Chapter 21: Intervention

Even madmen can win at dice.”
– Callowan saying

General Abigail rode poorly, though that was hardly a surprise. Most of my army was no better. Given that it was in majority Callowan, that was somewhat shameful: my people had once held a reputation for breeding the finest war horses on Calernia and riding them into battle with distinguished record. That’d been before the Conquest, though. A lot of Old Kingdom noble families had preferred butchering their own herds to turning them over to the Tower, and Black famously almost had an uprising on his hands when he moved to obtain horses from the mostly-untouched south of the kingdom. It was one of the few times my teacher had actually backed down. In practice, the old expectation that anyone of means as well as anyone of high birth would be able to ride with a lance had died out under the decades of occupation. A large part of what had birthed that custom in the first place was gone, namely the need for a large pool of trained mounted soldiers to fill the ranks should the Wasteland invade, but in my eyes the real culprit had been the lack of such mounts to be had.

What few war horses had remained were either closely kept by the last of the Callowan aristocracy or by law set aside for the use of the Legions of Terror – in specific the Thirteenth, which had been raised from Callowan bandits and rebels in the first place. Ratface had once told me, years ago, that for the smugglers who could pull it off selling a horse was about as profitable as selling the equivalent weight in spices. Wasteland aristocrats were willing to pay ludicrous sums for a purebred Liesse charger or even a dappled Vale courser. That’d been the thought, anyway, that the old herds and ways were gone. There’d been some satisfaction in the fact the knightly orders might be lost but at least they weren’t under Praesi banners, the kind of bittersweet victory that’d been rare after the Conquest and so even more dearly savoured. But then the Order the Broken Bells had crawled out of the chaos of the Arcadian Campaign, and given time it might spread that knowledge again. A pretty, thought, though in the present it wasn’t making either mounts or skilled riders appear out of thin air.

“Ghastly beasts, I’ll tell no lie,” Abigail of Summerholm muttered, eyeing her mount with distrust. “Bit unnatural, if you ask me.”

The horses I’d confiscated from the four thousand kataphraktoi numbered more than that. Less than military wisdom would have dictated a field force of cavalry should take with them, but six thousand horses was nothing to sneer at. Hakram had speculated that considering they weren’t moving with a remount for every cataphract they might just have a field camp somewhere in Iserre where the rest were being kept, but we’d had no time to look into it. Out of sheer practicality we’d already had to butcher a thousand of those no doubt very expensive mounts, which at least had put the orcs of the Third and Fourth in a rather good mood – fresh meat was a delicacy, out on campaign. But we’d also more than enough left for what might be considered luxury, namely mounting large contingents of messengers and officers. The matter was further complicated by the fact that horses not specifically trained out of it tended to panic around greenskins, but the humans in the general staffs had gained mount at least.

“You get used to it,” I said. “Though it’s been some time since I last rode a living mount, I’ll admit.”

I fondly stroked the rough coat of Zombie the Fifth and received a pleased exhale from the Helikean horse in reply. Zombie the Third was currently being punished by dragging a cart, which looked rather absurd for a winged horse and I knew she very much despised doing. The crime she was atoning for was that this morning I’d found someone had caved in the head, ribs and spine of Zombie the Fourth. She’d tried to look innocent, the wretch, but unless there was another hooved creature in my army jealous of my attentions then I had my culprit. Apparently you could take the Winter necromancy out of the fae horse, but actually you couldn’t and it would keep that vicious temperament forever.

“If you try to shake me off again I’ll have you made into boots,” General Abigail whispered, glaring at her horse and apparently under the impression I couldn’t hear her. “You know what? That’s your name now. Boots. How do you like that, Boots?”

Boots proceeded forward at an indifferent trot and I cleared my throat. The black-haired woman paled, reminded of my presence.

“I, uh, agree Your Majesty,” she hastily said.

I sighed. She hadn’t listened to what I was said in the slightest, had she?

“Oh, good,” I airily replied, offering her a smile. “Then I expect it’ll be done within the hour.”

I enjoyed the panic that seeped into her eyes a little too much.

“Is that,” she tried, “customary?”

Trying to find out what she’d agreed to by context. My long experience of pretending I already knew things while getting Masego to explain them allowed me to see through her admittedly pretty translucent wiles.

“In Ashur, I’d assume,” I gravely said.

“Yes,” she slowly said. “That is… well-known.”

“You can tell Adjutant you’re in need of our maritime charts for the Tyrian Sea,” I continued. “Gods be with you, Admiral Abigail.”

She let out a little whimper, which she tried to pass off as a cough. Then she stilled.

“We don’t have a border with the Tyrian Sea,” she realized. “Or a fleet.”

“Which will lend you the element of surprise,” I mused.

“Queens aren’t supposed to have people on,” General Abigail plaintively said.

I hid my smile by looking away.

“Call it royal prerogative,” I replied, then took mercy on her and changed the subject. “What do you think of your new officers?”

“The transfers from the Fourth are all old hands from the Legions,” the blue-eyed woman said. “To be entirely honest they didn’t need much settling, Your Majesty. And Legate Samid could do my job better than me, if you let him.”

