Interlude: Beheld II

“A good sword will find a use, or make one.”
– Levantine saying

This was to be an iron day, Captain Elvera could feel it in her bones.

Twenty years she’d served as an officer under the Lord of Tartessos, then a further eight under his daughter the Lady Aquiline – and before that she’d been part of a Brocelian band, as both spearwoman and striker. It was the last of those experiences she drew on now, trusting the instincts that had seen her survive iron days ranging from chimeras maddened to an entire flock of ensorcelled drakes. Something nasty was about to come for the army that had been under her command until yersterday’s dusk, and they were not prepared. Elvera might be old and slow, these days, but she’d seen more bloodshed than the rest of this army of pups put together. They thought a few honour feuds and sanctioned hunts had them prepared for war, but it had not. The Army of Callow had spent most of a night and day making that viciously clear to anyone with eyes to see. It was just her luck that Razin Tanja, of the Binder’s Blood, had been stuck with blindness for want of glory. Just a fucking boy, she thought, not without bitterness. Some eighteen summers youth who saw a way to hallow his already hallowed line in sending soldiers charging to their deaths at Callowan hands.

Bones creaking as they would not have twenty years ago, the captain walked the streets of Beaumontant quarter with her twenty sworn swords at her side. A trail of smoke from the east, the quarter still aflame even now, marred the blue sky like stroke of charcoal. Under it the soldiers of the Dominion of Levant clustered behind thick planks of wood and half-broken houses, never daring to look across the divide for long. Callowan crossbowmen had proved to be mercilessly accurate from their distant perch, the sallow-eyed goblins never hesitating to put a bolt in any soldier out of cover for too long. Elvera saw no need to tempt such a fate by advancing too close, having already taken a good look when she led the assault that failed there that very morning. While red-clad legionaries had slowly retreated under the charge of the armsmen of Malaga and Tartessos, the damnable Callowan sappers had torn down two streets’ worth of structures and raised palisades between the houses standing behind – leaving an open killing field of stone and wood trapped with blasphemous munitions and vicious steel traps. Elvera had lost three hundred men trying to force a way through before she called a retreat under crossbow volleys and spellfire.

The Callowans knew war, these days, in a way few soldiers of her homeland did. Captain Elvera was old enough to have fought in the Sepulcher War, when the Barrow Lord rose from the depths of Brocelian Forest and struck out with his host of bespelled beasts, barrow-spirits and Blood traitors. She’d taken a hammer blow to the arm that never quite healed right dragging Lord Romeran away from the onslaught, and for that earned both captain’s rank and the suit of plate she still wore – enameled with the colours of the Slayer’s Blood, a rare honour. She’d even fought in the thick of it at River’s Bent, holding the shore sword in hand until the Bestowed slew the Barrow Lord in honourable combat and the Peregrine freed his soul from its earthly prison. That’d been war, but Levant had not known its like in the many years since. The Kingdom of Callow had and its soldiers carried those hard lessons with them. There’d been rumours, of course, fanciful tales that made it even as far as Tartessos – of fairies riding on wings of flame, of a city aflight and spewing out armies of ravenous dead, of a gate opened into the very Hells that unleashed endless hordes of devils. Elvera had not put much trust in these, knowing how stories grew with telling and miles, but now she wondered.

The captain had breached shield walls, under morning light, and seen under the helms more than just Callowans. Greenskins and Wastelanders standing elbow to elbow with warriors born to the Kingdom of Knights, striving and killing and dying together. Singing those harsh, bitter songs the Callowans were so fond of. Ten thousand of these without a speck of horse, their commanders slain by the Lanterns in the dark of night, had turned what should have been a rout into a bloody and costly stalemate. There was spine in that army, Captain Elvera thought, perhaps more so than in her own. She’d seen too many green boys and girls empty their stomachs in the mud when they came across the butcher’s yard in Belles Portes quarter, where the wounded and dying had been brought for what healing could be had. The stink of shit, death and bile had not sickened Elvera’s nostrils in many years, but at least she had known it before. The eager young captains and their just as young warriors had not, and it had made them flinch. Not that Razin Tanja, heir to Malaga, had been moved by the wails and spilled entrails. No, the boy was already ordering preparations for another push against Callowan defences.

The Tartessian slowed her walk when she reached the outskirts of Beaumontant, near the streets leading into Couteau D’Or. The Tanja boy would be holding council with captains there, but she was in no mood for exhortations and castigations from some pup of a southern Blood. Instead she spoke with the soldiers she’d led into the jaws of the jackal that very morning, preparing them for what was to come. Those officers had broken their bones on Callowan defences earlier, and so were more willing to listen to an old woman’s advice than most. They gathered around her, the sworn swords of captains that were attending to the noble boy who’d taken command from her.

“A simple shield wall will get your people killed,” Captain Elvera said. “The sappers prepared the grounds to break up tight formations, and their mages will use fire to batter at what holds.”

“It’s the traps that have been bleeding us the worst, Red Ella,” a middle-aged man with a heavy Malagan accent replied. “They’ve sown caltrops everywhere and the spikes go straight through leather soles.”

Elvera let the use of her old sobriquet pass without comment. She wasn’t so long in the tooth as not to slap the insolence out of a soldier’s mouth if need be, but these officers had never known the sobriquet as the insult it’d been meant to be – just a name other old soldiers called her by, when the ale was plentiful.

“Better those than the buried explosions,” a young girl in heavy scale grunted. “Those’ll shred a man up to the waist, and sharp pieces shoot out to carve at those near. I’ll call anyone a fool who says we’ve seen the last of those.”

If they had the mages or the war hounds of the Lord of Malaga’s host with them, the Callowan killing field could have been taken apart slowly but surely. But the vanguard had been ordered to attack without them, and so soldiers would die instead. Dark as the thought was, there was nothing Elvera could do about this and she would not further darken a dark day by speaking ill of the boy commanding this host. Even if he was a glory-thirsting Blood throwback from the least reputable of the founding lines. Command of the army had already been taken from her, she would not take an axe to morale or risk being sent away from the front by speaking out of turn.

“I’ll speak plain,” she said. “Whoever you send in front will likely die. We’ll have to bridge the gap with corpses before we can get to them with blades. Split in smaller bands with shields above the heads and move fast, that ought to thin the costs. But make no mistake, this will get bloody.”

The talk did not please them, though they had expected no salvation from her. Elvera had made no mystery of it that she thought it foolishness to attack the dug-in Army of Callow inside a city with so slight a numerical advantage. Even without walls. If they’d had a three or four thousand warriors more then encirclement and assault would have been a sound scheme, but they did not.

“We should wait for the Lord’s army,” a voice called out from the back.

There were mutters of agreement. For all that the captains were attending to Razin Tanja, they were not all so certain of his scheme to press the attack and this had bled into the lower ranks. The Malagan captains would follow one of their native Blood through Crown and Tower, but there were Tartessos captains as well – furious still at her removal from command – and those captains who had answered the call of the Holy Seljun, not the Lord of Malaga. The latter of these would not easy throw aside the notion of a patron meant to inherit a title, but neither would they destroy their own companies without concrete promises made. The boy’s initial strokes of brilliance had earned him some renown, it was true. Using  Proceran smugglers who knew of secret tunnels into Sarcella to bring a war-party of Lanterns into the city and kill the enemy commanders had been inspired, Elvara would freely admit, and not a risk she would have taken in his place. Lanterns were powerful, but few and precious. Striking at Belles Portes while the Callowans were in disarray had been good sense, and if not for a sudden enemy delaying action might well have won the city.

Pressing now, though, when the enemy was ready and waiting? The heir to Malaga was making his inexperience plain for all the captains to see, and it would win him no friends. And yet this kind of talk would not do at all, for an army without a leader was just a mob bearing arms.

