Chapter 22: Standoffs

“One hundred sixty nine: any companion volunteering to stay behind and hold off a superior enemy will be guaranteed success, twice over if having already taken a mortal wound.”
– “Two Hundred Heroic Axioms”, author unknown

It was like watching the sea split.

Even at the measured pace they’d been keeping fifty feet was too close for them to outright end the charge. There were seven thousand of them, and though they weren’t tightly packed those kinds of numbers had weight and momentum – that was what made cavalry charged so dangerous in the first place. No, stopping wasn’t in the cards, so instead the Proceran wheeled to the sides. It was beautiful display of horsemanship, the kind of skill I might have applauded were it not the work of soldiers still intent on killing mine. I kept a calm eye on the proceedings to see if any of the riders were crossing the line I’d traced in the snow, but whoever had called them back had pulled the leash in full: as if held back by an invisible wall, the stream of riders spread out on the sides but never crossed. I pulled at my pipe calmly, studying the enemy and running a mental tally of who might be in command. This lot should have been sent south by Hasenbach herself, but with her uncle and most her fellow Lycaonese up north fighting the Dead King she might not have had a competent loyalist to appoint at the head of the army.

Princess Rozala Malanza was a possible candidate, assuming the results of the Battle of the Camps hadn’t tarred her reputation as a general in the Principate, but she was one of Amadis Milenan’s supporters. If she held command, it meant that the situation up in Salia had gotten rather interesting. No, odds were it was one of the western princes or princesses that held the run of the host. I’d seen the banner for Lange flying, and that was possible, but more likely it’d been the rulers of Brus or Lyonis – both long-standing Hasenbach supporters – that held primacy. I’d find out soon enough, I supposed, because someone had given the order to hold back. I spat out a mouthful of grey smoke and adjusted my helm slightly so that the sun wouldn’t shine into my eyes. It was a nice day out, more cool than cold and nearly windless. The many plumes of smoke rising from the wrecked camp where Juniper’s trap had failed made the lack of breeze obvious, and I allowed myself a glance in that direction. The bitter fighting retreat of my forces had not ceased in the slightest: if anything, the Levantine foot was going after my soldiers even more aggressively than before.

The enemy ranks parted to let through a heavily-armed party of thirty, and though the faces of the royals coming to were still hidden to my eyes the three banners above them were not. The salamander of Aequitan was there, which meant Malanza herself was part of the delegation, but hers was the only heraldry I knew for certain of the three. The long-haired maiden clutching a bow and arrows I vaguely remembered to be from northern Procer, though which principality I couldn’t say. The green eagle perched on a crescent might be the arms of Cantal and therefore another old acquaintance – Prince Arnaud of Cantal had been at the Battle of the Camps – but I was pretty sure there was another principality that had a green hawk clutching a crescent moon for heraldry, and I did not trust myself to tell the difference. The Principate’s royal heraldries were a labyrinth at the best of times, and prone to changing along with the branches of the ruling families that held the seat. I got my answer before long, though, when the cavalry escort parted to allow three royals through. Would you look at that, it really is Prince Arnaud, I mused. This was getting rather nostalgic, wasn’t it?

Dark-haired and dark-eyed as Arlesites often were, Princess Rozala had little changed since we last met. Physically, anyway, I thought. There was no easy smile on her lips today, and the way she held herself even on the horse… Like there was nowhere that was entirely safe. I’d seen that before, in old soldiers. In Black too, who’d lived his entire life knowing he was one misstep away from death at heroic hands. You weren’t like at the peace talks after the Camps, Malanza, I thought. This was fresher, and I could think of only one war that’d leave so deep a mark so quickly. She’d fought up north, then. Prince Arnaud was still an unimpressive middle-aged specimen of Alamans royalty, though he appeared to have added a little muscle to his plump frame since we’d last met. Wouldn’t do to dismiss this one, I told myself. He’d stuck out to me as bearing watching during the truce talks, feigning emotions he did not feel very convincingly. The last of three was a woman I’d never seen before, fair-haired and blue-eyed. Older than Rozala but younger than Arnaud, with a soldier’s bearing and a narrow but handsome face. No great beauty, unlike Malanza whose curves and long curls would be well worth a second look in a different situation, but emanating a sort of robust health that was pleasing to the eye.