Legate Samid served for fifteen years under General Afolabi, a Wasteland aristocrat, and first enrolled in the Legions at the beginning of Black’s tenure as the captain of Malicia’s armies, I thought. His loyalties are rather more complex than yours, my dear.

“Then learn from him,” I said. “And take his advice, when it has good sense.”

I’d ignored the implied offer to step down from her generalship and resume her legate duties, as I had the last five times she’d indirectly broached the subject. And would keep doing. Talented Callowan candidates for a general’s mantle didn’t grow on trees, much less those with no ties to any of the factions in my court. An abdication was a tricky matter even when a dynasty was stable, and considering mine consisted of me and a tumultuous reign of less than five years I hardly qualified. A popular Callowan general with a distinguished war record and no real ambition for power would go a long way in stabilizing what would follow in my wake. I set aside the thought for now. It was too early to tell if Abigail of Summerholm could really be used in that manner, and pushing too hard too fast would only spoil the broth.

“I won’t know the first thing about fighting heroes, ma’am,” General Abigail said.

“I’ve killed more than a few and I barely do,” I shrugged. “Besides, ideally we won’t be killing anyone.”

“That’s, uh, not the sentiment I expected to hear,” the black-haired general said.

“Any corpse we make down here is one less warm body to throw at the Dead King, Abigail,” I said. “And heroes, well, we’ll need more than a few of those to drive the Hidden Horror back into hiding.”

“Into hiding,” she slowly said. “Not to kill.”

“You ever seen a god die, General Abigail?” I said.

She shivered.

“Can’t say I have, ma’am,” she replied, lips tight.

“Neither have I,” I said, “but I suspect it would be messy business. Best we know our limitations, and not bargain for more than we can deliver.”

“I hear that,” General Abigail muttered.

About time to segue into more personal matters, I mused. I’d taken to digging into her past, when the opportunity rose, though what I’d learned was as amusing as it was appalling. Inquiried about her family had let to ‘My Ma brewed, and what Pa didn’t drink we sold.’ An open-ended question about why she’d enrolled had led to ‘Our place in Summerholm burned down, and all respect Your Majesty but have you ever smelled a tannery?‘ I’d been about to ask about the orc tribune – Krolem, his name was, I’d had Hakram look into him – that she brought with her everywhere when movement caught my attention at the corner of my eye. Enemy outriders? No, I saw as I squinted, some of our own scouts. The Third Army was at the head of the column for the day’s march, and with my personal banner being raised along with its own the scout officers were likely to head here for their first report. I’d not expected anything from them for some time, to be honest. Our best guess had Juniper’s camp half a day away, further west along the frozen river we were following.

“Unusual,” I said.

The general followed my gaze, but said nothing.

“Come on,” I decided. “We’re headed to the front of the column.”

I spurred Zombie the Fifth forward, peeling off from the side of the Third Army and outpacing the marching legionaries. Abigail followed more slowly, hissing curses at her uncooperative mount I pretended not to hear. It wasn’t a full scouting line, I saw as I approached. Only a tenth, all goblins, with the line’s sergeant among them. Whatever they saw, I thought, it was urgent enough they backtracked. I reined in my horse a dozen feet ahead of the front of my column, slowing him to a trot to remain ahead as the goblins approached. Abigail arrived just before they did, legs so tight against her saddle I winced to think of the cramps she’d have tonight. The sergeant – stringy, small and more yellow than green, the ritual scarring around her lips lending her a grisly touch – came forward and saluted.

“Your Majesty,” she said. “Sergeant Hurdler, reporting.”

“At ease, sergeant,” I replied.

I glanced at Abigail and saw she’d mostly composed herself. Good enough.

“You’re back earlier than expected,” I said. “Your report?”

“Whatever we got out of the Procerans, it was inaccurate,” the goblin said. “The Hellhound’s camp is about half a bell ahead, and when Lieutenant Reeler sent us back battle was already being given.”

Shit, I thought. There were hills to the west of us, split in the middle by the river our maps called the Odelle. Not all that tall, but enough they’d cut our line of sight. It makes sense, I grimly conceded. Juniper would want hills on one of her flanks if she could, knowing she’d be outnumbered in a battle.

“Battle,” I said. “Elaborate, sergeant.”

“Marshal Juniper raised a fortified camp on both sides of the river banks,” Hurdler said. “An army of Levantines and Procerans was assaulting the northern bank, last I saw.”

“Which was?” I pressed.

“A little over an hour,” the goblin said. “We could see from the taller hills.”

Fuck. I’d bet on Juniper against most generals, and on Grem One-Eye against the few left, but they wouldn’t just be fighting mortals. There would be heroes, and if what Hakram had told me about Vivienne was true then Juniper wouldn’t have any Named to pit against them. The Pilgrim alone might be driven back by the Wild Hunt, but the Saint? Laurence de Montfort had already proved she could savage the lot of them singlehandedly. Our Proceran prisoners had told us about cavalry skirmishes and ambushes, not a pitched battle over the camp. The enemy had moved quicker than we’d anticipated. My fingers clenched and I leaned back against my saddle, turning my face to the sky. I whistled, loudly.