“We have bled the Army of Callow harshly with our attack,” Captain Elvara replied. “Let none gainsay this. That is worthy feat, and with wisdom we may yet accrue greater honours.”

If her plate was not enchanted, she would have died in the heartbeat that followed. The barbed javelin struck at the hollow of her throat, where only a leather collar protected her, but Elvara had years ago paid a binder to make the material strong as iron. The bone tip of the javelin broke, though it still took her breath. Even in her surprise the old captain followed her instincts and ducked behind a fence – just in time to avoid an adeptly thrown sling stone that would have caved in her forehead.

“Attack,” she roared out. “Back to your soldiers! Tartessos, follow my lead.”

A score of officers were already dead by the time she finished speaking, and a few of her sworn swords with them. More were slain trying to flee, though the clever broke into houses to avoid that fate. Elvera risked a glance over the edge of the fence and caught sight only of grey-skinned silhouettes in furs stalking across rooftops before another javelin had her ducking back down. They were seizing the roofs between Beaumontant and Couteau D’Or, she realized with dismay. That’d be throwing away soldiers unless it was the prelude to a strike on one of those quarters, which meant that in defiance of all common sense the Army of Callow was back on the attack. Cursing under her breath, the old soldier prepared to make a run for it. Someone needed to get the Tanja boy out of the way before he got himself killed and the army’s spirits dropped into the pit, and who else save her was there? It was going to be an iron day, she’d felt it hours ago, and now that the iron had been in the fire long enough it’d grown red and burning.

Captain Elvera traced the Mark of Mercy with wrinkled hands, then steeled herself and ran out of cover.

Edgar was kicked awake, none too gently, and blearily rolled over.

“I was just resting my eyes, I was,” he immediately claimed.

A heartbeat later he remembered he’d been allowed his rest, captain’s orders, and his fear turned to resentment. The legionary pushed himself up, leaning against the wall, and began to glare at the source of his pain. Just as quick, resentment turned back to fear.

“Get up,” Sergeant Hadda grinned, baring twin rows of fangs. “The war’s back on, boy.”

Edgar counted himself lucky that after the hard fighting of the night and morning he’d been exhausted enough to pass out in his armour, aches in the back or not. Sergeant Hadda was not the kind of officer you ever wanted to keep waiting when she gave an order. He fumbled for his sword-belt under the orc’s amused gaze, and after slipping it back on ended up going through the pile of straw that’d been his bedding in order to find the helmet he could have sworn he’d set down to his left. The old sergeant took pity on him eventually, pointing it out, and Edgar hastily brushed aside the last of the straw inside before slamming it on.

“Thought we were pulled back until Afternoon Bell, sarge,” he said, warily eyeing her as he pulled the clasp together.

Depending on the orc’s mood, questions would either lead to pretty heavy-handed mockery or a fount of useful information. A sergeant was low as an officer could be, in the Army of Callow, but Hadda been in the Legions of Terror long before she took oath under Queen Catherine so she had all sorts of old friends in places. She tended to know more about what was going on than even Captain Pickering, to the man’s frustration.

“Everyone’s called back to the fronts,” Sergeant Hadda said. “Including us poor, exhausted souls. We’re about to teach Dominion meat why you don’t pick fights with the Legions.”

Like a lot of soldiers who’d been in the legions that were brought into the fold after Second Liesse, Hadda tended to speak of the Legions and the Army of Callow as the same thing. As far as they were concerned, Edgar had been told, the Black Queen was the Carrion Lord’s anointed successor so there was no distinction to be drawn. As a proper Laure boy he’d found that to be a mite unpatriotic, but then he supposed greenskins were new to the fold. Hadda had been good to him, anyway, for all the rough edges. She’d looked out for her tenth, taught them the little things like ‘don’t gamble with goblins’, ‘not all Soninke are warlocks’ and ‘if you fight a Taghreb the entire family comes after you’.

“Merciful Gods,” Edgar muttered. “Everyone said Legate Abigail was planning a retreat, not an assault.”

It’d been a shame the Princekiller got killed by them heretic Dominion priests, but he’d thought it nice that a Callowan was leading the Third Army now. It’d been a point pride, when he’d talked with other Laure enlisted. Sure enough the Legate was from Summerholm, and the folks from the Gate of the East tended to be prickly and proud as cats, but they’d all agreed Summerholm stock was good at warring. And Legate Abigail was a true veteran, he’d heard, from the days of the Fifteenth – she’d fought in the Arcadian Campaign and at Akua’s Folly. Heavens willing, she might end up confirmed by Marshal Juniper as the general of the Third Army if they all got out of Sarcella alive. Sergeant Hadda’s scarred, leathery face split into a nasty little grin.

General Abigail, now,” the orc said. “But that’s not the real treat of the day. Put some spring to your step, legionary – the Black Queen’s back, so we’re about to turn this fucking battle around.”

Edgar let out a low whistle. It was always a mixed bag, hearing about Queen Catherine. She’d filled a lot of graves since she’d appeared during the Liesse Rebellion, and no small amount of them had been Callowan ones. But she’d also smashed to pieces all the scavengers that came after the Kingdom, after she wrested it out of the Tower’s hand, and it was hard not to take pride in that. Edgar still remembered the sharp satisfaction he’d felt after hearing them sorcerers who’d done the Doom of Liesse had gotten crucified one and all. The queen might be a bit of tyrant, but the Fairfaxes hadn’t been all sweetness and light either. Sometimes you needed a hard hand to get it done, like Jehan the Wise hanging seven princes and one. But all that was back home, and before the fucking Procerans had declared her Arch-heretic of the East. The Principate tried the Vales and it tried the north, and when it got whipped like a dog it pulled the same trick it had in the old days. The Callowan House had called it ‘perverse service to earthly powers’, and that sounded about right to him.

Aye, there might be a time where the Black Queen got a little too black and Edgar found himself joining the rebel cause. But if the fucking Procerans thought their fucking princes and their fucking priests could unseat an anointed queen of Callow then they were in for a rude awakening. Maybe this time they should hang fourteen princes and two, and then another one too for Old King Selwin they’d done in at the Red Flower Vales. Edgar kept to the Heavens, as all Callowans should, but he kept to the long price as well and this one had been a very long time coming. One of these days they’d get around to evening the scales with the Wasteland too, for the Night of Knives and older slights as well, but that could wait some. The greenskins had been done in by the Tower too, bastards as they could be, and they should get their due along with the rest. Edgar did not mind at all the notion of sharing a fire with someone like Sergeant Hadda where the Tower used to stand. He didn’t speak out none of that, of course. He was just a legionary, so he ate his slop with the rest of the tenth and joined up with the rest of the cohort to march up to the outskirts of Couteau D’Or quarter. He’d been worried, when going to sleep, that they might all get caught in the city and killed. Edgar wasn’t worried anymore, though.

Say what you would about the Black Queen, she’d never lost a battle.

He clutched that knowledge tight as the cohorts gathered behind the defences, ranks and ranks of legionaries in red. It was all right to be afraid, he knew. On the other side of the killing grounds there would be warriors waiting, and Edgar had seen enough of his fellows die to learn that being clever or good with a sword wasn’t always enough to save you. He’d seen better fighters than him die because they’d been a little too slow raising their shield, because they’d slipped in the mud or even just because they’d been on watch when the Helike cataphracts struck. You couldn’t own that, you couldn’t force it: it was in the hands of the Gods Above. But he wasn’t just Edgar of Laure, a boy in armour in the third rank from the front. He was a legionary in the Third Army of the Kingdom of Callow, and in this strange city in this strange land they were going to win. He could feel it, and the others felt it too. It was in the air, the harsh taste of retribution in the making. He could see in the eyes of the orcs, burning red. He could see it in the way the soldiers from Laure and Ankou, from Vale and Summerholm, they were all standing like they wanted to lean forward. And the Wastelanders they had it as well, the Taghreb and the Soninke, with their calm faces and their hard eyes – like they knew how this would end and they were already savouring it.

