play the game.

            Like

    1. Yotz

      Note the second cup and woman’s laughter heard from behind the doors. Someone, presumably, was there with the Saint. Someone, presumably, who can vanish into thin air in a split second. Someone, presumably, who – unlike de Montfort – has a great fondness of wine – or, rather, anything that burns. Someone, well – you know, who holds no sway with the squabbling children, but can – and will – drag the literal Saint to hold the sway for her.

      Presumably “her”, that is.

      Liked by 16 people

    2. Go back to Book 4 Interlude Crusaders and re read the interaction between the Pilgrim and the Sword Saint, because this chapter puts that into a whole new perspective:

      “Making terms with the Enemy is always a fucking blunder,” the Saint of Swords said. “Mark my words, the moment she feels the noose tightening the usual horrors are coming out. You should have smoked her then and there.”

      “She spoke truth, Laurence,” the Grey Pilgrim stated, and there was iron beneath the mildness. “Do not gainsay me on this. I find it deeply shameful that any of us would hesitate at an opportunity to lessen the bloodbath, no matter the provenance.”

      “You’ve always been soft, Tariq,” the Saint said. “The only thing I agree on with this band of clucking hens is that the east is in need of a good cleansing. The rot will only spread if we spare the flame. We go in half-hearted, and you know we’ll have to come back in twenty years. Assuming we’re still around.”

      Something pale and cold roiled in the Grey Pilgrim’s eyes. Rozala felt the taste of a storm against the roof of her mouth. It unsettled her enough she spared no irritation for having been called a hen.

      “You should know better,” the hero quietly said, “than to question how far I will go to spare this world pain. You, of all people.”<\

      Between that and what was said in this Chapter it explains why the Pilgrim wasn’t there, they know he would oppose them in what they are doing. Also this gives more credence to the thought I had that the Bard is NOT doing this on the orders of the Gods Above and that she was bluffing the Dead King by saying she could stop him. She and Sword Saint appear to be doing the mirror opposite of the Black Knight, he is not doing the bidding of the Gods Below because of what that entails and it seems that they are not doing the Gods Above bidding because that would result in a Procer victory in Callow or at least a stalemate and no “clearing of the rot”.

      Like

      1. Pilgrim isn’t present because he’s currently a “guest” of the Callowan Crown, alongside Milenan.

        Saint and Bard have to be expecting that this will result in massive damage and destruction, mostly in Procer.

        I guess Saint and Bard are of the “better to kill a hundred innocents than to let one guilty person survive” school of thought.

        But also … this basically proves that Cat was right when she said there was no point talking to Saint, that Saint was like Ranger with a shiny coat of paint and nominally more socially acceptable reasons for killing people.
        Though I kind of doubt that what she’s currently pushing would be as popular/easy if it were more widely known that the Dead King was about to invade. Or what she hopes/expects to happen.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The Pilgrim is not a “guest” of the Callowan Crown, he left while Cat was in Keter:

          “No assassin went after them,” Juniper said. “But the Pilgrim’s a third mess, looked at a certain way. He legged it and left the prince behind. We haven’t seen sign of him since the killings.”

          Shit. Yeah, it made sense. I wasn’t there for him to work on, and when we’d last spoken it had been with harsh words. The old man wouldn’t sit pretty in Laure while the Dead King was on the move. Even if he was so inclined, the Heavens wouldn’t let him.

          “That’s a breach of our truce terms,” I said.

          Book 4 chapter 48 https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2018/08/27/chapter-48-shadows/

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          1. This is Fatalism III – it takes place before then. The Fatalism extras are about the Conclave of Salia that will end in Cat being declared Arch-Heretic of the East and in the Callowan House of Light being declared heretics. That is something Cat only learns about in Book 4 Chapter 36 Enchere as something that happened some time prior – the information was 8 days old, but included the initial Callowan responses to the Conclave’s declarations, which would have taken some time, as the news about the results of the Conclave would have taken time to disseminate.

            Cat and the Woe are currently on their way to Keter, and are probably somewhere in the twisted shadow of Keter in Arcadia.
            Pilgrim is in Laure as a “guest”. He appears to be entirely innocent of involvement with the Conclave, and would have no known motive for pushing it, and reason to oppose it. The Conclave does, after all, ruin his redemption play against Cat rather thoroughly.