“Ma’am?” Sergeant Hurdler said.

“Pass your report along to General Bagram and Lord Adjutant immediately,” I told her. “Dismissed, sergeant.”

She saluted, and left dragging along her exhausted scouts.

“General Abigail,” I said.

The blue-eyed Callowan was watching me warily.

“Your Majesty,” she replied.

“The Third Army is to march on those hills as quickly as you can make it,” I said, the staff in my grasp twirling to point at the slopes to the west. “You’re to fly the Third’s banner from the tallest hills. Send a messenger to Bagram, and fly the Fourth’s as well.”

“And General Bagram is to follow?” she asked.

“Pass this along to Hakram: Five Armies and One,” I said.

“That’s all?” Abigail blinked.

“It’s enough,” I amusedly replied.

“And you, ma’am?” she asked.

I glanced up, and saw exactly what I’d been waiting for.

“I’ll be going ahead,” I said.

In a splash of snow, Zombie the Third landed right in front of me. Wings still unfolded, she celebrated her release from punishment with a smug little canter. I gesture for one of the legionaries in the front rank to approach, some beardless boy who looked almost too small for his armour. I passed him my living mount’s reins and instructed him to lead it back to our supply train, but paused when I caught the sun glinting off his helm.

“Your name?” I asked.

“Edgar, ma’am,” he replied, sounding too young and too awed. “Of Laure.”

“Are you?” I smiled, and flicked a glance at Abigail. “Good, it wouldn’t do to have the Summerholm folk take all the glory. I’ll be needing to borrow your helmet, Edgar.”

The boy’s eyes widened in surprise, but he fumbled at the clasps and held it up like an offering. I set it under my arm, pulling my loose hair back into a ponytail with the leather tongue I still carried in my cloak. The legionary helmet settled on my head with a comfortingly familiar weight. I winked at Edgar.

“Last time I was on a field and royalty went without one of those, I had them shot,” I said.

The boy choked, and I grinned before limping to Zombie’s side, waiting until she’d folded her wings to hoist myself atop her. I turned to Abigail.

“See to it he gets another before battle, would you?” I told her, dipping my head towards the kid.

“I will,” General Abigail nodded. “Should I be asked your intent, Your Majesty, what should I say?”

I mulled over that as my mount spread her wings.

“I’m going to make a point, General,” I said. “Tactfully.”

I spurred on my winged mount and she raced ahead, leaping up and rising to the beat of long wings. We rose and rose and rose, high into the sky, until the sun was warming my bones and I judged the height was sufficient. The time for quiet was over, I thought. Night flooded my veins, sluggish under the glare of day, but it was enough to rip open an inky-black gate into Arcadia. Below us, as it happened. We dove through the gate into the realm of the fae. Sunny skies awaited us on the other side, the Summer sun’s disapproving light upon us, but what did we care? There was only the endless blue firmament and the descent, Zombie responding to the nudges of my knees and adjusting the angle so we would tumble through the destination I could feel in the back of my mind.

I pressed close against her back, cloak trailing behind me, and squinted against the howling air. My staff of ebony I clutched tightly, until I could feel the point the needle was to emerge from the cloth. Beneath us was spread out a fortress, banners of neither Court I had known raised tall over pale walls, and cries sounded at our approach. The tallest tower, I saw, was our gate out. The very summit. I grimaced. Well, too late to hesitate. Down, down, down, until I could almost make out the faces of the fae jousting in the courtyard below, laden with silks and elaborate armaments. My staff rose and sluggishly the gate out ripped itself open atop the tower. We plunged through narrowly, and in the beat that followed found ourselves diving through fresh skies.

The cool air of Procer whistled around me as the gate closed, and we joined the battle unfolding below.

It was a bloody mess that I witness sprawling out beneath me. I’d been afraid that the northern Levantines and Principate reinforcements had somehow managed to steal a march, but by the looks of it they hadn’t. Not exactly. In the distance I could see columns of soldiers heading south, spread out like glittering snakes of steel. This was a vanguard, not the full host. That’d be reassuring, though, if Juniper actually looked to be winning. The Army of Callow and the Legions under Marshal Grem had raised a fortified camp across the two banks of the frozen River Odelle, not only palisades but earthen ramparts and even platforms for their siege engines. The northern part of that camp, however, was a wreck. What must have been flat grounds once was now a disaster of collapsed tunnels, the outskirts of which were being fought over by legionaries and Levantine foot. The Hellhound had dug under her own camp, I thought. It would have taken goblins to do this much damage so swiftly. Odds were she’d meant to bait the enemy into the northern bank and then collapse it on them, possibly with munitions thrown in to make it a crippling blow. Something had gone wrong, though, because among the havoc I saw more of our dead than the enemy’s.