Rather interestingly, it was Princess Rozala that rode ahead of the other two. They reined in their horses a mere ten feet in front of me, riders bearing their banners behind them as the rest of their escort held tight on the sides.

“Black Queen,” the Princess of Aequitan said, tone grim. “It really is you.”

“In the flesh,” I replied. “It’s been some time, Malanza. I see you’ve still keeping Arnaud around, for some godsforsaken reason. Who’s the fresh face?”

The Prince of Cantal, who I’d so casually referred to, purpled with anger. I no longer had the senses of a fae to listen to his heartbeat, and calling on the Night might be taken as a hostile act, so I could only wonder if it was yet another piece of theatre on his part.

“Now see here, you filth Damned-” the prince snarled.

“Arnaud,” Princess Rozala said, tone sharp.

The man forced himself to calm, and I kept my face blank to hide my interest. Prince Amadis was still in the custody of Callow, last I heard. In his absence had someone else taken up the reins of his little cabal of crowned malcontents?

“I am Princess Sophie Louvroy of Lyonis,” the stranger blandly said. “You are, I believe, the self-proclaimed Queen of Callow.”

“Ah,” I hummed. “So, you’re the minder the First Prince set on ol’ Rozala. Should I be addressing you for the rest of this conversation, or is she actually allowed to speak for herself?”

“A petty and transparent scheme, as befits your reputation,” Princess Sophie coldly replied.

She twitched, though, like she’d wanted to glance at Princess Rozala but caught herself before she could. There were military types – and the Princess of Lyonis seemed too comfortable in armour not to be one of those – that were also subtle diplomats, but it looked like Sophie Louvroy wasn’t one of them. Good to know.

“You’ve refrained from attacking us, Foundling,” Princess Rozala said. “The courtesy has been returned. Evidently you want to talk, so talk. I’ve no time to waste on insults and posturing.”

I studied her for a moment, the tanned face visible through the raised visor of her elaborate helm. The fresh pink scar on her cheek, too rough to have been caused by a blade. Her armour was freshly polished, I saw, but it had blemishes now it’d not had at the Camps. She was worn, and the visible signs of it were the shallowest part.

“Withdraw,” I said. “And I will not pursue.”

Pursue?” Princess Sophie hissed indignantly. “You are one woman-”

I ignored her, meeting Malanza’s eyes instead.

“We’ve been at this crossroads before, Rozala,” I said.

“So we have,” the other woman softly agreed. “But this is not Callow, Catherine Foundling. We did not seek this war.”

“Then let it end,” I said. “Those in my service who brought the sword to Procer, I will chastise appropriately. I don’t want to fight this battle, Rozala Malanza. But trust me, neither do you.”

“And we’re to take you word for this?” Princess Sophie mocked. “You, a-”

“Sophie,” I said, tone nonchalant. “If you interrupt this conversation one more time, I may very well lose patience and relieve you of your tongue.”

The fair-haired woman blanched, then reddened, and though she opened her mouth I stared at her calmly. In silence. A heartbeat passed, then another. Her mouth closed and I returned my gaze to Malanza.

“The Legions of Terror put half the heartlands to the torch,” Princess Rozala said. “That cannot go unanswered, Foundling. Break ties with them and the Army of Callow will be allowed to leave Procer unhindered. On this I give you my word.”

“You know I’m not going to give you that,” I said. “I offer you this instead: allow them to leave in my charge. They will be, from that moment onwards, my responsibility. I give you my word that should any of them attempt to enter Procer again, save at the invitation of the First Prince, I’ll see everyone involved hanged.”