He didn’t know who started singing, but Edgar did not hesitate to join his voice to it. There were times when the old rebel songs, the likes of Here They Come Again and Red The Flowers, they were what needed to be called out. But here, slowly beginning to advance against the soldiers of the Dominion? They’d give the Black Queen her due, just the once, for this song was hers and no one else’s. The tune of In Dread Crowned swelled up, as crossbow bolts flew and legionaries raised their shields. Step, step, step: the beat was in his bones, the rhythm of it. They advanced through the flat grounds, arrows and stones harmlessly glancing off. Edgar unsheathed his blade, smelling the scent of magic unleashed.

“Be they high or resplendent our oaths stand taller still
And in the west do quiet lie graves we have yet to fill-“

Balls of flame detonated against the enemy, and the Third Army charged into the chaos with a roar.

It was madness.

The Callowans were on their last rope and everybody knew it, but they might have held on to some part of the city until nightfall and spared themselves slaughter if they’d remained in their hiding holes instead of sallied out. Razin did not know whether to be delighted or infuriated they had not. He’d had plans in the making to land another crushing blow, and had been talking the most recalcitrant captains around to backing it: another push against Callowan lines accompanied with cavalry raids on the side, all to mask another strike by the Lanterns against the high command of the heretics. There would be no recovering from that, discipline or no. The war leader of the Lanterns had been most willing to send her warrior-priests into the fray, and the heir to Malaga had been slowly squeezing the Tartessos captains into silence when the damned Callowans struck instead. Some few thousand grey-skinned devils had been summoned and sent to disrupt his positions in Beaumontant and Couteau D’Or, though too few to truly be a threat. He’d immediately ordered them chased out from the rooftops they were skulking on, loyal captains heeding his calls and arranging for archers and slingers to disperse the abominations, but no sooner had the exchanges began that the Army of Callow attacked. It had been… grisly.

Razin Tanja was of the Grim Binder’s line and inherited her famous poise even if he had not been graced with her equally famed sorceries, so he’d not let the horror of it reach his face. But it would be a long time before her forgot the sight of it: those implacable rows of steel shields advancing in tight formations, heretics of all stripes singing their strange songs as they slew. The way crossbow bolts had fallen like summer rain, punching through all but the finest scale and plate. Foul eastern magics of flame and lightning arcing over ranks to blacken stone and sweep aside men like kindling. All the while whistles were sounded by their calm-faced officers, calling lines of legionaries forward or back like it was a parade ground and not as hellish a fight as this city could stomach. The strange devils had waited until Razin’s soldiers were on the backfoot before leaping down the rooftops and fiercely charging into the men of Levant, and that’d tipped the vase over the table’s edge. A rout had followed, Razin himself only escaping unscathed because that old dog of the Resafa, the one they called Red Ella, had him seized by her sworn swords before ordering them so slay any warriors impeding their way out.

Beaumontant was no safer, he’d soon learned. The Callowans had begun an offensive there as well, and the streets were packed tight with soldiers whose captains had died in Couteau D’Or or were still struggling to reach their companies. The chaos reached its apex when the Army of Callow reached the outskirts of Beaumontant from the side of Couteau D’Or as well, having wrought great slaughter. Panic spread at the realization that the Dominion’s force was now surrounded on three sides: on two of them red-bladed Callowans, and the third the blaze the heretics had started trying to kill the Lanterns during their retreat. Only behind them, in Belles Portes, did the Dominion still hold ground. But many of the wounded had been set there, for lack of an easy way to carry them out of the city after the assaults of the night and morning, and the makeshift infirmaries made did it difficult to get reinforcements through. It’d been a disaster in the making even before the Army of Callow began tossing its munitions – and Razin swore would see those declared blasphemy by Lanterns and House if it was the last thing he did – into the disorganized soldiers.

The second rout was even bloodier than the first. The heir to Malaga left the city in haste, passing the duty of holding Belles Portes to the doddering Captain Elvera in his absence, and went to stir up the rest of the army. The Callowans had struck a hard blow, he would give them that, but with that vain gesture they had doomed themselves. Their legionaries would be exhausted, their mages on the edge of burning out and their stocks of munitions running low. This had been a harder-earned victory than Razin would have preferred, but it would be a victory nonetheless. Father would forgive his impetuousness in seizing command of the vanguard without permission if he returned with the destruction of a Callowan army to honour their Blood. The wounded would be brought out onto the plains, to rest in the army’s camp, and then he would muster the might of Levant to crush these heretics. There were still seven thousand kept in reserve, and order would be sent to the riders probing the east and west to strike when given the proper signal. Razin was about to send summons to the Lanterns, to offer them the privilege of leading the counterattack at his side, when he was accosted by one of his lesser captains.

“Honoured Son, there is trouble,” the old man said after a cursory bow.

His mail was old and the leather lacking luster, which betrayed the nature of his soldiery where lack of an accent failed to provide. One of the captains who had answered the call of the Holy Seljun, not the lords and ladies of Levant. Razin forced himself to be courteous and offer back a nod of respectful acknowledgement. He already knew that after this battle was won the captains from Tartessos would seek to sully his name, and that support from those unsworn would do much to help his reputation. If all but the captains of Lady Aquiline sang his praises, the condemnations of her soldiers would be seen for the base defamation that they were.

“Have our captains of the horse sent word?” he asked.

“No, it was our camp watch,” the man said. “An enemy force has emerged from the southeast of the city.”

It took a moment for Razin to grasp what was being said, and just as long to fully disbelieve it.

“Through the fire?” he said. “Have the men been drinking?”

“I thought the same, and so sent trusted armsmen of my own to look,” the old captain replied, but shook his head. “The Callowans passed through using strange wooden engines covered in skins. There truly is a force of nearly six hundred, goblins and devils. They are led by a human, however.”

“A warlock from the East,” Razin frowned. “It would explain the appearance of these grey-skinned devils. The mage must be slain, it might make the abominations still in the city turn on the enemy.”

The old captain hesitated.

“Honoured Son, this I did not see with my own eyes,” he cautioned.

Razin almost gestured impatiently, before remembering himself, and so instead forced a smile.

“Speak, captain,” he encouraged.

“Some of my men say the human wore a cloak,” the old man said. “One of black cloth, but with strips of many colours.”

Razin Tanja of the Binder’s Blood paled. There was only one villain known in this age to wear such a strange garment.

“Ashen Gods,” the boy croaked. “Gather your men, captain. Gather everyone. We must slay the Black Queen before she pulls her foul tricks.”

Fear pulsed in his blood, but as Razin had his servants saddle his horse he found there was excitement buried deep beneath. If he could kill the black-hearted Queen of Callow, it might just break the back of her armies for good and sent the lot of them scuttling back across their borders. What an honour to the Blood that would be. It would not do to be reckless, he reminded himself: he was of the Binder’s line, not the Champion’s. He gathered two thousand men before setting out, the rest assembling behind with orders to catch up, and horns were sounded for the captains of the horse in the eastern plains to join battle as well. Razin was informed that the Lanterns were already gone to the fight for Sarcella, but messengers would fetch them. Better to share the glory than make a bold corpse. The Black Queen’s goblins and abominations had already slain a few brave outriders, by the looks of it, but the march of her warband was otherwise unimpeded. Captains riding at his side, summoned in haste, Razin watched the few hundred fools keep advancing even in the face of his superior force.