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  5. Daltos

    I think this is my favorite interlude thus far. This is honestly better intrigue then GoT. I wonder if this is the story of Procer, like how civilizations rise and fall in cycles, if we are at the point where decadence became over stretching and now the crises that ends it and starts said Civ anew. I really like Cordelia, hopefully this is end either with a stronger more centralized Procer where she reigns as the emperor, or some early form of a republic and she becomes the head.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Yeah Nah Yeah

    Pretty sure the Bard was in the room until Cordelia walked in. The dropped cup filled with liquor was due to the Bard disappearing. Saint’s crusading, anti-evil tendencies just got riled up by the Bard.

    Liked by 6 people

  7. JD

    To a certain extent, the Saint is making a what seems like a sure bet. She knows how the stories go, and that the more you escalate the issue (AKA did Good into a bigger hole that seems impossible to recover from) the more the Heavens will weigh in, so why not use the Crusade as an opportunity to cleanse the corrupt and damaged but still Good superpower that the continent revolves around. Whatever comes out of the mess will have a fresh start, and if Evil is struck down heavily enough it could put Good on a footing not seen since the defeat of Triumphant and the original founding of the Principate.

    Of course, that only works if all parties involved are playing the same game. Saint doesn’t appear to be able to acknowledge that Cat and/or Black are different than other Villains she has cut down, but if their particular brand of “grey” villainy means that the starting variables are different than Saint assumes, then there is guarantee that there will be room for a new Good superpower to rise at the end of this fiasco.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Aze

    “`“Tariq’s busy skinning of the many cats making a racket in your backyard,” the old woman dismissed. “I’ll be following him as soon as this business is finished.”“`

    mmh maybe I am wrong but it sounds like the Pilgrim might be going against Black and his legions.

    Either that or he is killing off every moderates, leaving only the hard liners who follow the Heavens

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your first guess is correct they sent him after Black. They would never send him after the innocent moderates in Procer after Pilgrim jump Saints ass for trying to rack up a body during a flag of truce. Pilgrim told Saint to her face that he would oppose her and she should know just how far he would go to protect the innocent and spare people pain.

      “You’ve always been soft, Tariq,” the Saint said. “The only thing I agree on with this band of clucking hens is that the east is in need of a good cleansing. The rot will only spread if we spare the flame. We go in half-hearted, and you know we’ll have to come back in twenty years. Assuming we’re still around.”

      Something pale and cold roiled in the Grey Pilgrim’s eyes. Rozala felt the taste of a storm against the roof of her mouth. It unsettled her enough she spared no irritation for having been called a hen.

      “You should know better,” the hero quietly said, “than to question how far I will go to spare this world pain. You, of all people.”

      Like

      1. You’ve got the timing and timeline mixed up.
        Pilgrim is in Callow still. Cat is still on the way to Keter, she’s not there yet.

        The Fatalism chapters are a minimum of 8 days, and an as yet indeterminate time longer, before 36: Enchere, when Cat recieves a report with information up to date as of 8 days ago on the Conclave’s results and the Callowan response.

        Pilgrim doesn’t leave Callow until after Malicia’s assassins.

        Like

        1. No, you have your timing mixed up, The Fatalism chapters takes place after Cat is in Keter Augur’s warning is in the 1st Fatalism chapter and that happens because of the deal between Malicia and the Dead King and Cat is in Keter), the Conclave you are thinking about is the one naming Cat a Heretic, this isn’t that it is a trick to get Cordelia there. Go back and re read the chapter
          1. In Fatalism 1 Augur warns of the Woe to come from the Dead King due to Maicia’s deal with the Dead King. Cat is in Keter at that time.

          2. After Cat left Keter Juniper tells her that the Grey Pilgrim left Laure as soon as Cat left for Keter so he was already gone by the time of Augur’s warning

          3. In Fatalism 3 it tells you that Cordelia’s Uncle is moving North to face the Dead King, something that didn’t happen until after Keter:

          Uncle Klaus was preparing for a march north even as session was held, after all. Let the record show Amadis Milenan’s own nephew dragging his name through the mud even as the Iron Prince gathered supplies for his march to turn back the Dead King. Let every single one of these vultures be named as the handful that would abandon all of northern Procer to salvage their granaries.