“We could kill you right now,” Prince Arnaud said, voice grown cool for all the earlier heat. “Do you truly think yourself so powerful you could turn back so many horsemen, Damned? You overestimate your bargaining position.”

I cocked my head to the side and looked at the man. Eventually, I tapped the bottom of my staff against the line I’d drawn in the snow.

“Cross it, then,” I simply said.

I could see him considering it. It was in the way his legs shifted, like he was preparing to spur his horse forward. His fingers were inching towards the sword at his hip. Teeth worrying the dragonbone shaft of my pipe, I inhaled the wakeleaf and let it burn pleasantly at my throat. I exhaled, and Prince Arnaud grit his teeth but did not try me. It was the calm that was doing it, I dimly realized. Even more than the power they had seen me wield with their own eyes, the more they watched me fail to be cowed the more I could feel them grow unsettled. Thinking I knew something they didn’t, that I still had some card up my sleeve. I wondered if this was how Black had felt, making the armies of the Liesse Rebellion melt away like summer snow with nothing but a few tricks and the weight of his reputation.

“Malanza,” Princess Sophie whispered, “the longer we wait-”

“I know,” Princess Rozala crossly replied.

The longer they waited, the more of my legionaries retreated back to the safety of the southern camp. The more their chance to score a decisive victory slipped away.

“Where did you go, Black Queen?” the Princess of Aequitan suddenly asked. “For nigh a year you were gone.”

“I went into the darkness, Rozala,” I said. “And what I found there followed me out.”

“The Everdark,” she said, lips thinning.

“Withdraw,” I gently repeated. “And I will not pursue.”

“It cannot go unanswered, Foundling,” she wearily told me. “There would be… consequences.”

I looked up into the sky, at the burning glare of the sun.

“There would be consequences to forcing my hand as well,” I said, and returned my gaze to her. “A truce, for today. And tomorrow we will see if for once the costs can be paid with ink and gold instead of blood, for that last currency we can ill-afford.”

“It might come to a fight tomorrow regardless,” the Princess of Aequitan said. “So why should I hold my blade today, when the advantage lies with us?”

“Did you ever read about the old crusades, Rozala?” I idly asked.

“Prince Gontrand’s five volumes of ‘Empyrean Wars’ were part of my readings as a child,” Rozala frowned.

“Never read those,” I said. “See, my own education pulled a little to the east. What I got instead was the ‘Commentaries on the Campaigns of Terribilis the Second’, and there’s part that stayed with me. I thought about it, after Akua’s Folly. After the Camps too. It’s written that in the wake of the victory that broke the Fourth Crusade, on the shores of the Wasaliti, the High Lords sang Terribilis’ praises and called him the greatest general Praes had ever seen. He lost his temper with them, and here’s what he said-”

I cleared my throat.

“Another such victory and I will rule an empire of ghosts,” I recited.

Silence followed in the wake of my words.

“Now,” I quietly said, “you might win if we fought. Or maybe I’ll end up the victor of the field. But either way, Malanza, we’ll both be losing. You should know that, if you’ve been where I think you have.”

“What would you know of ghosts, Catherine Foundling?” the princess hoarsely replied.

“Enough I don’t want to fight today,” I said.

Her armoured hands closed around her reins as her lips trembled with a heady mixture of fear and rage.

“Princess Sophie, sound the retreat,” Rozala said, voice rough.

The Princess of Lyonis drew back as if stung, narrow face filling with surprise and indignation.

“Princess Rozala-”

“Merciful Gods, Louvroy, just sound the fucking retreat,” the Princess of Aequitan seethed. “She’s a monster and half mad besides, but she’s right. How many soldiers are you willing to throw away putting her down? One thousand, two, three? Our entire horse?”

I dipped my head, if not in thanks then in respect.

“Spare me, you carrion thing,” Princess Rozala snarled. “This is not the respect of worthy opponents, and do not mistake this for some sort of arrangement. You’ve merely contrived to make yourself into the least of great evils yet one more time.”