“It may be a distraction,” one of his officers mused. “Just some Callowan forced into a cloak, meant to delay us reinforcing the city.”

“Or she has gone mad in her arrogance, as her ilk often does,” Razin idly replied. “Perhaps she thinks her warriors will be enough to defeat us.”

“We so sure they won’t be?” another captain said. “I mean no disrespect, Honoured Son, but we’ve all heard the rumours about the Battle of the Camps. The sky falling, the dead rising with blue eyes and fairies riding across water…”

There were calls of cowardice, which Razin tacitly allowed to quiet the naysayer through shame. The heir to Malaga would put no stock in such stories, especially not ones so fanciful. First the tale was that the Black Queen had warred against the fae, now that they warred for her? Powerful necromancer as the villain might be, she could not raise corpses that did not exist. As for this tale of the sky being brought down, it could be no work of hers. Perhaps some Wasteland ritual she simply claimed to be her own effort, the scale of it inflated with every telling. Procerans always excused their defeats by making giants out of gargoyles, it was well-known. A splatter of laughter spread across the captains, commanding Razin’s immediate attention. It was not directed at him or the yellow-bellied naysayer, he saw, but at the Black Queen’s foolishness. She’d called a halt and now her warriors were spreading out in a circle around her, taking up defensive positions.

“Mad indeed,” one of the captains mocked. “Shall we order a charge, Honoured Son?”

Razin’s eyes narrowed at the sight of her. The cloak was well-known, but never before had he heard of the Queen of Callow wielding a crooked black staff. Especially not one so… unsettling to look at. Perhaps she did have a trick left to pull.

“Battle lines,” Razin Tanja ordered instead. “Our force will take the centre. Send word to the captains behind us that they are to split and flank the Black Queen’s warriors.”

He glanced into the distance, where the thousand cavalry he’d sent out at dawn was slowly making its way. Yes, this would do. No matter the dark magic, near seven thousand footsoldiers of Levant followed by a cavalry charge at the back would be enough to end this. Razin would not lead from the front, just in case, and allow one of these eager captains the honour instead. It mattered not who slew the goblins and devils, so long as the heir to Malaga was part of the warriors who slew the villain queen. The soldiers spread out as ordered, battle-prayers on their lips, and the assault promptly began. Razin remained with the second wave of the centre, listening to the hurried march of the rest of the troops behind him. Stride after stride the warriors closed the distance, and he watched victory in the making with bright eyes. The grey-skinned devils tightened their lines in front of the villain, the bloody goblins taking cover behind them, but it was the Black Queen he was staring at. Loose hair unbound and toyed with by the wind, she was staring at his soldiers and leaning against her long staff. Eventually she looked up, and Razin followed her gaze. There were shadows in the sky, two of them. Crows, he realized with a start. Corpses would draw carrion, but these were no such birds and flew with graceful purpose. They dove, and like twin blot of night landed on the Black Queen’s shoulders.

There was something surreal about the sight, he thought. The smiling, slim woman whose hair cascaded behind her, the cloak of story around her. Those ink-black and terrible crows on her shoulders, feathered out of shadows. Razin watched the crooked staff rise, then fall with a thunderous crash. Shadows whispered across the snow, until the sound of cracks scuttling across a river drowned out even that.

Razin Tanja of the Binder’s Blood had just sent the better part of two thousand men to drown, and in that stroke he had lost the Battle of Sarcella.

214 thoughts on “Interlude: Beheld II

      1. TotesARealPerson

        Or a variation of “For iron by itself
        can draw a man to use it,” one of the reasons Odysseus gives to Telemachus for why they must hide away their weapons in the beginning of book XIX of the Oddysey.

        Liked by 7 people

    1. Agent J

      Do remember that half the reason Hasenbach needed a war in the East was because there were a great deal of “good swords” lying around Procer. If she did not find a use for them they would have made one of their own, one she may not like.

      Liked by 24 people

      1. Mike E.

        Which is one reason why the Crusades ever happened…Europe had a ton of knights and soldiers sitting around with no wars going on, so to keep them occupied somewhere and not able to stir up trouble locally, they got sent east against a new enemy.

        Liked by 4 people

          1. It is really true. Most scholars of the Crusade agree.

            If you are interested in a comprehensive history of the Crusades I’d suggest The Crusades: A History by Jonathon Riley-Smith

            There is also a good collection of primary documents called The Crusades: A Reader edited by S.J. Allen and Emilie Amt

            Liked by 7 people

            1. As for that specific instance, look into the Peace of God in Europe which was ‘established’ preceding the Crusades. Basically, Rome wanted Christians to stop fighting Christians so they increasingly disapproved of conflict between them. It eventually developed into a policy of pointing armies at nonchristians since that was more effective

              Liked by 5 people

              1. Abrakadabra

                Nah, that is Just bullshit. The muslims by that time besieged or straight occupied all five of The centrals of christianity, (Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Rome). Rome was Just attacked a years ago by muslim pirates WHO desacrated the tomb of Peter apostle. And the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire was asking for help against the muslims, well he got it.

                Like

                1. therealgridlock

                  You tell em boss.

                  Don’t ever let them forget that islam controlled the Mediterranean for 500+ years before the crusades, and burned down the library of alexandria.

                  Like

        1. therealgridlock

          What? No, the crusades started because the Muslims attacked spain, after 700 years of terrorizing the Mediterranean and piling heads to block out the sun, they finally reached spain and tried to take it over, and isabella and ferdinand said hell no.

          Say what you want about the outcome of the crusades, the reason they started is pretty simple to grasp.

          Apropos of nothing, over 200 people have died this year in france from “motive still unknown” attacks yelling God is great in arabic. And 700 wounded.

          Sounds like it hasn’t stopped to me.

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      1. Dainsleif

        It is. Well less the blade itself inspires violence and more of since thebpurpose of the blade is to wage war and draw blood one without purpose will look for it somewhere else.

        So Hasenbach might be scared of what purpose a sword such as these would create. And rightfully so.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. crescentsickle

      I interpreted it along the lines of the quote from Erwin Rommel: “In the absence of orders, go find something and kill it.”

      The “sword” isn’t the object but the soldier, and a good soldier performs his duties to his country whether he has explicit orders to or not.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. crescentsickle

        On a re-read, though, it doesn’t really fit the quote at the top of the chapter. Along a similar interpretation, it seems to say (to me anyway): “A good soldier will find a cause to fight for, or they will make a cause to fight for.”

        Liked by 3 people

        1. stevenneiman

          I’d go a bit more philosophical: capacity for violence encourages violence. This whole Crusade started because Cordelia had reforged Procer into a weapon effective enough that she would have lost control if she hadn’t used it.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. I wouldn’t say Cordelia did it, she took over Procer militarized enough already as a result of the civil war that she had to do something with the capacity for violence that already existed.

            Like

  1. HardcoreHeathen

    I love how the Levantines keep hearing tales of Callow and Cat, tales that are honestly toned down, and dismissing them as over-embellished nonsense.

    It’s like if Audie Murphy was an entire country.

    Liked by 19 people

    1. It’s really nice to have no “so last season” syndrome. Both Marchford and the fae were like “I’m sorry what the fuck” at the time. Catherine adapted, but once we zoom out to the whole of the continent the “I’m sorry what the fuck” is still there :3

      Liked by 17 people

        1. Death Knight

          Not really, no. Abigail mentioned in the previous chapter that they’d tried to blow up the ice before but they didn’t succeed since the ice was too thick. The charging army most likely did not think the Callowans had anything powerful enough to break the ice. Though Raizan should have reconsidered the charge when the Black Queen took the field. But he’s been shown to have blinders where glory is concerned so maybe they do qualify for a Darwin Award, or as it is known in setting The Dread Emperor award.