Our side was stuck in fighting retreat to the southern bank fortifications, but the legionaries were getting the bad end of that scrap – on uneven grounds, the lightly-armored Levantines were proving much more effective. Many of them carried javelins, I saw, and those were death on even good armour when properly thrown. Even when not, they turned shields useless by sticking in them. It wasn’t the kind of fight the reformed Legions of Terror had been built for, and the Army of Callow was daughter to that institution. The Order of Broken Bells was out on the left flank, but too far out: they’d been baited into pursuing lighter Levantine cavalry, by the looks of it. But it was on the right that disaster loomed. Proceran horse, a force at least seven thousand strong and advancing at a trot. I’d put my hand to fire it’d held back until now, and I could see why: if it charged down the Odelle, as it was moving to do, it would neatly cut the retreat of the legionaries fighting their way out of the wreckage. There’d been palisades put over the ice, Juniper wasn’t an amateur, but they’d been shattered beyond repair by something and sappers were struggling to raise fresh ones. They wouldn’t make it in time, I assessed. Not something solid enough to resist a hard charge by seven thousand hardened Proceran mounted killers.

Someone had hit my side exactly where they needed to for this to turn into a debacle, and I had my suspicions as to who. I wasn’t seeing the Pilgrim or the Saint anywhere but that hardly meant they weren’t there. Yet this could still be salvaged, I decided. If the legionaries in the wreckage didn’t get cut off, most of them should make it to the southern bank and then the siege engines would stop the enemy advance cold. Which meant that seven thousand horse had to be turned back. I worried my lip but pressed my knees against Zombie’s side and she angled her glide down to land ahead of the Proceran cavalry. Making the fairy gates hadn’t put me out of commission, but I wasn’t exactly fresh anymore either. I wouldn’t be able to pull a second Sarcella today, of that much I was certain, even if heroes decided not to interfere. Calling on a few vicious Night tricks might slow down the enemy, but I’d burn out long before I could make a real dent in seven thousand horsemen.

Five hundred feet before the enemy, Zombie’s hooves skimmed the surface of the cold field and left long spouts of snow like wings as she landed. I watched the Proceran banners trail in the breeze far ahead of me, vivid coloured stripes flying high above rows and rows of steel-clad soldiers. Some of those I had seen on the pages of ancient volumes. The red lion of Valencis, the strange green dragonfly of Lange. Other symbols I did not: a long-haired maiden clutching bow and arrows, a bronze wheel atop a pale column.

Four hundred feet.

One I had seen before with my own eyes, I realized, and not so long ago: a scarlet salamander on flaxen bed, the arms of Aequitan. The detail startled a laugh out of me. An old acquaintance was among them, then. Borrowed helm glinting in the sun, I twirled my staff and leaned forward. No miracle of Night came. Instead, using the length of ebony wood I traced a line in the snow ahead of me.

Three hundred feet.

Watching seven thousand killers ride towards me with no sign of slowing, I did the only reasonable thing left to me and went looking through my cloak. I snapped my wrist, black flame flickered, and I pulled at my pipe. I inhaled the wakeleaf with a little sigh of pleasure and breathed out a long stream of smoke.

Two hundred feet.

I grinned, broad and sharp and just a little mad. Now, the thing was, if it came to a scrap they might just kill me. They knew that. I knew that. Yet here I was, unmoving.

One hundred feet.

Catherine Foundling, out of breath and out of her depth, would be swept aside with a warlike shout. They weren’t facing that girl, though, were they? They were facing the Black Queen, the warlord who’d slain fae and bound them to her service. The monster who’d brought down the sky at the Battle of the Camps, faced a band of heroes alone and raised a lake’s worth of dead. They were facing every dark rumour I’d ever had put to my name, after watching me dive out of a pitch-black portal on a dead fae horse. And sure, odds were I was mad. Gone the way of the Old Tyrants, drunk on power.

But, a little voice would be whispering, what if I wasn’t?

I grinned, and smoked my pipe.

Fifty feet.

They flinched first.

163 thoughts on “Chapter 21: Intervention

    1. theart0fwar

      > “Is that,” she tried, “customary?”

      A valiant effort.

      > A popular Callowan general with a distinguished war record and no real ambition for power would go a long way in stabilizing what would follow in my wake.

      Oh gods below, imagine Abigail as a *queen*?

      > “Neither have I,” I said

      Well, but you have more experience in these matters. Like stealing from choirs, eh…

      > “I’m going to make a point, General,” I said. “Tactfully.”

      HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

      > They flinched first.

      Catherine is just so… so epic.

      Can’t wait for the next chapter!

      Liked by 20 people

      1. Cicero

        Actually, sounded more to me like she was thinking a general loyal to the institution instead of her own ambition and thus not likely to make a grab for power in the instability caused by Cat abdicating/dying and transferring power to someone else.

        Liked by 1 person

            1. Andrew Mitchell

              She did. I found the relevant chapter: https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2017/12/04/chapter-49-hearsay/

              “Democracy, it was called. There was a part of that that appealed to me – letting people choose their own way – but I’d never really bought into the notion. People were dumb, broadly speaking, and mobs even dumber. For all that I’d acquired a distaste of nobility, filling a hall with drunk tradesmen and asking the lot of them to make laws was no way to rule a country. Someone had to hold the reins, or all you got was bickering and indecision. Just because I believe that place shouldn’t be inherited didn’t meant is should be carved up and handed off to a hundred thousand strangers out in the streets.”

