Interlude: Giuoco Pianissimio II

“A man could sift through all of Creation and never find so much as a speck of this elusive thing called the greater good. Like all the most dangerous altars, it is entirely of our own raising.”
– King Edmund of Callow, the Inkhand

“It looks like you shoved the stump in a fire,” Fadila Mbafeno sighed.

That was, in fact, exactly what Hakram had done. Blood loss could kill even Named, and while pushing a fresh stump into a hearth fire until the flesh cauterized had been excruciatingly painful it’d still been better than dying in a ratty Laure tavern. Masego’s assistant – and nominal head of the Observatory in his absence – had promptly answered the summons after he returned to the palace, and begun to work on healing his wound without quibbling. There were other mages in the capital, of course, and many priests. But Fadila was Praesi, and that had decided his choice of healer. The Soninke had been raised to understand the value of discretion and not inquiring in the affairs of one’s social superiors. The dark-skinned woman leaned closer with a silvery scalpel in hand, cutting slightly into the burned flesh at the end of his stump. No pain, he noted, though that might simply be because he’d grown light-headed enough he no longer felt it. The blade came away red and the sorceress washed it in a bowl of clear water before wiping with a cloth.

“I’ll need to cut away the burnt flesh before healing the damage beneath,” she informed him. “Healing is not my specialty and burns are trickier than most wounds. Pouring magic into scorched flesh tends to have… unpredictable results.”

“Do as you see fit,” Adjutant gravelled. “I will defer to your judgement.”

She nodded in appreciation.

“You’ve lost a large amount of blood,” Fadila added. “I’d recommend poultry, fish and red meat – which are staples of your people’s diets, regardless. Orcs lack the most the issues involved in human blood transfusions, so it’s certainly possible if you want to accelerate recovery, but my understanding is that local mores frown upon those kinds of rituals.”

“It won’t be necessary,” Hakram simply said.

The full consequences of his actions must be played out, lest the gesture be robbed of some of its weight. She did not question his answer, as she had not lingered on the subject of reattaching the hand after he’d declined. The Soninke passed her knife under open flame to cleanse it, and then set to the methodical business of prying away the burnt flesh on his stump before healing it. The spell she used for that purpose, he did not recognize. The sorceress used no incantation, and the shape and colour of the magic were different than that used by the Legions of Terror. The pain returned quick enough, a deep ugly throb, and Hakram only then realized she’d discretely numbed his nerves before her early examination. Kind of the Lady Mbafeno, he thought. The title occasionally tossed in the foreigner’s direction by servants and court officials was a source of mild amusement to him, he could privately admit. It was a Callowan courtesy title, one that would likely have gotten her killed if she’d claimed it while still in the employ of a Wasteland patron – it would have denoted the kind of ambitions Praesi aristocrats disliked finding in their subordinates.

Fadila Mbafeno had, after all, once been mfuasa to the Sahelians. Servant blood, it meant, a distinction between commoners and those retainers directly in the service of the nobility. Hakram had studied her background in some detail, as it happened. After Masego had snatched her from the gallows and placed her in his service, Catherine had rather bluntly told the orc that if Fadila was a risk she would be getting into an ‘accident’ as soon as feasible. The investigation had led to an interesting look at Praesi customs, particularly pertaining mages. Sorcery and political power had been intertwined in the Wasteland since long before the Miezans ever made shore on Calernia, in Praes more than any other region. The lords high and low had bred sorcery into their lines with methodical precision, bringing talented mages into the fold whenever it seemed like the blood thinned, but those were ultimately limited arrangements. Both Soninke and Taghreb saw more mages born than any other human ethnicity on the continent, which meant it was effectively impossible for the nobles to keep the practice of sorcery entirely within their own ranks.

Adjutant had read the appropriate treatises, back in the College, and so he was aware that most people born with the Gift either never realized they had it or died young after an uncontrolled or untrained use of sorcery. Another significant portion had too little talent to be able to practice sorcery beyond a few tricks without extensive tutoring, though when born to wealthy families such types made up the backbone of alchemists and academics in the Empire. It was the smaller portion that had a Gift strong enough for ritual or combat sorcery that had the High Lords and their vassals regularly sifting through their subjects. The treatment those ‘lucky’ few received varied from region to region. Taghreb, as a rule, treated them like a sort of lesser nobility and created mage lines within their territories that could be called on when there was need for war or marriage. Soninke, as in most things, proved too complex to easily generalize. The policies of Okoro and Nok tended towards bringing agreeable mages into the fold as mfuasa and those judged unreliable forced into service with the local noble’s household troops. The stubborn and the runners disappeared.