Seizing her reins, she turned aside her horse.

“You will be seen to, Black Queen,” the Princess of Aequitan called out. “There will be a day where all sins will be called to account.”

Might be, I thought. But it won’t be today, or by the likes of you. I waited there, atop my horse, until the trumpets sounded. The cavalry was pulling back, almost embarrassedly, but it was to the fighting in the wreckage that my eyes turned. They did not listen, at first. They were Levantines, and this was a Proceran command. But the trumpets sounded again, insistently, and finally the call was heeded. Just like that, the battle came to a close. For now, I thought. The rest of their host was still marching towards this dawning nightmare, and even more were following behind the army I’d led here. This was far from over, and it was with that tired thought that I began the ride to the soldiers I’d just saved.

When I’d found the Third Army, I’d been welcomed with relief. When I’d reunited with the Fourth, it had been to a queen’s honours. What awaited me at the camp on the southern bank of the Odelle was entirely different, however. Oh, there were cheers. The ramparts of wood and beaten earth were filled with legionaries from the First and the Second, and they greeted my return with a deafening roar. But as I guided Zombie up the ramp that led into the camp proper and the gates were opened, I noticed that the escort awaiting me inside was not among the cheering throng. My eye ran quickly over their number – forty of them, more than should be needed for a mere escort if neither Juniper nor Vivienne were able to come themselves – and then lingered on the number of lightly armoured soldiers among them. Mages, fifteen of them, and I did not think it coincidence that there were five ogres among the remaining soldiers. Robber had mentioned there were instructions in case of my return, I remembered. To make certain I was me, and not some puppet of whatever I’d found below. It was not an unsound precaution, but I still felt my temper rise.

I’d just faced down an army of Proceran cavalry without even a fucking sword at my hip and this was my welcome home? An army we shouldn’t even be fighting, I thought with mounting anger, and two of the three people responsible for that particular bout of foolishness had been the ones to send me this escort. My mount slowed as I approached the two lines of soldiers awaiting me, and I raised an eyebrow when I recognized one among them – though she was hardly a soldier, truth be told.

“General Hune,” I said. “I see at least one of this army’s commanders found it in them to greet me in person.”

The thick plate on the ogre made her look more a steel fortress than a person, but she’d not worn her helm – the effect was almost comical, like a tuft of person over a siege engine. Hune Egeldotir’s face had not grown any less brutish, at first look, though neither had her eyes lost that look of patient cleverness. She didn’t look like she’d aged a day since we’d first met, though given the rumoured lifespan of her kind that should not have surprised me.

“Your Majesty,” Hune replied, her voice still surprisingly delicate for her size. “Welcome back.”

“Welcome indeed,” I flatly said, glancing at the rest of the party.

“Orders, ma’am,” the ogre said, though she did not sound apologetic in the slightest.

It would be, I thought, only be sensible to go along with this. To let the finest mages the army had on hand confirm I was not in fact a possessed shell before I was allowed the privilege of speaking to the Lady-Regent of Callow and the Marshal of the same. My fingers twitched. If I protested, I wondered where the legionaries around me would fall. There were a lot of Callowans among them, I thought. More than there would have been a few years ago, though with Vivienne as regent that loyalty might not be as clear-cut as I believed.

“Orders,” I repeated, tone pensive. “Funny thing, those.”

I hardened my voice.

“General Hune, kneel.”

The command rang, though my voice was not raised. It didn’t need to be. The ogre stilled, and I could see the shiver go through the rest of the soldiers she’d brought with her. All around us, the cheering began to peter out as legionaries realized something was afoot.

“Your Majesty-” Hune began.

“I have you an order, general,” I softly said.

She looked at me, and whatever she found there she knew better than to argue with. Like a tall oak breaking, the ogre knelt in the muddy snow. I glanced at the legionaries that’d come with her, the uneasy mages and tensing soldiers.