          Fatalism 3

          4. In Fatalism 1 Cordelia knows the Pilgrim is in Laure a “guest” of Callow:

          Aside from the Levantine hero’s own leave of absence as a hostage in Laure

          However she asks Saint where he is. Why? Because she knows he had already returned from there and the Saint says he is dealing with Rats tearing up Cordelia’s backyard and Callow isn’t Procers backyard and they aren’t tearing it up, Black is. This places Fatalism 3 after Keter.

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          1. In Fatalism III, we’re still before the Conclave has done anything. Fatalism III follows more or less immediately on Fatalism II, enough would have been shortly after Fatalism I.
            The Fatalisms are extra chapters – extra chapters are disconnected with the chronology of the book. That is, they are released separately from the book timelines.

            Cordelia is trying to stop the Conclave from doing what it’s going to do.

            1. Augur is a precog. In addition, when Cat goes and warns Cordelia, she thinks she still had months to work with before the Dead King invaded, instead of it kicking off right then.

            2. Juniper tells Cat that no assassins went after Amadis or Pilgrim, but that Pilgrim legged it and he hadn’t been seen since the killings. That implored that he was still there at the time.

            3. AUGUR IS A PRECOG. She warned Cordelia about “woe to the north” in Fatalism I. Cordelia is smart enough to take advantage of a precognitive warning and send orders to reposition before the Dead King actually invades. Indeed, she’s taking advantage of the precognitive warning to set up her political opponents.

            4. Cordelia is assuming that this is being coordinated with the Pilgrim being onboard with it. Laurence let her think that and said something to support it.
            Laurence is untrustworthy.
            Also, to be accurate, Laurence said “Tariq’s busy skinning of the many cats making a racket in your backyard” … which actually says very little.
            Laurence is working with Bard on this.

            Again, Fatalism III is before the Conclave formally declares Cat Arch-Heretic of the East – Cordelia is trying to prevent that here – and thus is an indeterminate amount of time, but a minimum of 8 days and almost certainly significantly longer, prior to 4:36 Enchere.

            Like

            1. Again you are wrong and now as shown in Interlude: Queen’s Gambit The Grey Pilgrim was as stated in Fatalism 3 skinning the cats Cordelia’s backyard as he now is facing Black.

              Like

  9. Nivek

    Wow, first the massive arcane ritual followed by invasion and now throwing corpses at their problems until they don’t have problems anymore rather than using tactics. Does this seem familiar to anybody. Perhaps the Saint of Swords wants to “steal Callow’s weather” next. Although with the Dread king invading they probably will be losing farmland as a result of mystic/alchemical poisons or arcane blights instead. And then she mocks the First Prince for not taking the long view (how’s that for irony?)
    At least we know what the Bard meant when she said “Eat the baby” although she probably didn’t mean to create the Dread Empire of Procer when she said it. Or would that be the Holy Proceran Empire since they’re theoretically Good aligned?

    Liked by 3 people

  10. SMHF

    Honestly I’m disappointed in the Saint.
    At the end of the day, she isn’t any different than your average hero… I mean she’s crazier than a box of frogs on crack… but, like all those entitled little shits, she think her side’s owed victory! -_-

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yotz

      I’ll disagree on a point – that’s not an entitlement, that’s zealotry. She doesn’t think her side is owed the victory, she just firmly believes that it is how it will be. Entitlement implies lack of struggle, Saint deems struggle – with all the losses – to be an acceptable, or even needed prerequisite to her side endgame victory.

      The blade is born in torturous blows and terrible fires, the human is born in blood and agony. To forge a nation that will overcome anything Evil would throw their way, one must put that nation’s people into the crucible. And from the ashes of the past, from pain and fire a new, better world will be born.

      But first, someone need to put a match to the prison.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. FactualInsanity

      In some small fairness, that’s because until relativelly recently, they were. The world follows stories and in the stories Good always wins in the end. What a lot of the major players on the “Good” side fail to understand is that key players on the “Evil” side are making an effort, not to win the game, but to no longer play it at all.

      Liked by 7 people

  11. Jane

    Just as an aside, “rape and pillage” refers to the archaic definition of “rape” as “ravage and despoil”, rather than the more conventional definition – what Black is doing certainly qualifies, given the number of sites he’s destroying, even if he’s not touching the people.