          Liked by 24 people

          1. Skaddix

            Granted he probably was blinded since they dont believe the Fae cause Fae Cat could have done that feat. Granted they are probably high on the fact that the Warlock is Dead and Masego is MIA presumed KIA by the Heroic Side. So he looks across doesn’t see Callow’s Greatest Mage and assumes it good to go. I guess its possible he could tell Cat looked Human again but I doubt it. So probably arrogance.

            Liked by 3 people

          2. stevenneiman

            I think that they were hoping that she would go down like Amadeus’ predecessor, taking a few hundred or a few thousand with her before being overwhelmed and cut down. What they forgot is that unlike the previous Black Knights Cat isn’t an idiot, and she has the story on her side right now.

            Liked by 4 people

        2. Author Unknown

          I think they won the award when they decided to attack in the first place. “Sure, she battled her way through summer, fought multiple demons, battled an entire city of undead, butchered an army backed by multiple heroes, but we have pointy metal sticks! Charge!”

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Skaddix

            Eh Cat did her part but that only went her way cause the Winter King was bored and wanted to break the Cycle in the first place. She didn’t fight a whole city of unread either. But more importantly for the rest she had the Woe for all those feats. So presumably the other side looks across only sees one Named and don’t believe half the stories anyway and think we can win.

            Liked by 6 people

            1. stevenneiman

              Presumably, hell. They were explicitly stated to have assumed that all of her accomplishments were either taking personal credit for stuff she had her mage corps do or else exaggerations by embarrassed Procerans trying to excuse their own failures.

              Liked by 3 people

            2. Author Unknown

              Not believing the stories when you hear them in a tavern is understandable. However, when the villain is standing across the battlefield from you with several hundred creatures from myth and legend it is time to reevaluate your belief system. The correct response is certainly not, “Oh look, we have them outnumbered.”

              Liked by 2 people

              1. There is no reason for the Levantines to assume that the grey-skinned creatures around Catherine are anything other than devils, and those are a known quantity. A quantity known to not be undefeatable, nor all that hard to come by when you’re Praesi / leading a Praesi army.

                Liked by 1 person

          2. They don’t have reliable information on what Catherine did. They have rumors and disbelieve them as embellishments. All they REALLY know is that she separated Callow from Praes and beat the Northern Crusade, and they don’t really know what / how few resources she had for that.

            Liked by 10 people

            1. They should know more though.

              In the regular soldiers it’s understandable but Razin is the heir to one of the rulers of Levant. There’s no way he doesn’t have access to reports of the Battle of the Camps.

              But apparently he just dismissed it all as ass-covering and exaggerations. Even though the Pilgrim and several other Levantine heroes were there.

              Razin is an idiot.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Reports? Who would report on the Battle of the Camps to a /Levantine heir/, particularly one who wasn’t even supposed to be in command of anything?

                You’re overestimating the coherence of the Crusade side, IMHO.

                Liked by 7 people

                1. Skaddix

                  Its a feature not a bug. Saint wants to tear down the whole system. She probably wants most of these incompetent nobles dying in the Field. If Pilgrim filed a report well Cordelia also wants to cull troublesome nobility so probably neglected to pass out such information to anyone who wasn’t vital and competent.

                  Liked by 3 people

                  1. I really don’t think either Saint or Pilgrim would be filing reports. If there was any formal paperwork involved at all, it was people retelling what they read in correspondence / heard in conversation.

                    Like

                    1. Skaddix

                      I agree that is my point no way Saint would ever provide useful information to the Crusade in general, I am not sure she would for most Heroes outside Pilgrim and Hanno’s Team. Pilgrim does care about life loss though and might have provided useful information but Cordelia has a vested interest in such info not getting to most of her nobles.

                      Liked by 1 person

                2. That makes it even worse, if the Crusade isn’t even organised enough to share reports from a major battle with their main leaders.

                  And obviously Razin does have enough authority to command 16,000 soldiers, so he should be briefed accordingly.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. Forrest

                    I think you might be overestimating the communicative abilities of people in medieval time, which is exactly what they are when the closest you have to modern day communication is a mage’s scrying and only one person in Procer has even a bastardized version of that.

                    Liked by 2 people

          3. ByVectron!

            But everyone knows those stories of Callowan victories are greatly embellished. It was probably, like, a bar fight or they tried someone into a puddle and now people claim there dropped a lake on them. I mean, come ON!

            Liked by 3 people

  2. Skaddix

    Oof that is why inherited leadership sucks. Granted I want prospective from an actual hero. I do wonder if its time for a new prospective after the Interludes end since this war is over. Turns out being descended from the Blood of Heroes confers no special bonuses.

    Liked by 5 people

          1. Novice

            We were given an adjective:
            “Razin Tanja was of the Grim Binder’s line and inherited her famous poise even if he had not been graced with her equally famed sorceries, so he’d not let the horror of it reach his face.”

            Liked by 8 people

    1. stevenneiman

      Presumably they’re a bit more likely to become heroes, but aside from that they’re just more likely to be arrogant and/or inbred, just like any other line of noblemen.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Xinci

        The whole way of the Blood and bringing glory to it seems to be a system for seeing if traits Heroes posses can propagate more Heroes the stronger they get. Blood seems to be a shared power source of Heroic traits passed down and strengthened by willing sacrifice(sacred Strife=weight and power).It really does seem similar to the Night in its system crafting. Anyway even though you are more likely to get a heroic Named out of it they dont always get the raw combination needed for the best of them(Thus outside ones like Champion are great). But when they do they can get rather dangerous(Peregrine).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think it’s less that Blood is a real thing passed down and more that people believe it is, making there be a story groove that makes it harder for non-Blood people to become heroes and self-reinforces the way patterns in Guideverse do.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. KageLupus

        I actually think it is more of a self fulfilling prophecy kind of deal, Descendants of those first Heroes are considered honored and special, which feeds into the mindset you need to actually achieve a name. There is a weight of expectation that those of the Blood will also gain some version of the same name, and every time it happens those grooves in creation grow a little stronger.

        But how much of that expectation is reasonable, and how much is caused by circumstances around it? The heroic bloodlines act as a sort of nobility which means that its members are all given the kind of advantages they need to actually achieve a name. It is a lot easier to go out and hunt monsters in the forest when you don’t have to worry about scraping enough money together for food and a roof over your head.

        The Champion that is running around with Hanno is also evidence that the system doesn’t work as expected. She was explicitly stated to be from some distant offshoot branch of the Champion bloodline, but picked up the fully powered version of that Name. Sure, part of that is Above putting a hand on the scales since that group needed to go up against the Calamities. But the Champion’s personality absolutely had to have something to do with it as well and that is just not something you inherent from your nine-times-great-uncle-twice-removed.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I believe that the passing on of names in Levant is a cultural thing much the same way other cultures have common names such as Praes with the black knight. The difference here is that Levant seems to have taken what might have been its first band of names to heart. They practically worship those names. As a result of the cultural worship the names become recurring as that’s what the culture expects to happen. It’s basically a self fulfilling culture born prophecy.

          Liked by 3 people

  3. IDKWhoitis

    Evil is most vulnerable when it thinks its holding all the cards, and I like to think that this “Crusade” is slowly becoming Grey vs Grey. Neither Callowans, nor Procerans, nor Leviatians, nor Praesi really treats this like an actual Holy War. This chapter shows that even those of the Champions’ blood are only here for glory and accolades, blinded by pride.