“Disperse,” I coldly said.

I didn’t bother to look if they’d obeyed, though the sound of hasty footsteps told me that had. I pressed my knees against Zombie and she tread forward, until I bid her to stop by Hune’s still-kneeling form.

“Get up, Hune,” I said. “And the next time one of them tries to give you an order like this, remember who you swore an oath to.”

The ogre rose to her feet, and though there was anger glittering in those eyes there was something else as well. I’d been content to leave the reins of the Army of Callow largely in Juniper’s hands, so far. Perhaps now and then, though, a reminder of who it was they served might not go amiss.

“I will not forget, Your Majesty,” General Hune said.

I glanced at her, almost amused at the boldness.

“Then come along,” I said. “I mean to have a frank conversation with the Lady-Regent and the Marshal.”

The glint in the ogre’s eyes told me that while she might not be all that fond of me, she’d not forgotten who had put her in this situation either. We made our way through the fortified camp, Hune taking the lead as she knew the lay of it, but with legionaries moving out of our way it was not long until we arrived before a tall pavilion. The banners besides it, I saw, included my own. I did not dismount. There was a guard of soldiers around, a full line.

“You are relieved, legionaries,” I said.

The lieutenant among them – an orc – glanced at Hune and my irritation spiked.

“If I need to repeat an order one more time,” I said, “there will be need a need for gallows today.”

“Ma’am,” the lieutenant got out in a croak, hastily saluting.

Under my cold stare the rest of them scrammed with him.

“General,” I said. “If you would?”

The ogre raised the flaps open for me and I rode in without even needing to lower my head. She looked surprised when I gestured for her to follow me in. The pavilion was still full of officers. Juniper’s full general staff was there, along with a few others. An old orc with a black band over an eye and two aides at his side needed no introduction, but Vivienne I almost did not recognize. She’d grown out her hair, and no longer wore leathers. There must have been around twenty people inside the pavilion, when I entered, but a heartbeat later you could have heard a pin drop. Juniper was first to react.

“Hune, what did you-”

“Juniper, if you still want to have a marshal’s baton by the end of this conversation you will sit down and shut up,” I calmly said.

The orc flinched like I’d struck her.

“This is-”

“On your oath, Hellhound,” I snarled in Kharsum, “you will be silent.”

She swallowed, loudly. I glanced at Marshal Grem One-Eye, whose face was a study in neutrality.

“A pleasure to meet you, Marshal,” I said. “We will speak later.”

“Well met, Black Queen,” the old orc gravelled.

A dip of the head was offered, respect but not submission, and he took the hint. His aides followed him, so I turned my eyes on the other officers. Those, at least, were mine. Aisha was studying me with a blank face, I saw, and had a hand on Juniper’s arm.

“Out,” I said, inclining my head.

“Catherine, this is not-”

Vivienne’s voice, the tone almost forcefully calming, had me clenching my fingers again. Zombie felt my legs tighten and whinnied angrily.

“Your regency is at an end, Vivienne Dartwick,” I said. “Put the seal on the table.”

The general staff had left the tent before the seal clattered against wood. Vivienne was looking at me like she’d never seen me before.

“General Hune, take a seat,” I said. “Depending on the outcome of this conversation you might in command of the Army of Callow by the end of the day.”

“You can’t be serious,” Vivienne said.

“Nauk is dead,” I said. “I’ve had to personally save the Third Army from encirclement and annihilation. The Fourth was bled savagely by Helike while essentially marching back and forth across the same patch of Iserre. Today, I found you engaged in a pitched battle with a Grand Alliance army – that is, a force that should be three months to the north preventing the fucking Dead King from rolling over Procer.”

My voice had risen, but I forced out a breath to calm myself.

“To add insult to injury,” I evenly said. “You were losing that battle to the extent that I had to personally step in and settle the matter. Now, I would have preferred to have this conversation with Adjutant there to speak as well and no enemy army within a day’s march. Your little stunt outside, however, has officially made me lose patience.”