Aksum was the most traditionally hard-line, with any mages not leashed or wedded unceremoniously slain before they could become an issue. Akua Sahelian’s own father, famously, had been born with enough talent he could be a threat even as a servant and no spare relative to wed him to. He’d had to flee the region with killers after him, finding refuge in Wolof. The line to which Fadila had once been sworn to, and the last of the great Soninke cities. Wolof was a centre of sorcery rival to Ater itself, and had remained so for millennia by investing heavily in raising and training mages. It was well known to ‘acquire’ mages from other regions in difficult situations, but Fadila had been born in the city and so fallen under the aegis of its internal policies. Like all children with promising magical talent, she’d been taken from her family while young, the parents being offered a lump sum as redress for the loss of a child, and trained at the High Lady’s expense until she reached the age of twelve. Young mages who made it that far – not a given, the mortality rate was one in three – were assigned permanent service to either the Sahelians or one of their vassal families, a highly politicked process that the ruling family of Wolof used to both reward and slight their subordinates.

The loyal got rising talents, the troublesome only the dregs.

Fadila herself had been judged of sufficient prowess to enter the service of the Sahelians themselves, and cultivated as mfuasa to the family. She’d known Diabolist socially but never been in her personal circle, and been considered a likely fit for a teaching or research position after she spent a decade or two fighting as a combat mage for her masters. Her talent as both a ritualist and a theoretician had been noted in Praesi circles – she’d made some waves after proving it was possible to forge a weak artificial sympathetic link in scrying tools – and that reputation was likely the reason Diabolist had picked her as a retainer when she set out to engineer the Doom of Liesse. The amount of work required in turning an entire city into a runic array would have been massive, and she was a natural fit for Akua Sahelian to delegate the lesser tasks to. It was fortunate, Hakram often thought, that she’d been snatched from Diabolist’s service before she could serve that purpose. How much faster would the Doom of Liesse have come, with such a helper?

“There,” Fadila said, placing her silver knife back into the water. “That is as much as I can do. Should you change your mind about reattaching the hand, it will be necessary to cut off a sliver of the stump and a degree of functionality will be lost. In case you were unaware, limb reattachment attempted more than ten hours after the loss has at most a one in four chance of success. I can’t speak for what Lord Hierophant would be capable of, naturally, or even Callowan priests. Their methods are largely beyond my understanding.”

“Duly noted,” Hakram replied, gaze turning to the stump.

His dead flesh had been carved off, piece by piece, and instead thin green skin now covered his wrist. Almost thin as a human’s, he thought, though it would thicken in time.

“Be careful with it, it’s fragile even by human standards,” the sorceress said. “As it happens, the flesh reached full saturation during the process. I won’t be able to touch it again for at least two days, and after that only minor touch-ups. It would be ideal if you could avoid puncturing the skin for a full month.”

“I’ll be careful with it,” Adjutant said, and blinked.

He’d been trying to move fingers that no longer existed, he realized. That would be an adjustment.

“Thank you, Lady Mbafeno,” he finally said. “That will be all.”

“It was my pleasure, Lord Adjutant,” she respectfully replied.

She gathered her affairs and bowed before leaving. She might not have seen the Wasteland in years now, but the manners remained with her. The angle of the bow had been the one court etiquette dictated as required for a High Lord of Praes. Though he found himself in a thoughtful mood, Hakram did not linger in the private room he’d requisitioned for the treatment. This business, after all, was not quite done. His conversation with Thief had been interrupted by the woman’s obvious horror at his actions, worsened when he addressed the bleeding with cauterization through the tavern’s hearth fire. That was not entirely unexpected. He’d given it better than half odds they would have to take recess while the wound was properly seen to, when deciding his course of action. Hakram usually slept in his office, whenever he could spare time for slumber, but he did have personal rooms of his own in the palace. Amusingly enough, they had once been those of the queen consorts of Callow – he was not certain whether Catherine was unaware of the fact or simply indifferent, though an alternative might be that she knew and it was actually her sardonic sense of humour at work. Regardless, they were the rooms closest to her own. He’d been rather touched by the implications of that, though he still used them only rarely.