    And we know who is very willing to pull the deepest, darkest, horrors to win the coming battles.
    Good to see there are still fools in the world willing to underestimate The Black Queen.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Dainpdf

      The idea that Procer is not quite Good anymore is precisely the stuff the Saint has been saying. Let’s hope she finds no ears for that.

      As for this nobility sucking… still better than the high lords.

      Liked by 10 people

        1. Dainpdf

          Quite a few of the Proceran Princes have proved to be either capable administrators, politicians, or military leaders. And with much fewer human sacrifices or oppressed green greenskins. Not that Procerans would treat greenskins well.

          Liked by 10 people

      1. NerfGlastigUaine

        That is a bar so low I’m not quite sure what it’d take to limbo under it. It takes a special level of crazy and cruelty to institutionalize murder and backstabbing and summon a freaking eldritch abomination in your own city. Also, they still underestimate Black after twenty freaking years of getting murder-stabbed by him, so their blinders are very, very strong.

        Liked by 6 people

              1. RanVor

                Well, from ethical standpoint it makes sense to differentiate. From practical standpoint, you wouldn’t want to live either in Procer or in Praes, so why bother arguing which shit smells worse?

                Liked by 2 people

                1. I mean if I had to pick between living in Procer or Praes, I’d pick Procer.

                  EE did say at some point that Good nations have on average uniformly higher standard of living than Evil ones. Black raising the standard of living in Callow is a huge exception to the rule. (It’s like, the standard of livng in Evil nations is x, the standard of living in Good nations is x + i, Black managed to institute a standard of living of x + i + j in at least Callow, unsure if the standard in Praes under him was also x + i + j (meaning he managed to raise it by i + j) or x + j (meaning he raised it by j everywhere) or some kind of middle, making it still lower in Praes than in Callow but making the difference smaller than normal)
                  …what. math is fun!

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. The Evil nations tend to get blighted land with a wonky distribution of resources even before their first major Tyrant of Nutso with their land reformation projects, though: it’s never been a level playing field.

                    It’s a darned sight easier to produce a decent standard of living if you’ve got a decent climate, plenty of running water and achres upon schemes of highly fertile fields. The only blood you need to shed in that situation is to defend the lot… Or when trying to collect taxes. :/

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Very true!

                      In the case of Praes there’s even a direct cause-effect relationship between the land being blighted and Evil: they needed the field sacrifices.

                      Like

                    2. Dainpdf

                      Except nations can turn Good or Evil. Being Evil, however, makes it much harder to make gains (look at how Praes actually *lost* farmland to a few Emperors), especially since any gains in this generation tend to be torn down by the next maddened tyrant who takes over.

                      Like

        1. NerfGlastigUaine

          Praes, the Chain of Hunger, the Everdark, Bellerophon, Stygia, pretty much every Evil country is worse than the good countries except possibly the Dead King’s Serenity. YMMV on that one. The Good countries are basically on the level of some of the worse, though not worst, feudal societies or historical nations IRL while the Evil ones are positively dystopian. What’s worse, it’s not an evil ruler or group causing the problems, the horror is built into every Evil country in their very foundations and institutions. Good may not always be nice, kind, or even rational, but you can see why most prefer it over Evil in this verse.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. RanVor

            The Chain of Hunger and the Everdark can hardly be considered countries. I agree on the Bellerophon and Stygia though. Still, it’s only Good in comparison to these unrealistically terrible places. I’m not saying I’d rather live in Praes. I’m just pointing out that the fact that the existence of Evil shouldn’t be used to excuse all the shit going on on the other side.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. *Unrealistically* terrible? You know about for example the Khmer Rouge, right? Go ahead and scroll down to the “Life in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge Regime” section at this link, and tell me again about how Bellerophon is just too terrible to be *realistic*: http://www.cambodiatribunal.org/history/cambodian-history/khmer-rouge-history/

              That said, you’re not wrong that feudalism is not a terribly meritocratic or pleasant system for 99% of the population living under it, so I’ll give you that one in a heartbeat. The failings of feudalism (now you see the violence inherent in the system!) are real and shouldn’t just be excused with a “yeah, but we’re not the other guys and they’re worse” shrug. But there is also still a meaningful distinction to be made between “looks like hereditary leadership actually doesn’t work great a whole lot of the time” and “human sacrifice is an acceptable party theme”.

              On the note of hereditary leadership though, as far as the persistence of this shit in Good nations I think it matters a lot that aristocracy/etc is hereditary and being a hero (usually) isn’t. I think that matters because most heroes come to it pretty young, and I think most aristocratic bloodlines have built up institutional memory of “here’s how to fob them off on some capital-E Evil problems when they start getting on your case about ‘oh the peasants are people too’ or whatever”. And I don’t think some teenagers fresh off the farm/out of the orphanage/whatever you get it are typically likely to be a match for the conniving of highborn aristos who have literally centuries of institutional memory of how to not get preferentially targeted by Named/Chosen/whatever you want to call them.

              So in other words I don’t think the existence of Evil nations *should* excuse the persistence of bad actors in Good nations, but I think that said bad actors have deliberately cultivated expertise in *using* the existence/threat of Evil nations to safeguard themselves/their privileges. I do think that’s a relevant point to keep in mind.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. RanVor

                Khmer Rouge ruled for 4 years. Dread Emperors ruled for 1000+ years.

                They’re unrealistic in a sense that they logically should have collapsed or been conquered and razed to the ground centuries ago. (Also, the Khmer Rouge didn’t permanently damage reality.)

                Liked by 1 person

                1. And if they didn’t have a narrative propping them up, they probably likely would have! Again, I mean; they did get conquered and mostly razed to the ground post-Triumphant. So I guess as far as that goes my counterpoint would be that “unrealistic” should probably hold a different value for a world where reality literally functions differently.

                  Liked by 3 people

            2. Well yes. That’s part of Amadeus and Cat’s basic position, not to mention the author’s.

              The whole saga is about deconstructing the D&D/High Fantasy trope of essentialist Good and Evil, thus the many affable (and sensible) Evil figures, facing vicious and demented Good types. This is in no way contradicted by the actually-good Good folks and insane Evil villains (even if some of the latter are “crazy like a fox”), the point is that virtue and madness appear on both sides.

              Liked by 1 person

                1. I am commenting. In this case, concurring with the general thesis, but also pointing out that it’s not particularly novel or controversial (and elaborating on why). That’s how things go on a forum; some responses are partial or complete agreement, some are partial or complete disagreement (“… And That’s Okay”), some are going off on a tangent. Some are more than one of these.

                  Bluntly, you’ll be a lot happier (not just here, but in life in general), if you stop treating any response besides “oh yes, I agree” as a personal attack. Unless that’s how you like to live your life; if so… it’s not my problem.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. RanVor

                    Thank you for your answer. I’m not a little bit surprised that it didn’t occur to you that I genuinely didn’t understand what your comment meant in relation to mine, it happens to me all the time around here.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Try adding emoticons.
                      🙂 Is I’m happy
                      😉 Is I’m joking
                      😛 is either you’re joking or this is crazy

                      So you could say something like: “I can’t tell if you’re arguing with me or what. :P”

                      And then the other person would know not to take it personally. 🙂

                      Like

          2. >Bellerophon
            >dystopian
            Stop casting Petty Lies of Foreign Tyrants (Also Known As Simply Tyrants In Their Own Countries) on the Peerless Jewel Of Freedom, May The Glorious City Of Bellerophon Stand Forever.

            Liked by 8 people

          3. Quite Possibly A Cat

            “Good may not always be nice, kind, or even rational, but you can see why most prefer it over Evil in this verse.”

            Well, except that one time those elves committed genocide.