My staff hit the ground beneath us with a hard thump. Both of them drew back.

“Now,” I calmly said, “do explain to me why either of you should still be trusted to make decisions about anything other than what you’ll have for dinner.”

198 thoughts on “Chapter 22: Standoffs

    1. stevenneiman

      Does anyone else have trouble with TWF giving absurd figures for when they last voted? I pretty reliably vote every time Guide updates, and about half of those it says that my last vote was at least a week ago when I do.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Flameburst

        You may be assigned different ip addresses regularly. Some routers do this automatically. I get a similar problem with 4chan where i am told regularly my ip address was banned months or years ago for 30 days.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. KageLupus

        Probably just some shenanigans going on with what they think your IP address is. Either your router or one of the relays your ISP uses is changing it, so every once in awhile TWF thinks you are someone else. I have the same thing happen when I vote from my work computer. Sometimes it says I haven’t voted in three months when I voted earlier in the week.

        Liked by 3 people

      1. TVTropes calls Cat “A Mother to Her Legions”; what we’re seeing here is the military version of “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it!”

        Except she’s also gone from “I’m in charge because I can whup any of you”, to “I’m in charge because I’m the boss — and The Boss Is Back”.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          Mrs. Foundling, thanks for coming to your performance review.
          No problem.
          So you’re in charge around here, is that fair to say?
          Absolutely, I’m the boss.
          OK, so take us through a day in the life of “The Boss”.
          Well the first thing I do is

          Flash Hakram (like a boss)
          Yell at Archer (like a boss)
          Lead an army (like a boss)
          Remember Liese (like a boss)
          Direct Drow (like a boss)
          My own footrest (like a boss)
          Kill some heroes(like a boss)
          Promote Abigal (like a boss)

          Hit on Viveine (like a boss)
          Get rejected (like a boss)
          Chug some senna (like a boss)
          Fight some Fairies (like a boss)
          Call Cordelia (like a boss)
          Fail at peace talks (like a boss)
          curse out procer (like a boss)
          mance some lakes (like a boss)

          Eldtrich shift (like a boss)
          No dead king deal (like a boss)
          Get named arch-vile (like a boss)
          Lose humanity (like a boss)
          Fight some gods (like a boss)
          Gonna eat em (like a boss)
          Oh fuck me, this just makes it worse, shit!

          Pussy out (like a boss)
          Power of friendship (like a boss)
          Give up godhood (like a boss)
          become high priestess (like a boss)
          Score some wakeleaf (like a boss)
          Legs fucked up (like a boss)
          Lust for Akua (like a boss)
          Chess with Tyrant (like a boss)

          Go to Procer (like a boss)
          Army’s gone to shit (like a boss)
          Archer’s got trauma (like a boss)
          Still fuck her brains out (like a boss)
          Turn into night (like a boss)
          Prepare to fight saint (like a boss)
          Set it all on fire (like a boss)
          I die again (like a boss)

          Uh huh. So that’s an average day for you then.
          No doubt.
          You set everything on fire and die.
          I come back.
          And I think at one point there you said something about lusting after the doom of liese?
          Nope.
          Actually, I’m pretty sure you did.
          Nah, that ain’t me.
          OK, well I’m not sure you should be in charge of jack shit.
          I’m the boss.
          Ya, I know, I still want to get mages to make sure you aren’t possessed.
          I’m the boss.
          Seriously Cat, calm down.
          I’m the boss!
          Yelling doesn’t make your words calmer cat!
          (like a boss)

          Liked by 14 people

          1. The thing is, possessed or not, she’s the boss. And remember, the prime risk for possessing her.. now has, if not a body, then some reasonable facsimile thereof, and can operate independently. Of course, for most of the Woe that falls under “now we have two problems”. 😉

            Liked by 2 people

  1. Stormblessed

    Wow. That was intense. I hope there is reasonableness all around and no lasting hurt feelings. Kat’s going to need juniper at the end of this I feel. Hopefully they understand her anger and reasoning is placed at the situation rather than themselves.