              Liked by 1 person

          1. Ehhhh, it’d probably work out reasonably okay for a city-state, or maybe something a bit bigger (ie, Rennaissance Venice).
            It’s the scaling it up that causes issues in this kind of setting.
            Plus, the whole issue of Named.

            And the closest example to democracy we have is the clusterfuck known as Bellerophon. Nobody else wants to go anywhere near that kind of governing system for themselves.

            On the other hand, Cat doesn’t exactly approve of the concept of hereditary nobility much either.
            It’s hard to say what kind of government she’ll end up leaving behind or trying to leave behind.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. ninegardens

              I wonder if the gods below deliberately made Bellerophon as a joke, so as to dissuade other nations from even CONSIDERING the idea of an elected government.

              (Or possibly is conspiracy on both sides to keep them heriarchy’s which seem to work so well for this whole “Good vs Evil” competition.)

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Switzerland might like to point out that what vaguely democratic ball the Ventician Republic dropped, it picked up. And ran with. Stumps have been big in Helvetica going back quite some way.

              Even when other European powers stuck their oars in and tried to stop communities, towns and villages from using direct democracy the Alpine way. (Note: it’s still highly selective. Do not get me started on who can and cannot vote at whatever form of election.)

              Liked by 2 people

            3. Agent J

              It’s patently obvious Catherine wants some manner of meritocratic system. She believes positions of power should not be in the hands of the unwashed masses. She’s as uninterested in an Absolute Democracy as she is in a Republic. One is Rule by Mob while the other is Rule by Popularity. Neither, from my understanding of Cat’s views, are sound reasons to hand people power. But she also believes that it shouldn’t be handed to silver-spoon brats with more silk than sense either.

              What’s left is qualified individuals taking key positions of power because of their merit and no other reason. Not blood, not popularity among low information voters, and not by the will of the torch wielding mob.

              Cat wants a Rule by Merit system for Callow/Dread Empire and given that this was basically the underlying thesis of the Reforms and the Legions of Terror, I’m surprised this isn’t as obvious to everyone as it seems to me.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Catherine would probably like a modern-type democracy with elected representatives, but there isn’t precedent for that on Calernia and she isn’t that kind of social reformist.

                Like

                1. Agent J

                  Representatives elected by way of popularity among low information voters and who’s policies don’t even line up with the will of said low information voters, but rather of wealthy oligarchs who’ve bought them out.

                  No, I’m fairly certain Catherine would rather a political system more in line with the system championed by yhe revolutionary Legions of Terror and is the building blocks of her Army of Callow. That is, a system in which merit is the only metric by which people are proper to higher positions.

                  Besides, everyone knows how horribly flawed modern democracies are, but’s it’s cultural wisdom that “while our system is bad, there is no working alternative”. That’s not exactly a strong selling point to medieval monarch.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Soviet Union tried to be a meritocracy. It didn’t go well. (Who decides people’s merit, in a meritocracy?)

                    But yeah, I do agree with your basic point / conclusion.

                    Like

      1. Agent J

        Did you miss that whole bit at Second Liesse where the Squire was transitioning into the Black Queen, until Black broke the weapon and name alike?

        Cuz… Black Queen is dead as a Name, it’s corpse devoured by Winter, and then sold to Sve Noc in exchange for an army.

        Also, Priestess of Night is way more fun than any Name.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. magesbe

          Black Queen was dead as a name… but that’s because Black closed the door on that interpretation of her rulership at that moment. I’m not saying that Black Queen will become a Name, but I think it’s foolish to think that because it was stopped once, that Name can never become one.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. RandomFan

            I think that if she’s offered the name of Queen a third time and loses it, it’s a safe bet that she will never hold a Queen name- I’m pretty sure she’s already turned down the name of Queen in book 2 and been denied it in book 3.

            Like

          2. I think the “Black” part referred to her willingness to agree to Malicia’s idea for the WMD. Catherine will now never fit that Name because after the opportunity passed, she realized that was wrong.

            The world just hasn’t yet caught on to the fact she is after Not Being Evil, is all.

            Liked by 5 people

      1. Lord GM

        No, Cat will never have a proper Name again. That is my solid conviction. Because to have a Name one must fill a Role and that means obediently playing by the Gods’ rules and becoming a playing piece on their divine chess board called Creation. And since Book I we know that Cat hates to play by any rules not her own.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I’ve been considering running a PGtE campaign whenever the campaign I’m already running wraps up. I think that Scion 2e would actually be a good match for a system; a focus on narrative play aligns well with a setting where stories matter so much, it’s all about people unlocking demigod-tier power already so you’d just have to change the source of that, and the mechanics of it got cleaned up a lot from Scion 1e. It would need a bit of tweaking still, but less than any other system that come to mind.

            Liked by 5 people

          1. Decius

            Which is why I like the combined “Persuasion” skill better than having bluff, intimidate, and diplomacy as three separate things.