            Liked by 1 person

        2. Dainpdf

          And Helike on its evil phases. And the Kingdom of the Dead. And Bellerophon. And Stygia. Huh. It’s almost like I’m citing the evil sides… well, the Golden Bloom is also very, very terrible.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. RanVor

            As usual, my comment was terribly misinterpreted by pretty much everyone. I used Praes as an example. What I meant to say is that the other side being worse doesn’t automatically make Procer and buddies good (which should be pretty clear, and why nobody understood it that way is honestly beyond me).

            Liked by 2 people

            1. You’re treating “good” as some objective measure. Is modern USA good? Is modern Sweden good? Is modern Ukraine good?

              We can only compare what’s better or worse. And Good nations are actually marginally better than IRL historical analogues.

              Like

                  1. RanVor

                    The ones Procer doesn’t adhere to, obviously. Like not forcing common people to die in petty civil wars, for example.

                    I refuse to accept the relativity of good and evil. A lesser evil is only ever that – an evil that is not as great as the other one.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. “not forcing common people to die in petty civil wars”

                      That’s one, true.

                      I’m curious about more?

                      “I refuse to accept the relativity of good and evil. A lesser evil is only ever that – an evil that is not as great as the other one.”

                      You’re not wrong.

                      Politics and nations are always lesser evil, though.

                      Like

    2. stevenneiman

      Yeah. We already saw what Cat was able to do to the Saint with just a few lines undermining the drama and moral authority, now imagine what she could do if she wanted to do that to the Crusade. The whole thing is led by a general-stateswoman who has shown no aptitude for story-fu. The only reason that Cat hasn’t already caused a lot more damage is because she knows that she needs to keep everyone intact enough that the Dead King can’t just steamroll over everything. And she needs to keep that final battle from getting desperate enough that anyone needs to start summoning their respective eldritch horrors, or she’ll have undermined the ideals of the Liesse Accords before they’re even signed.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Rook

        Wait didn’t the Saint kick her ass in every single fight so far?

        Round one she cut off a piece of winter and Cat ran away

        Round two she cut off her limbs multiple times as Cat ran away

        Round three Cat immediately ran away after Akua used enough Winter to pull her back, then avoided fighting her when the Pilgrim decided to negotiate

        Liked by 4 people

        1. She danced circles around Saint, accomplishing all of her objectives in each and every fight, despite being flatly outclassed in the outright battle. I think that was the point he was trying to make.

          Liked by 6 people

  4. IDKWhoitis

    Are the Levs about to lose all their men in the city? 2k loses in the reserves aren’t completely god awful, but now the main force is stuck in panic, encircled without escape, being shelled by Callow. If there are more than 8k Levs by the end of this shitshow, I think the Laterns may have traded themselves for it.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Well, they’re now likely very outnumbered, with Callow very secure behind the river, their leadership was decapitated (well, so was Callow’s, but they’re better organized), …and come night they’ll have to deal with the Mighty. Yeah, they’ve lost. It’s a question of how many survivors.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. NerfGlastigUaine

        Yeah, they’ll “deal with” the Mighty alright. Unless they’re hiding a whole truckload of heroes or another army ten times the size of their current one, it’d be an utter massacre once night falls.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. Jonnnney

      The most important part is due to the river blocking their last Avenue of escape they are stuck in a city with 6000 dark elves with the sun about to set. The elves are on Par with the watch during they day. Come night the levs will be nothing but prey

      Liked by 6 people

            1. True tales are still tales, you know. Even elaborately embroidered or distorted true tales will clobber you over the head with their aesops.

              The Tales of the Black Queen have a number of truths. 1) Don’t fuck with Catherine Foundling. 2) Don’t fuck with Callow. 3) If you think she can’t possibly do something, pray that you are merely wrong. Because being right still won’t help you when she barrels in from left field.

              Liked by 2 people

  5. Dainpdf

    Arrogant nobles getting shellacked, reinforcement of the importance of throat protection, fire, and weaponized bodies of water. Good to see we’re back to our roots. We’re just missing kamikaze zombies and terrible snark.

    Liked by 11 people

  6. Classic Cat. Do the unexpected, crazy, borderline unthinkable thing, and win.

    Also … the Levantine chain of command is troubled.
    And, by what the “Red Ella” POV suggests … most of the Levantines will have little or no experience with real combat, far less magic-heavy combat. That’s going to hurt them.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Xinci

      Its more that, they are used to sanctioned hunts and chimerical foes. Levantines are quite good against monsters especially good in small numbers. Course they arent facing that kind of foe right now, though they will most likely adapt and learn if they survive.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. They caught him with his pants down and melted a goddamn hole in his chest. He responded to this by tearing one’s throat out with his feeth as he was literally DYING.

        They got as lucky as they could get and he still died HARD. Fast, but hard.

        Liked by 6 people

  7. Valkyria

    Gods I missed this.
    And it’s even better than just outright slapping them with sorcerous bullshit, because they are just *better* and know more about schemes.
    Cat only used her Night on a river, not even touching an enemy soldier herself. Ah. Beautiful.
    Would have only been more satisfying if the enemy commander wasn’t this little brat but hey.
    Madness? Check.
    Sorcery? Check.
    Dramatic entrance? Check.
    Dark mysterious aura? Check.
    What more can you want from your favorite Villian?

    Liked by 7 people

  8. ALazyMonster

    I’m a bit confused. I remember reading that the river was 25ft across which seems a bit small for the 2000 people to all drown at once, since they were stated to be footman and therefore not locked into a charge the same way cavalry would be. Did they stretch out real far even though the other reinforcements were supposed to be surrounding Cat from the sides? Even accounting for the fact they were about triple the numbers of the drow/goblins it feels like some of them would be really far off to the sides for them all to hit the river together. I just feeling like I’m missing details or something, did Cat wait to break the ice until they were like 2 ft away or something? It just feels like the scale of something is off with the river.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Skaddx

      Shows Cordelia and Saint are right. Procer and the Good Countries do need a good house cleaning. Incompetent and complacent and corrupt leadership. So far its all going according to plan for both of them, I suppose Cordelia thought the Heroes would show up to take the reigns and clean up One Arm. So that not going totally to plan.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Myradmir

      I’m assuming Catherine waited as long as possible, and then let the chargers’ momentum do the rest. Alternatively, they were crossing/on the river in multiple points or the 2000 includes soldiers now trapped on the other side of the river at the ‘mercy’ of Callow.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        I got the impression the 2000 were lost in that instant..but siit’s now its him and a tiny force against the Goddamn Black Queen, he stands to lose a lot more on both ends of this, since the rest of his forces just lost leadership. His best bet is surrender because he really has already lost and his retreat options are “drown” and “burn”

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Tolk

      Reading Beheld I again, Abigail says that it’s 25 feet at the bridges, and that as you go west towards the river source it widens. So I’d guess the location Cathrine broke the ice is at least 50 feet wide if not 80 or 100 feet.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I think we can say safely that Razin Tanja, if he survives this disaster, is not going to lead any more armies.
    Or at least, not if the rest of the Levantine commanders have any sense.
    God, he just got monumentally trounced and his soldiers were utterly routed in the battle for the city, and his first reflex was to send all his reserves into the fray. The second was of course to try to kill a Villain when he had no Heroes to present a Named opposition.
    I mean, the Procer aristocracy weren’t exactly mountains of wisdom and strategic thinking, but this Levant noble is beating them all down in sheer arrogance and stupidity.
    At a moment where every man counts (there’s still the Dead King coming from the north) he just lost maybe five thousand men in a few hours and the morale beating is going to be even worse.
    This was Levant first true military confrontation in the Crusade if you don’t count the heroes.
    And they gloriously lost it.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. NerfGlastigUaine

      To be fair, trying to kill Catherine was probably a smart idea if they wanted to take the city – letting the chief villain get up to god knows what is probably a bad idea. On the other hand, the way he charged in half-cocked and head full of glory… yeah, he’s an idiot.