    Cordelia really should never have touched on the notion of a Crusade. It all started going downhill for her from there (though the alternative would probably have meant never showing up in the series at all, like poor Hannah). But given the priests of Procer, how was she to know that the Gods Above were a pack of uncompromising jerks? Everyone she’s seen has been basically reasonable in the end.

    I wonder what her plan is going to be from here. When the Gods Above pretty much say to your face (through the ever-diplomatic Regicide) that they’re killing your country, what does the practical, responsible leader say to that? Even if it’s “Screw you, I’m pledging to the Gods Below!”, it’s not as though she could get the Assembly to go along with that… Nor does it serve as much of a deterrent to the Dead King.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. SpeckofStardust

      She needs Catherine to not attack her while the dead king is out and about, that is her needed next step. And she needs to be able to deal with her which means the political obliteration of the Procer house of light, via populous support by pointing out that the Procern house of light just tried to throw everyone under the reign of the dead king by the declared fallen chosen wishes.

      After all it is common knowledge that she was against the conclaves declaration. And earlier this chapter she was planning on ruining people via pointing out the efforts said people where making in undermining the defense against the dead kings upcoming attack.

      Like

  12. Oh my God….well at least we know that in the case of Procer, it is not your enemies you have to be worried about. Who needs enemies when you have allies like these ‘Princes’ and ‘heroes’?

    So it was the Saint of Swords and the Wandering Bard screwing Cordelia’s efforts behind the scenes. Sigh. It goes without saying the reasoning behind this move is completely and utterly insane, for many reasons.

    1) Unlike what was said in the conversation, there’s a 90% chance it won’t be a war on two fronts. It will be a war on FOUR. First is the Dead King, of course. Second is Callow, who thanks to Catherine can teleport on the other side of the mountain range without digging the destroyed passes. Third is Black, who is far from out of the game. Four is by all accounts the Tyrant of Helike and his amusing treacherous ambitions.

    2) Saint thinks the struggle will make the Procerans stronger and hardier, a purifying effect that will link them stronger to the cause of Good, a repeat of Triumphant’s First Crusade they won in the end. But the conditions are completely different. Procer was badly damaged before the first sword of the Crusade was drawn. Now Cantal and Northern Iserre are going to be starving this winter. The most reformist and principled provinces are going to be under assault by the Dead King, while the treacherous Southern nobles avoid in the short-term annihilation. There is a strong likelihood it won’t create a stronger kingdom but parcel the Principate into smaller realms with every reason to hate each other.

    3) Who is going to rule the Principate if Cordelia Hasenbach is voted out? We see clearly in this chapter the wounds of the civil war have not been healed and the intelligence of some Alesites and Alamans is used in a very nasty manner. Heroes may have some use on the battlefield, but there is no Name currently to salvage the political mess when things begin to go to Hell and back.

    4) Food. Moving these massive armies around has to be a drain of supplies, water and equipment. And come winter, it’s going to be uglier.

    5) Weapons. Unless proven otherwise, the Heavens won’t be able to forge millions of swords and the dwarves are going to stop selling. I am waiting the interlude where the Crusaders are forced to tell peasants to fight the undead with their bare fists…

    Just for this Interlude, my personal recommendation is for the Saint of Swords to fall in battle and be raised as a Revenant. This would make her eat her words she won’t be around to see the end of the conflict and watch the results of her fanatical choices firsthand…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Drunken Dwarf

      “Just for this Interlude, my personal recommendation is for the Saint of Swords to fall in battle and be raised as a Revenant. ”

      Really, I was hoping on Cat getting a new shiny sword, which happens to be the Saint’s soul.

      Like

    1. Good on Good is actually most wars involving Procer.
      Like … literally every war that wasn’t a Crusade before the current one.
      And even some of them, the ones involving Praes, involved Good on Good when Procer wanted to annex Callow.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Those wars did not involve Named though. People like Cordelia and the other princes can do all they want to each other because they aren’t real players in the game of Good vs Evil. Here though we see a Good aligned Named actively anouncing a plan to backstab a Good aligned nation (not just Cordelia, it’s not even about her) and see it destroyed for their own purposes. If you ignore the roles and leave the motivations vague you see a major antagonist betraying a lesser antagonist (with motivations that are sympathetic or at least somewhat understandable to the reader) for their own gain.