            Her immediate intention is to scare people, which involves pretending to have capability she lacks, so that she can convince the army to attack the Dead King. That’s intimidate, bluff, and diplomacy all in one.

            Liked by 3 people

      1. danh3107

        Right but we don’t know if she replaced it, or if poof she’s a normal person again. The dissonance is just bugging me, this started out as a series about Named and how interesting they are, and then we even get a group of named to replace the last big evil group and now two are just normal people again.

        It’s just bugging me, of course this is all dependent on whether or not she actually lost her named status altogether but hey.

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        1. Andrew Mitchell

          I’m really looking forward to finding out more about what’s happened to Vivienne. Not so much her Name, because I think she’s lost it and she isn’t about to get another one. But more so to find out about how her mindset has changed and how she’s been doing her role as Regent while Cat’s been away. And, of course, what she thought about Hakram’s sacrifice and what difference that made to her.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Cassus

            Just a thought, but V does not have quite as clearly defined a character as Catherine did when she lost her name and remained awesome. I think that V will get a new name. And since she is running a country in the Queen’s absence and apparently building up a lot of authority and dealing with issues, how about we name her Chancellor?

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Chancellor is a Praesi-specific Name. It’s a culturally specific Name, not one that could come from more or less anywhere. And has specific connotations to it that are peculiar to Praes and Praesi culture. Once important such connotation is that it is normal and expected for the Chancellor to at some point betray and become the next Dread Emperor/Empress of Praes. There’s a very good reason why Malicia has tried to kill the Name of Chancellor.

              The Callowan Role-equivalents, sans the mandatory backstabbing, would likely be something along the lines of Regent, Castellan, and/or Steward.

              Liked by 2 people

        2. Judging by “Juniper has no Named to counter them”, yes Vivi is no longer Named.

          I personally think this is an amazing & also hilarious development.

          I’m also expecting Cordelia to get a Name and Amadeus to get a new Name, so I don’t think Named will drop off the landscape entirely.

          But Cat as non-Named out-Naming Named is the BEST plot development. With Vivi at her side.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Ehhhh, to be fair, Thief is not a combatant Name, and Viv/Thief was always pretty bad in a fight. And there’s no way she could realistically counter a combat Name on a battlefield.
            So saying Juniper has no Named to counter Heroes would be true whether Viv is still Thief or not.

            Like

            1. Vivi is bad in a direct Named vs Named fight, sure, but we have a battle with armies both assisted by Named here, not that.

              Remember the river fleet? Remember the stolen supplies? Cat’s not exactly dueling enemy heroes here either.

              Like

            2. Decius

              Thief would not win a straight-up fight with other Named, but if she was there and in full power she could have stolen a march or two, and the battle wouldn’t even been there.

              Liked by 1 person

          2. Viv had lost her name as of Hakram’s last report… she could still pull out a new name and first aspect mid-fight. As far as insisting that Cat is non-Named, we already know that fae titles are comparable to Names in terms of granting power. I’d say her First Priestess role is likewise, so there’s no real reason to care that she doesn’t have a “traditional” name. If anything, she’s laying new paths for a future name.

            An aside: The mention of Abigail’s orc friend makes me think: The appearance of the Name Adjutant implies that what the name represents has become enough of a tradition in 20 years or so that it could support a Name. In this case, that would seem to be: “The orc adjutant who’s not just a terror by your side, but a good assistant outside the fight.” I’m wondering if Abigail may have picked up one of the un-Named versions.

            Liked by 4 people

          3. Shikkarasu

            Cordelia won’t get a Name. Both because First Prince isn’t, and never has been, a Name and also because she dislikes relying on Named. Exception, of course, for having Auger as a cousin. Also, she is opposing the Saint (who wants to break Procer) and Pilgrim (who refused to kill Black). It’s hard to do that without being a Villain; they are too entrenched in their Roles.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Not First Prince, Warden Of The West.

              Dislike for Names does not exempt you from getting one, see: Tariq and Anaxares.

              And as long as she’s not trying to kill the two of them but just stays her own course wrt saving her country, she’s fully eligible for a heroic Name imho.

              Like

          4. Andrew Mitchell

            “I’m also expecting Cordelia to get a Name and Amadeus to get a new Name”

            It’s going to be interesting to see if either of those predictions come true. And even more interested to see how it develops and becomes real. Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen with Cordelia. And I’d only give Black even odds.

            Liked by 1 person

          1. I could swear she is on Zombie 5th. Raised specifically to hammer the naughty step home (and to keep Z3 well outside ground zero, able to swoop in for evac if needed — Z5 is more disposable if things gang agley [translation: go wonky], and could be used as a munitions delivery system at need).

            Like

            1. magesbe

              Yes because Zombie the 5th can clearly swoop out of an airborn portal like her current mount did.

              Unless you’re trying to say you wish she was on Zombie the 5th.

              Liked by 2 people

            2. She was on Zombie 5 (*not actually a zombie) at the beginning of the chapter; She whistled for Z3 and switched mounts for her “forward action”. Not only can Z5 not fly, they maybe wouldn’t react too well to gating.

              Liked by 1 person

  1. Dainpdf

    This reminds me of a scene in Worm.