Thief would not come to him in his office, he knew. It was, in her eyes, the seat of his power. It was also where he kept his axe, and Vivienne preferred him unarmed when she could stomach to see him at all. A place where he could be expected to go but where his presence was lightly felt would be the most appropriate setting for the last part of their exchange, and so the orc did not waste time dawdling before heading for his quarters. He’d felt eyes on him the moment he passed the threshold of the healing room and twice more while on his way, and so it was no surprise that Thief awaited him inside when he opened the door. Her informants must have been tracking him all the way to here. The personal quarters of the queen consorts of Callow had been luxurious even before Laure and its royal palace fell under the rule of Wastelanders whose own nobility was known to be ostentatious to almost absurd extents. The orc had stripped away most of the decorations, though the furniture itself had been of very good make and so remained intact. The only luxury he’d occasionally partaken in was the large balcony outside overlooking a garden, the closest to a spot of green he’d been able to find in this city. It was there that Thief was awaiting.

She looked small and thin, sitting on an open windowsill and bathed in moonlight. Even for a human. Catherine was shorter, but like her teacher she had enough presence it was barely noticeable when looking at her. Vivienne Dartwick’s hair had grown longer, he noticed once more. Hakram did not allow his eyes to linger – his attention would only have worsened whatever issue lay behind that fact – but he’d noticed when it first began. Before the departure for Keter, and for it to have been noticeable even back then it must have started slightly earlier. Namelore was a muddle of imprecisions and exceptions, he knew, but where there was an effect there would be a cause. If, as Catherine insisted, the appearance of a Named was a reflection of how they saw themselves then such changes in Thief were a warning sign as to her mental state. Worrying, considering her influence and formal charge over the only spy network Callow possessed. Vivienne would not need to rebel to damage the kingdom, only withhold key information at a crucial moment. Or, more likely in his eyes, simply leave. The hole that would make would be a crippling blow to a kingdom that’d effectively begun being raised from the ground up a mere two years ago.

“Adjutant,” she said, flicking a glance at him. “At least you had enough sense to see a mage.”

“I would have survived it,” he simply said.

Moving slowly, he came at her side. Large as the open window was, there would be no accommodating the both of them if he wished to sit with her. Instead he simply rested his elbows on the windowsill, leaning forward. Though he did not turn to watch, he felt her eyes looking down at the stump. Good. There had been, he’d realized early, no real chance any words from his lips could sway her. She distrusted him too much. Catherine could have a fireside chat with a stranger for half an hour and have the come out willing to murder in her name, but that had never been one of his talents. He could ease and turn currents, but not birth them. It was important for a Named to recognize their limitations, he believed. The costs of arrogance were so much higher for them than anyone else. Knowing that, Hakram had been forced to make a decision. Simply allowing things to unfold as they were was not to be seriously considered. The longer Thief was allowed to consolidate her power – and she already was, by bringing the informants who’d once answered to Ratface under her banner – the costlier her defection or betrayal would become. It might have been possible to draw the matter out until Catherine returned, if he’d had a precise notion of when she would, but he did not. That left killing her before she became an issue or finding a way to stem her doubts.

“The very devise of the Woe,” Thief murmured, eyes leaving his absent hand. “We will survive. It smacks more of desperation than valour.”

“Valour is the game of the winning side,” Hakram replied. “If you can afford to worry about appearances, it’s not a war to the death. We’ve known precious little else.”

“There comes a time when those excuses grow thin, Adjutant,” she said. “I was taught as a child that dark circumstances are a test of character. That the righteous rise above, that the wicked sink.”

“I was taught as a child that killing a man for a goat was glorious affair, if done on an open field,” he said. “We are more than our first lessons. We have to, or we’ll only ever be what our ancestors were before us.”

“There is worth in old lessons,” Thief said. “In old wisdom.”

“If they were so wise,” Hakram mildly said, “why did we inherit such a debacle of a world from them?”

She went still.

“Those ways kept Callow free for millennia,” she said.

“They failed, in the end,” the orc said, not unkindly.

“To the Carrion Lord,” Thief replied. “How often does Praes spawn a man like that? Calamity was the right name for his band. The kind of catastrophe born once a few centuries.”