        The obvious plotlines that follow are threefold. The lesser antagonist dies tragically, bemoaning their poor decisions leading up to this point, serving to buff up the major antagonist in some way for future confrontation. The lesser antagonist switches sides and helps the protagonist or they go down fighting tragically against the major antagonist to give the major antagonist more weight as an enemy.

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    2. That is because the sides are merging, Black was the first sign by not doing what Villains are supposed to do and passing it on to Cat and this broke the story. Hero’s couldn’t count on the automatic win at the end and thus had to start getting more practical or to put it simply start doing some things that Villains do. This was mentioned to William the Lone Swordsman about some of the things he was doing. Expect to see more Hero’s doing very Villainous things in the coming chapters.

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  13. Novice

    And here it is, dear Cordelia lost control of the Crusade. I guess she’s too practical for the Gods Above. With the WB still in play, it comes as no surprise. No mere mortal can out-scheme that immortal monster after all.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. ______

      Cordelia’s dream was the building of the Grand Alliance, not the Principate. He’ll probably let Procer fall apart in the regional blocs Malicia was forging, then have them join the Alliance.

      Like

  14. RM

    A thought I’ve had. Saint is a lot like the Tyrant in a weird way. The Tyrant doesn’t like Black and the gang because they’re only paying lip service to Evil. Saint clearly feels the same way about Procer. The reason why the Crusade, the ‘good’ side, feels like a bunch of dicks to Callow? Because they are. They pay lip service to good, find some excuse for their wars to be considered just and they forget Good means something. You want the Heavens to put a hand on the scales and help you out? That doesn’t come for free. Maybe that’s why Bard wants DK to eat the baby. Procer has failed and the rot has to go before Good can rebuild and be Good in more than name again.

    Like

    1. FactualInsanity

      That sounded very compelling until I remembered that time the population of Liesse nearly had all free will casually ripped out and replaced with a burning desire to do heaven’s bidding in every authoritarian despot’s wettest wet dream ever. And how no one thought that was anything but good (if a bit extreme).

      Then Akua did basically the same thing and that was the vilest vile vileness to have ever been committed.

      “Good” in the Guide is not good in any way a functioning adult would truly consider. It’s the children fairytale version of good, where gutting the Big Bad Wolf and filling his stomach with rocks so he drowns horribly is an acceptible way to mete out judgement. It’s cruel, absolutist and elitist. Like the Saint and her only slightly more palatably worded “The strong will survive, because only the strong deserve to survive.” (Replace strong with sufficiently pious/zealous/whatever is approriate.)

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Snowfire1224

    Hackram is the (Dead) Hand of the Queen– what she dreams, he builds. It’s not that complicated Theif.

    And while we’re at it, I wonder if Theif is going to get a new name or lose hers. I’m thinking because she believes she is losing hers she probably won’t because that’s just way too predictable.

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  16. edrey

    the second cup should be the bard, the liquor in the table is enought evidence of that, and well she can appear anywhere so talking to the peolple of three nations for the conclave shouldn’t be hard.
    the saint taking a strong front is the same when she faced the princes so the pilgrim would be welcomed with them, a nice play if you dont know about the bard

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  17. Exec

    These 3 extra chapters were fantastic. I’m really enjoying how the practical people from different sides are starting to see that their main conflict isn’t against each other, or Good and Evil, but against Stories and the leash of the Gods.

    I wonder if that’s the real reason that most of the other forces outside of Calernia, as well as the Dwarves, seem so much more competent – Once you’re out of the Good and Evil cycle you can actually make some progress without constant resets.

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  18. Letouriste

    Well…that was ominious^^ now my expectations to see cat control praes,callow and procer and making a whole new nation from all these ashes is gaining ground

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  19. caoimhinh

    I missed this the first time I read it but Cordelia knew about the motion that Amadis’ kinsman would present in the session of the Assembly beforehand because “She had, after all, a letter addressed to a bastard among her papers”. Is that a reference to Prince Arnaud of Cantal? Prince Amadis of Iserre mentioned in one of the interludes that Arnaud liked to send letters to his bastard son. The same Arnaud that was mentioned by the Saint of Swords and Grey Pilgrim as being extremely calculative and shrewd, even devoid of emotions; Catherine noticed that the man was aware of things he shouldn’t. The guy is underestimated by the other royalty in Procer because he acts like an arrogant fool, but is actually quite a schemer.

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