    “‘You ever seen a god die, General Abigail?’ I said.

    She shivered.

    ‘Can’t say I have, ma’am,’ she replied, lips tight.

    ‘Neither have I,’ I said”

    Bad Cat. You don’t have Winter anymore to put your pants out with.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      I don’t think Cat was implying that she is going to kill a god, she was implying that is something you don’t want to see. She even stated that she wanted the Dead King to go back to hiding.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          The Duke of Violent Squalls wasn’t a god. And neither was the King of Winter or the Queen of Summer. Not quite the same tier as the actual gods of creation IMO.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. Ben Serreau-Raskin

      Because all the gate does is make a hole someone can walk through. If the army tried to retreat through it, they’d get attacked the entire way. Battles like this are decided by who can maintain a coherent line longer and doing that while backing up is really hard. Any army that’s doing well enough in the fight to retreat en masse through a single choke point didn’t actually need to retreat in the first place.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Novice

          Yes, but the moment Cat joined the battle is mere seconds away from a cavalry charge destroying Juniper’s flank. This is just her prioritizing the most urgent.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Eldrene Ay Ellan

            She was marching he army for over a week before this. If travel is possible then why the hell would you not just immediately gate the 3rd and 4th to the region Juniper is in? You don’t even have to actually exit the gate if you have any enemies nearby, just close it and open another a couple kilometers over.

            Like

            1. That’s not how it works. Cat doesn’t go ‘in’ and ‘out of’ Arcadia, she goes ‘through’ Arcadia. She can’t aim from Arcadia back into Creation, all the aiming is done while outside.

              Liked by 3 people

    2. Valkyria

      Also there’s no way to guess if the way trough Arcadia is actually shorter than the normal distance on Calernia. It sure makes sense for long way travels that would take months, but there’s no way you can actually know where in Arcadia the exit is, and how far away it is. What if she had just a few miles normally, but like march through half of Arcadia if she chose to gate there…?

      Liked by 3 people

    3. She needs to know the entry and exit point. She can’t just say ‘to Juniper please’. She needed to actually find her in the mundane way first. She can’t even just know where the point is, she has to actually be familiar with it to get precise results.

      She can get from anywhere to Callow. But she can’t ad-hoc gate to anywhere.

      Liked by 5 people

  2. magesbe

    This. This is the kind of mad, gutsy action that I loved Catherine pulling. We haven’t seen anything really like this since book 3. Welcome back, Catherine. We’re watching you eagerly as you show us just why you were definitively voted the most popular PGtE character.

    Liked by 8 people

  3. Not often that we see the Army of Callow get seriously beat up. I wonder how much of the First & Second are left, let alone in fighting shape. Also considering the loss of people from Liesse and near-constant recruitment of the last few years, I feel like Callow should be running out of soldiers at this point.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      It’s over the course of years, and if anything, the constant disasters are actually feeding more manpower to the army.

      In good times, you have low unemployment, and the rate of volunteers may be 1/100, or potentially lower. Callow may have about 1-4 million souls, as it went through a long period of peace, their cities are of moderate size, and grain is plentiful. That’s a theorical manpower pool of 100,000-400,000. Callow historically didn’t get much volume from its own people, only after the battle of the Camps. Black didn’t butcher most people in the Liesse Rebellion, and most disasters in Callow have been limited to Liesse.

      Its now not good times, the economy is focused on war, and unemployment in the South is rising. Theoretically, the ratio of soldiers can actually double, to 1/50 without further economic penalties, as the level of employment wasn’t using those people anyways. So now we have a further 100,000 people to throw into the fire.

      The 1-4 Million figure comes from the fact that most Callowan cities population number in the hundreds of thousands, but in this time period, the level of urbanization is actually low.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. The thing is, “unemployment” is something of a modern concept. At Callowan’s tech level and with feudal government, the issue is more in the shape of the war driving people off their land and disrupting trade. A farmer whose land has been overrun or a merchant who can’t get goods, or their respective adult sons, are all potential soldiers. And given there are Callowan traditions of local defense, an appealing (or appalling) ruler has lots more potential soldiers to recruit or outright draft,

        Liked by 3 people

        1. IDKWhoitis

          Although unemployment is a modern term, it still is a good term to describe what is happening. There is a surplus amount of people who are available, who may be looking for work or otherwise can’t due to their farm burning down or their former clients and vendors being zombified by Liesse.

          Liked by 3 people

  4. IDKWhoitis

    Are we about to see a “Take me to your Leader” moment? Or a jumbled mess of confused and terrified squabble between Cat and the Cavalrymen?

    Also, how long until heroes are on the scene, cussing Cat out?

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Andrew Mitchell

    What a great chapter. I loved the conversation between Abigail and Cat! I’m so glad Cat’s now fully herself again without the influence of Winter. What a gutsy move to stand as a mortal in front of that charge!

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Someguy

        When mares go in heat, horny stallions will do anything to get some. All it takes is 1 breaking into/out of their pen and the breeding plans go to shit for several generations.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. A little accidental outcrossing is, ultimately, good for the stock book: it’s how you discover nice surprises you wouldn’t have thought of trying to aim for. 🙂

          Mares aren’t totally daft when they pick who to flick a particularly flirtatious tail at, after all.