“Even before him, this kingdom was the battlefield of the continent,” Hakram said. “Praes invaded every other decade, Procer whenever the stars were right. How often has this land truly known peace?”

“We have brought many things to Callow, Hakram Deadhand,” the Thief soberly said. “Peace was not one of them.”

“I am told,” he said, “that births are rarely gentle affairs.”

“And what are we birthing?” she said. “There has been more martial law than actual law, over the last two years. We’ve assassinated and hanged, sacrificed thousands to make deals and still we tremble in the Tower’s shadow. At what point, Adjutant, does a justification become an excuse?”

“We have also fed the starving,” Hakram said. “Sheltered the lost. We’ve built a kingdom and reclaimed its border. The good may not erase the bad, but the bad does not erase the good.”

“And yet I wonder,” Thief said. “Could others have done what we did, without the costs? Without compromising who they were?”

“If there were such people out there, they have not come,” Hakram said. “You compare yourself to ghosts of your own making.”

“We’re not the best, but we’re what there is,” she bitterly said. “I’ve said that myself. To others, and while facing the mirror. That too grows thin with the repeating. Gods, if those people had come I have to ask – would we have killed them? Did we, before they ever came into themselves?”

“If they could not face us-”

“They couldn’t face Malicia,” Thief sharply said. “Or Cordelia Hasenbach, or her heroes, or the Carrion Lord. I know, Gods damn you. I know. And I know, too, that I might as well be shouting into the void when I say this but it needs to be said anyway: we are not the lesser evil. Not anymore, when we seek to make pacts with the fucking Dead King and move armies like pieces on a board for diplomatic gains. The only difference between us and the old evils is that we’re newer at this game and nowhere as good. That isn’t a distinction to be proud of.”

And there was the rub, for Hakram had known this kind of talk before and never put much stock in it. He’d spoken with Juniper, once, and I her own blunt way she’d laid bare the heart of it. Callowans looked at knights and saw chivalry, honour and all those other virtues. Orcs looked at knights and saw killers on horses. Vivienne had championed causes, one after the other, that had been put aside in the name of necessity. Yet they were not unworthy, none of them. She felt discarded and ignored because, frankly, she had been. Her only victories had come by the planning of others, used as a cog in a greater machinery. Hakram rather enjoyed such a role. It was what he’d been taught, what he was good at. But he stood certain of his worth outside that boundary, and Vivienne Dartwick did not.

They had to start listening to her.

Not because they would lose her if they did not, but because she was right – or at least not entirely wrong. They’d all flocked to Catherine’s banner because they liked the world she wanted to make, that she made just by being who she was. And Thief, in her own way, was perhaps the most ardent partisan of that. Because she would stick by that vision even when Catherine did not, even if it made her the only objector in a council. An obstacle instead of a speaker, as she’d put it herself. How many of those councils had been true debates, instead of a confirmation of a decision already made? Too few, Adjutant thought. Too few for what we want to be. He could feel her eyes returned to his stump, and knew the bargain had been worth it. The lessons had been learned well. Are we not all your students, Catherine? In our own winding ways. You taught us that there is always a way through, if we’re willing to bleed. Words would not convince Thief, but now every time doubt came she could look at the stump and know, know beyond doubt, that she had been judged worthy.

More useful a thing than a handful of fingers.

“So tell me,” Adjutant said. “How we can be different.”

Her gaze met his, hesitant. Fearing. Assessing. Hope was always a most tempting cup to drink from, even when you knew the chalice might be poisoned.

Vivienne Dartwick spoke, under pale moonlight, and Hakram Deadhand listened.

87 thoughts on “Interlude: Giuoco Pianissimio II

  1. Gunslinger

    Hmm so is this paving the pathway for a Thief Chancellor transition? Or whatever the Callowan equivalent would be.