      Liked by 7 people

        1. Only if by “lead” you mean “be in the front line of an assault formation” or “be the point man in finding a way through a field of caltrops and buried goblin munitions”.

          Because the Dead King has plenty of people who actually had significant skill and combat experience to lead his armies.
          And those are just people who attacked him.

          He also has the entire population of Serenity to call upon. And there’s almost certainly some sort of military training academy/program.
          They may or may not have all that much actual live combat experience, but they probably have similar training to what the Legion academy provides, with the probable exception of anything specific to goblin munitions.
          And that presumes that the Dead King either doesn’t want to or can’t run something even more realistic. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Dead King were willing and able to run live fire lethal combat exercises to train and blood his people.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Tolk

    *All the while whistles were sounded by their calm-faced officers, calling lines of legionaries forward or back like it was a parade ground and not as hellish a fight as this city could stomach.*

    Poor guy thinks the rumours are fake. Unfortunately for him, they are real; once you’ve successfully fought the legions of hell, the legions of fae, and the legions of necromancers, the legions of rookie warriors aren’t anywhere near as hellish.

    Liked by 10 people

  11. To be fair, that heir guy is pretty smart, if young and a little reckless and inexpierenced, which is to be expected. He did not make any major blunders. If not for Cat, that battle was as good as won. Everyone knows that, every side admitted to that. And while ultimately a failure, his way of dealing with Black Queen, The First Under The Night, Queen of Callow, Lady of Marchford, Duchess of the Moonless Nights, High Priestess of the Empire Everdark and The Arch-Heretic of the East was spot on. He didn’t go half-cocked, he took everyone he could, which is a smart move – Villains have a tendency to both die to ordinary troops when severly outnumbered (take the Black Knight before Amadeus, yes and an inclination to be recklessly arrogant and charge into the said overwhelming numbers. 8000 vs less than 600 is not a gamble, even if one side has a Named. And he did not lose his head. He did not order the charge, he did not lead the first wave. He did actually good, so why do you guys are giving him hard time?

    Liked by 8 people

    1. NerfGlastigUaine

      You know, everything you say makes sense but the catch here is that she’s a villain and not just any villain, but one known for beating the odds. He knew that she’d come in with a tiny force, through an inferno, near a frozen river, with unknown devils (drow) and magic. He must have known that she’d expect him to bring his forces to bear on her – it’s what anyone would do. He then made the mistake of thinking the battle was already over before it’d begun (foolish) when it’s patently obvious she must have some sort of plan (even more foolish) which only makes sense if he was banking on her having gone mad – which means he was relying on the enemy’s stupidity to win (extremely foolish). You might expect the enemy to be reckless or arrogant, but relying on it is a mistake. He made the right choice to confront her, but sending in his men in full force, trusting on numbers to beat whatever cards she had hidden, when it was patently obvious she was waiting for an assault? Half-cocked as hell.

      Also, people pick on him because no one likes a glory hound.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. I suspect Cat “stole” the heroic side of the script again, leaving the villainous lines for Ruzan. She’s done this before; it was particularly blatant with the fae (where her opponent actually was forced into a monologue), but there have been a few other times when Cat came in acting as a “rescuing hero” or similar, upon which even Good adversaries started showing villainous failure modes.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Well, he was willing to trade the lives of his people for personal glory, when a much more assured / less reckless / less bloody option was to wait for the rest of the army to catch up.

      You do have a point though.

      Like

  12. For our amusement, here is the entireiy of “In Dread Crowned”, thanks to the wiki (http://abridged-guide-to-evil.wikia.com/wiki/Abridged_Guide_to_Evil_Wikia):

    I was born out in the green where their banners flew high
    And the boots of the great lords they did tread over us
    Oaths we made and service gave, kneeling to the oldest lie
    But now the world’s turned around and we sing this chorus

    (Chorus)
    Come forth you old devils,
    Bring out your lesser evils
    Blight the skies and the land
    You’ll be met sword in hand
    One day your children’ll tell
    Of the deep and rebel yell,
    That on his field so sombre
    Conquered host of horror.

    On the plain where folk were fair, we stood and greatly slew,
    And by the ford a score devils with a great demon too
    Prince and page and swordsman proud to our steel they all fell
    The world stolen we take back and damn you all to Hell

    (Chorus)

    Be they high or resplendent our oaths stand taller still
    And in the west do quiet lie graves we have yet to fill
    Learn ye mighty that from Tower’s shade to vales of red
    The Fifteenth by call of horn stands ever crowned in dread.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. RandomFan

      It absolutely still makes sense. Before this generation, Orcs were almost always fodder that were used pretty much the same way good nations might use untrained peasants- you could even claim that they originated from there.

      Goblins were probably more respectable, but they had their own institutions to advocate for them, and therefore were probably significantly outnumbered by orcs on any given battlefield.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Erebus42

    Credit where credit’s due, at least Razin wasn’t stupid enough to lead the assault himself. He was arrogant enough to get a crazy amount of his men killed but not quite enough to get himself killed.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Jearden

    It was amazing to see the moral Cat inspires. The Legionary, Edgar, just suddenly had the will to win. The whole Legion KNEW it was going to win. Numbers be damn, the fight was over. The Black Queen was on the field and now her Army would win.

    Also, that was an astonishingly well written POV. The whole chapter was excellent, but those last two large paragraphs were legit.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yeah. It’s pretty fucking amazing, and started at Marchford. A lot of credit for this goes to Juniper, for being a brilliant commander winning against any odds so far; a lot of credit for this goes to Catherine, for recognizing Juniper’s potential and recruiting her; a lot of credit for this goes also to Catherine, for being a good as hell commander in her own right, if not quite on Juniper’s level (see: Four Armies and One).

      And then there’s the credit that goes to Catherine for being bugfucking nuts as a Named and riding heroic stories so much and so successfully, she’s statistically backed by providence.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Decius

    Editorial note: There should be a scene earlier in the work that establishes the location and width of the river. Previous scenes had set it as a strategic barrier, but in this update it grows to the point that there are 2000 people in loose formation (because of the munitions) too far from the edge to escape after the ice breaks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Assuming the line is 100 wide and 20 deep, and allowing 5 feet between each person (a very loose formation), that would make the river over 100 feet wide – not unreasonable. And remember that it’s winter and these people are wearing armor, so you’d have to be very close to the shore to survive the ice breaking.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Mikasi

    Can I just say I was pleased at the Callow legionaire who had the thought of ‘ya know, after all the crap they’ve had to put up with? The greenskins deserve their long price too.” Shows the slowly changing opinions of Callow on orcs.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. And then there’s “he might yet find himself joining the rebellion if the Black Queen gets a little too black”.

      Don’t worry Cat, your people have got your back on not allowing Evil to overtake the nation!

      Like

    2. See? To impress anybody from Callow, wheel out your grudges. Truly epic, long-standing and healthy ones with much justification to them will get a suitably appreciative ear.

      Even if (heck, especially if) some of the grudge is against Callow. Because something that rich, dark and complex doesn’t grow on easily reached trees.

      Like

      1. There is that… Though the end of Book IV was almost as bad, wondering what happened to Catherine. I do wonder if she’s actually as mortal as she thinks she is, given she’s on her fourth life and at least her third major Role. (Depending if Squire II and/or Queen counts.) If the Dead King was surprised by her achieving immortality by accident, he must be astonished at her willingly renouncing it.

        Liked by 1 person

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