          Wish more breeders embraced the roulette wheel a bit more gladly when it happens, because you can never quite tell what the grandkids will do until they get born to show you.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. Jack

      I wish a way could be done to use Z3 a breeding stock. The Order of the Bells will eventually become the Order of the “Flying” Bells … hmmm, sounds like a name for a trapeze act.

      Like

  6. Matthew

    This is called the empty fort strategy.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empty_Fort_Strategy

    The most famous and also fictional use of it is in Romance of the Three Kingdoms.. (Which honestly also runs on Name logic) when the famed strategist, Zhuge Liang finds himself trapped behind enemy lines with only a few dozen soldiers.

    Before the enemy army comes, he opens up the gates, hides all of his very few soldiers, and goes on the wall in his best clothes with a guqin (chinese guitar) and just plays.

    By this point in the story, he has a reputation for impossible victories and clever tricks so the enemy commander sees him alone on the wall with the gates open…

    …and leaves.

    He’s not falling for whatever BS Zhuge Liang has planned, because this is so obviously a trap.

    Zhuge Liang escapes and lives.

    Liked by 13 people

      1. Raved Thrad

        Cao Cao was awesome. Everyone hated him, and he still ended up Emperor.

        Of course, there was also the time he ordered himself beheaded, but his advisors managed to talk him down to just a stern warning, so even he wasn’t all there.

        Liked by 11 people

    1. It also happened during the Sengoku Jidai with Tokugawa. In his case he lit dozens of extra torches, made extra war bonfires, and beat numerous war drums while ordering the gates open in the middle of the night. He had just had shinobi agents attack the enemy camp, starting fires, detonating bombs, and sowing confusion. The enemy comanders, seeing their camp in chaos just as what sounded and looked like a mass of enemy troops were getting ready to attack sounded a retreat rather than get slaughtered in a surprise night attack.

      Liked by 4 people

  7. Kilimandaros

    Shouldn’t sergeant Hurdler be a male goblin? I mean back in Raid (extra chapter) Robber noted that “there wasn’t a single female goblin in the Fifteenth that wasn’t an officer, since they didn’t enrol in the ranks: it was the War College for them or nothing at all”. Sergeant isn’t an officer – no female goblin should be a sergeant.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. TimSEsq

      For some reason, sergeant appears to be an officer in the Legions of Terror. The War College was officer training, and some of its graduates became sergeants (including Hakram).
      That’s not how real world military academies tend to work.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Kilimandaros

        Hakram was Sergeant when he was enrolled in the War Collage (captain was highest rank there – they didn’t have enough troops under their command to have the need for higher ranks). After graduating he become Catherine’s adjutant.

        Liked by 3 people

      1. Kilimandaros

        “Only a tenth, all goblins, with the line’s sergeant among them.”
        “the goblin said” twice during her report, so I’m pretty sure that she is a goblin.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. ereshkigala

    I just wanted one of those seven thousand people to be a psychopath that didn’t feel fear, or a fanatic that didn’t care how strong the Arch-Heretic might be… and for them to have a crossbow.

    What she did? It was flat-out stupid because statistically speaking, one of the nameless guys present should have taken a potshot – and they wouldn’t miss from fifty feet away. She’s no longer an incarnation of Winter, she no longer has a Name, so she can’t even rely on stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes and no.
      She knows she’s no longer nigh invincible and overwhelmingly powerful.

      They don’t.
      All they know is what they’ve picked up from the stories they’ve heard about her. In those stories, she’s terrifying, functionally unkillable, and incredibly powerful. They might even know that their commanders decided to attack now instead of waiting for their own reinforcements because the Black Queen was on her way, and their commanders wanted to fight the battle before the Black Queen could arrive.
      And then there’s the fact that she deliberately went out on front of all of them all by herself with a flying horse, and she took the time to light her pipe and start smoking.
      It looks to them like a trap. And they *know* shooting her is useless, and just might piss her off enough that she stops being subtle and drops a lake on them. Or does something else unpleasant and appallingly violent to them. They know that they don’t have heroes immediately available to assist them.

      It’s also entirely possible that Malanza has issued standing orders for non-Heroes to immediately withdraw and report, instead of engaging, in the event of encountering the Black Queen.
      Cat showing up is kind of an excuse for Malanza to pull back from attacking, and to stop expending troops against the Army of Callow. Which Malanza doesn’t really want to do anyways.

      Liked by 3 people

  9. aran

    “No plan, no backup, no weapons weapons worth a damn. Oh, and something else I don’t have? Anything. To. Lose.

    Do the smart thing. Let someone else try first.”

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Clint

    Edgar!

    This is his second mention, and in this one he’s explicitly outfitting the Black Queen with his helmet and taking care of her horse.

    And she made explicit reference to the Shining Prince.

    Could Edgar be one lucky battle (e.g. surviving a night raid including a few Named) away from being the next Page?

    Liked by 1 person

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