    Also quite enjoyed the surprise Fadila background. I look forward to seeing where she goes

    Liked by 6 people

    1. haihappen

      would Cathrine naming Vivienne her successor, like officially, make her a capital p Princess (of Callow)? Something like
      “Princess of Shadows” or “Black Princess of Night” (kinda redundant with Night and Black…)
      But yeah, Vivi’s Role in the Story about the future of Callow is very different from her Name. That may influence her deterioration.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Simple Gentleman

      I don’t know if thief can transition because her name is not a transition name like squire, heiress, or apprentice. I was thinking her changes are more of like a back lash of her acting more evil. Cat went through the same thing after she let William go.
      Then again some names are not really evil or good. For example ranger and archer are but I see them both as people that are apathetic to others concerns which is why their names don’t really have a side.
      This is not the case with thief. She is very much invested in the ills of the world. Her name is enough in the grey area that she can work with Cat and be on the evil side with out losing it but maybe if things go to far she becomes “weaker” or less stable.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I believe that any Name can Transition, especially to a Ruler-type Name, under the right/appropriate circumstances.
        However, the so-called Transitory Names like Squire, Heiress, and Apprentice have an easier time of building towards and completing a Transition than a “full fledged” non-Transitory Names.

        There are probably some Names that are sort of both Transitory and fully fledged Names – and this category would, I think, likely include many of the traditional Names for the Callowan Crown Prince(ss), prior to ascending to the Callowan Throne and getting one of the Names associated with being the crowned king or queen of Callow, and in many ways, the Praesi Chancellor Name is both a fully fledged Name and one that is intended to Transition into Dread Emperor/Empress.

        And, of course, going from a Name that isn’t Transitory to non-ruler-type Name would be far more difficult, especially the more different it is from your current Name.
        Vivienne is likely, IMO, to have a very different sort of Name – after all, she hasn’t really been occupying the Role of a Thief much lately.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. danh3107

    A bit short, but still an interesting chapter. After reading this I’m not sure if Thief will transition or not, her changes seem to be from her own loss and mental deterioration rather than a transition being eminent. But we’ll see.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hakram’s hand isn’t coming back the way it was. My money on his new/replacement hand is either one forged from a artificial Miracle by Heirophant, if he comes back first, or, more likely, one forged of Winter by Cat when she gets back.

    If this leads to new Name for Vivienne, as seems likely … right now, from what Hakram is thinking and doing, I’m learning towards something like Counselor or Advisor, maybe Castellan.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Rook

        Most likely artificial, leaving the stump mostly as-is might also be an option depending on how he plays it. Stories do have a tendency to make dramatic physical disabilities translate into strength or competency. The classic blind master/wounded warrior shenanigans. Eyeless master in Masego’s case I suppose.

        Cutting off his own hand as a blood oath? That’s about as dramatic as it gets. The weight of it might end up allowing him to swing his axe with one arm harder and faster than he previously did with two, the laws of physics be damned.

        Liked by 14 people

    1. Faiir

      Advisor was my first thought, but then we’d have two names in Woe starting with ‘Ad’, which I doubt.

      I’m not sure whether Counselor’s similarity to Chancellor is a point in favor of against. It would fit the theme of Cat doing almost but not really something Malicia forbade.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pickler could collaborate with Masego/another mage for a golem/clockwork hand, maybe.

        But there are limits on how much someone like Pickler can do before getting into Red Letter territory, and that’s just not worth it.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Drd

          Clockwork-mage-punk hand, hmm? Certainly has its merits, and would balance the olde necromantic one from Warlock nicely.
          Can it charge up on the souls of those Hakram defeats, to unleash a mega combo kill when combined with Rampage? 😀

          Liked by 1 person

          1. That’s certainly a possibility, but I suspect that it is more likely that Cat will make him a new hand, forged of Winter, before Hakram is in a position to get a replacement hand from Masego, and I think that it is unlikely anyone else currently in Callow will be able/allowed to get Hakram a new hand.

            Liked by 1 person

      1. No, the point of this chapter is that he’s not going to get his hand reattached/healed.
        He cut his hand off to create a Pivot for Vivienne, simply reattaching his hand would ruin it.
        An artificial replacement – later, after he’s worked things out with Vivienne – has not yet been ruled out, and would likely be insisted on by Cat, if no one else.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Jane

    Interesting, how Vivienne’s concerns mirrors Cat’s during her conversation with Akua. I wonder how a similar conversation would have gone between the two of them, instead of with Hakram and Akua? Or a conversation between Cat, Vivienne, and Akua? I can’t help but think that all three would have ended up in the same place, but by different paths – Vivienne might be able to talk like this on her own, but I feel like she would feel driven to justify Cat’s course. Maybe making some real course corrections if they were actually possible, but no talk of just giving up, because, as she says… There is no one else who can take their place, be it their fault or not.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Rook

      I see it as Hakram being the enabler and Vivienne being the conscience. Hakram is the guy that helps push you forward when shit gets hard. Vivienne is the girl that pushes back on you when you start going the wrong way.

      Both of them have their place in different contexts, Hakram could enable Cat into making a mistake, just as easily as Vivienne could cause her to flinch when she shouldn’t. Cat needs to learn when to listen to whom as she grows, and Hakram isn’t wrong at the end. She has been listening more to her enablers than her conscience recently. He isn’t necessarily wrong in taking a step back here, although the devil will be in the details of it as usual.

      The goal, after all, is to be fundamentally different than the Calamities or the Heroes or whoever else that came before, not just to be a stronger version of the same.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Azure

      I think this conversation should have been something Catherine had with Thief, not Hakram, because again it’s going to be Hakram pushing for what Thief wants as opposed to her doing it on her own two feet. It does not address the issue of Thief being devalued as Hakram is basically lending his influence to her. This is my main dissapointment with how this played out. In the end, she’s still going to have to rely on Hakram’s sufferance to be heard. It’s nothing but a bandaid fix.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jane

        I don’t know that I agree with that… One thing I’ve taken away from the last few chapters is how much the Woe needs each other; Indrani needs a surrogate family, Hakram needs to be part of something greater, Masego needs something to prod him out of his tower, and Vivienne needs people to listen to her.

        Cat can provide these things on her own, at least to a degree, but it is better if they can work together without needing her; if Hakram starts to listen to Vivienne as well, if she can act as a moral voice for the group as a whole instead of just Cat, it creates a much healthier dynamic overall. I mean, if the rest of the group still tunes her out when they’re talking, that’s not really that much of an improvement, is it?

        It’s a conversation that Cat and Vivienne should have as well, but the conversation between Vivienne and Hakram was a necessary one as well.

        Liked by 6 people

  5. This story does a fantastic job handling the delicate issue of “okay so now we’ve (justly?ish?) murdered our way to the top for the ‘greater good’, how do we actually go about leaving behind a kingdom which doesn’t just de-facto fall under the rule of the most powerful warlord around?”. It’s really interesting to read, and thought provoking in all the right ways.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Fern

        dismal fashion sense? if a cape sewn with the souls of your enemies was in the Gucci catalogue it’d be some hot shit. Kylie Jenner would have a Catherine Foundling Court Outfit within the hour.

        Liked by 3 people

  6. IDKWhoitis

    I’m starting to wonder about how far we are in the Book. Each book seems to get longer, so it wouldn’t be weird if there was still ~30 chapters left. Story wise, I don’t see an end point for this Book yet, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Even in the middle of Book 3, we knew that Cat trying to murder Akua was really the only way that was going to end. By Chapter 47, we even knew the place, Liesse.

    Book 3: Deal with Fae -> End the Fae issue -> Gather power to deal with Akua -> Deal with Akua.

    I’m not quite sure where this Book is ending, is it with Cat breaking the Crusade? Maybe killing Malica? Getting the Liesse Accords signed? Like it’s been 60ish chapters, and Cat still hasn’t powered up from dealing with the Sve of Night, or chosen a specific direction from there. Like there’s a lot of character development and movement going on, but no general current moving things along.

    Book 4: Deal with invasion -> Fight Pitched Battle -> Deal with Dead King -> Deal with Drow?! -> Deal with Dwarves -> Deal with Sve -> ???????????? -> Profit! (Malica dead? Liesse Accords? Maybe Book 5? Tyrant?). This isn’t even including all the side plots of what Hasenbach, Black, or DK/Malica are up to.

    I do like Thief being Named again, but man, I hope she transitions.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. soonnanandnaanssoon

      Imo, with the way how the plot is progressing on the inclusion of non-human species (drow & dwarves) as well as how the Wandering Bard hasn’t been set on stage as the official Big Bad yet, I think book 4 will end with Procer being defeated by the Dead King, which essentially flips the continent to Evil. This would set the stage for the Elves & Giants to come into play in Book 5 as they are considered the Elite Mooks of Good and would be Above-driven to fight against Cat in the next book. Cue the Elven King & Giant Monarch also being against the Bard because fuck her (seriously) + it seems likely that she’d somehow fuck them over before and we have the continent vs Wandering Bard kinda scenario.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. IDKWhoitis

        I feel like we should worry about possible Gnome involvement before Giants. Cat’s reforms may be dangerous by their standards, while the Giants seem to hate the idea of working with Procer on principle. I can see Procer devolving into a shitshow with Dead King pulling out every trick and plan he has, while Cat goes to figure out how to deal with Malica.

        The antagonist of this Book has been Malica, and only the threat of Procer crashing through was what kept Cat from doing something to her. Now that both Procer and Dead King are too busy to intervene, now is the optimal time for Cat to make a play. It would also fit the whole “Will Cat climb the Tower dynamic” between Akua and Thief.

        I can see Procer losing, badly. The Dead King has been accumulating supplies for way too long (+/- at least 800 years.) He has probably bred at least ~20 generations of people in Hell, With a starting size of ~10,000. and if each one of those people are converted to troops (with endless morale and no need for supplies or rest) That’s easily an army +1,000,000 strong. If he boosted population growth rates with incentives for larger families, and maybe efficient farming practices that the Gnomes couldn’t detect or stop, that number may doubled the rate of growth.

        He might have been dicking around with small raids every so often just so he could map out defenses and see defensive protocols.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wry Warudo

        After the dwarves showed up, I thought Book Five would be about the Bard, the Tyrant(and our good friend the Hierarch), the Ratlings, the Elves and the Gnomes, but it seems pretty likely we’ll be seeing Neshamah as well since it’s seriously doubtful Cat or the heroes will beat him by Book 4.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Yeah Nah Yeah

      If I recall correctly, I read somewhere that EE intends book 4 to be 7 arcs, with the Drow arc being the third (Camps, Keter, Drow, …). So strap in, we’re in for the long haul.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Yotz

      Tangential as always my RAC (random associative comments) go, but once I stopped following a series after the author declared that next month the next book will be published. The second part of the third tome of the fifth book of trilogy. First trilogy, it seemed.
      Me quitting was more related with quality of the writing in the said series dropping to overblown shite of distinctly ultra-purple pseudophilosophical kind than amount of words spewed, though – and that’s coming from someone who thrives on purple prose and ice-cream kōans.
      But then again – I consider Leo Tolstoy a talentless graphomaniac, so there’s that, and a grain of salt.

      Then there’s Jordan, who once remarked that WoT would be a decalogy, for he knows only how the story started, and how it will end, but not what happened in between. But ten books would be more than enough to find out. Funny how it went.

      And then was a rebirth of serialized literature with the spreading of Wild Weird West, which will be tamed all too soon…

      What I am leaning to.
      Different mediums, different ways to tell stories.
      In the print form, end of the book would be with Cat deciding to venture for Keter, with it, Everdark, and so on being the next book… Maybe, mind you, or maybe not – professional editor is not I am.
      So long as writing is to my taste, I honestly do not care for the standard template constraints beyond thouse that were implemented directly by the author for the benefit of the story.

      For everything else – we shall see in due time.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Nafram

    This looks like a turning point to me. The kind where things start to take a turn for the slightly better.
    Despite everything that The Woe has done, Callow and its people have repeatedly been struck by disaster after disaster, danger after danger, and in the face of that they’ve barely managed to keep it standing.
    Its finances are in poor shape after having to sustain war after war and rebuilding in between, its people hungry and its armies spent time and again. Public sentiment divided in regards to Catherine, her policies, the Greenskins, etc, and enemies and false friends everywhere. In a few words, they just can’t catch a break.
    But now, maybe, just maybe, the use of the added perspective from Vivienne will help make things a little bit better, and those little improvements will pile up until Callow finally knows peace and prosperity. For Vivienne Dartwick knows the heart of the Callowan people, and while the Named may lead the stories of kingdoms like a sailor might lead a ship, the sailor cannot sail without a ship. And so, now The Woe is finally in a position to properly steer the ship that is Callow.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Fern

      It’s all about building the kind of infrastructure that will let Callow become a regional powerhouse, not the battlefield of the continent. At the top level are partisans loyal to Callow and Cat, with Named assisting with matters both military and domestic. Juniper, the finest strategic mind of her generation, is creating an army that will secure all Callow’s interests for the forseeable future. Ratface was working on constructing the kind of beauracracy that would let this monolith even function, but it looks like that weight has fallen to Thief now.

      In this world especially, great change cannot come without great power. They have the power, now it’s time to see what changes they’ll make.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. FactualInsanity

    Well, I stand corrected.
    Both about not getting the resolution to this interlude arc for a while and about Thief making Hakram fix his hand. I wonder if Adjutant will be sporting a stump permanently, or get some sort of prosthetic replacement.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Storm blessed

    You probably noticed, but the names at the end switched from their titles, their Names, to their actual names. It shows that they are moving past that boundary between them solely by name and Catherine’s band, to understanding each other.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Someguy

    There has to be an Underwater Empire of Merfolk/Cecaelias/Locathah/Deep Ones for Cat to “negotiate” with to counter the Invaders domination of surface Naval Combat right?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Letouriste

    Uh, I was wrong last chapter. Vivienne will not give him a hand back later in the story, I guess now she will become that hand somehow.
    Hakram was a frontline combattant until now but his role was all about support so there is a little contradiction, he could be stronger if he relie more on team play,metaphorically.


    1. Yotz

      My guess would be – she was kind of shell-shocked with his actions to act on spot, and by the point where she would muster enough will/trust to force him into that option, it would be too late. A prosthetic is still on the cards, though. Probably, some form of automatic scribe with a place to hold scrolls – a form of PDA to replace the palm.
      The pen is mightier than the sword, as one extremely lewd punmaister once said.


  12. Novice

    “A man could sift through all of Creation and never find so much as a speck of this elusive thing called the greater good. Like all the most dangerous altars, it is entirely of our own raising.”

    I see that Terry Pratchett reference. And if it’s not, well kudos because this reminds me of Death’s speech in ‘Hogfather’.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Snowfire1224

      About how one can’t find a molecule of Mercy, justice, hope (I think it was hope)? Interesting that the quote in the guide takes a more cynical look at it (that the idea of greater good can be dangerous) and Hogfather takes a more optimistic approach (that we need these things be human.)

      Liked by 2 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      If Cat either “negotiates” with the Sve or flat out murders her for a greater hold on Night, she might not need much Drow if she could empower Callows to be the same level. Imagine a whole army with Eldritch abilities like the Watch on steroids.

      I mean it could backfire horrifically, or it would be the laying of a winning hand. Cat always walks the line between those.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Death Knight

    These interludes have been very boring.

    May we please return to Black v Cordelia, Cat v Sve or if another interlude has to be delivered, Masego v Wekesa.

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jane

      I really can’t agree at all when you describe them as boring; these interludes have done a wonderful job of developing Cat’s supporters as characters with their own concerns and goals. And as those closest to her, I would that such development is quite necessary.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Kel the Seer

    I could see Thief transitioning into a name like Viceroy in a “Master of the Queen’s Vices” sort of way. Something straddling Scribe and Chancelor without the same level of unobtrusiveness of the former or the ambition of the latter. If she is taking over Ratface’s people, she would be in charge of those things, wouldn’t she? It also doesnt rule out her keeping up the spy network to also enforce the Queen’s law as part of her duties.

    Also allows and easy pivot for the more accepted meaning if she takes over any satellite areas that Cat claims later.

    Plus Viceroy (or Vicereine) Vivienne is alliteratively pleasing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hope was always a most tempting cup to drink from, even when you knew the chalice might be poisoned.

    Aha, you’ve captured what it feels like to root for a doomed sports franchise, like the Washington R–skins

    Liked by 1 person

  16. NotQuiteHere

    Can Cat still use her aspects? Or has she just lost the name she had in exchange for Duchess Of Moonless Nights? Is she the Black Queen? What’s her Role right now?

    (Sorry if I missed something obvious just kinda forgotten)


    1. It’s unclear as to Aspect use – Cat has something very much like Fall still, but we haven’t seen her use Take or Break since Liesse.
      However … she also has something similar to Take, in that she can, at least, take fallen enemies and turn their aspects into items.

      As for Cat having a Name, technically speaking, she still has the Name of Squire, but it’s largely been subsumed by Winter and two broken/failed/rejected Transitions from Squire. IIRC, the Name of Squire in Cat was said to be little but the gnawed on bones of a Name.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Mike E.

    That last line evokes images from King’s Gunslinger series:

    “Vivienne Dartwick spoke, under pale moonlight, and Hakram Deadhand listened.”
    “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”


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