    Liked by 14 people

  2. Skaddix

    You would expect Harkam to get more berating considering yeah technically Viv had the job title and Juniper does run the armies but Hakram was the real power.

    And Cat still doesn’t like Aisha lol.

    Kinda anticlimactic though Battle Wise. But I assume someone is going for force a fight.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. My very own name

      She mentioned that she would like it if Adjutant were available for this conversation as well. I just don’t know why she didn’t berate him previously.

      We might see battle the next day, everything is possible!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. magesbe

        Probably because seeing the disaster that has been this battle up to this point has sort of been a “last straw” kind of thing. She’s furious at the situation, and it taking it out on the people who helped place her army in this mess. I mean, it isn’t even mostly their fault; that would be whatever is stopping Gates and the Tyrant. But without them taking their entire army into Callow, this still wouldn’t be happening.

        That, and she’s angry that this battle is even taking place when these forces are needed north.

        Liked by 11 people

        1. My guess is she ends up gating the survivors back to Abigail’s group… who by then is under attack by yet another force wandering the vicinity. Come to think of it, she dashed off without so much as telling Abigail where she was going… hopefully Abigail at least tries to follow the original plan.

          Like

    2. SpeckofStardust

      Oh he is in deep trouble to, their is a reason why he was sheepish all when Catharine and co where pointily asking what the ever living fuck did this shitshow came about.
      Further more she stated she had intended to wait until everyone was here before doing this but…
      Well this very closely looks like a technical coup and Hakram kinda explicitly gave his hand up to make it dam clear Viv was the one in charge while Cat was away.

      Liked by 8 people

    3. One of the reasons that Adjutant cut his hand off was to show Viv that she was in charge. If you go back and re read that chapter Viv was on the verge of a complete disaster that would have torn the kingdom apart over her mounting paranoia concerning Hakrum and Juniper wasn’t helping things by treating her like a red headed step child. Cat set this power sharing up in an effort to keep the multiple parts of the kingdom together while the true glue, herself, was gone (The Callowans didn’t trust the orcs to run the country, the Old 15th hands didn’t trust the Callowans to run the army, both sides only trust Cat). However she was gone too long and we have now seen the consequences. Which brings up the question of what will happen to Callow if she does abdicate? Her plan to abdicate will be a total disaster to Callow unless she finds someone that can be trusted by both sides. Viv was my leading candidate until the chap where she almost started a civil war over her Hakrum fears now coupled with military blunder knocks her from that spot. Now we got a Callowan that saved the Third Army after Nauk and the command staff died which would will go a long way to keeping the civilian and army power factions trust in the crown..,

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Skaddx

        Did Abigail really save anything? Cat saved the day. Without Cat, our Hero’s Blood crosses the river and slaughter the whole army regardless of what Abigail does. Cat saved her by showing up with reinforcements and by wielding Night. Sure Abigail made some choices that kept more troops alive but that wouldn’t have made a difference at all.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Go back and re read Interlude: Beheld I. Without Abigail there would have been no Army to save, they would have been crushed by the night attack. Remember Cat gets there during the day after Abigail stopped their night attack as it is explained in that Interlude. No Abigail and that army is destroyed before Cat ever shows up.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. This “temper” is serving many purposes,

      Cat has been gone a year amidst that year sh barely ruled. The people see her as a legend and could easily see her as martyr if she were to fall. Her allies may have considered replacing her based on them being ready to blast her based on possible possession. These concerns are not to far off, if only the knew how close she was to loosing (I believe ranger will keep those stories to herself, maybe Akua won’t). Still this is Cat’s story and if she does not take the driving wheel then similar to the Black Knight she will be replaced by the god’s below.

      Hakram already said that Vivienne has been changing, maybe she believes that she does not need Cat anymore. She needs to learn her place in this instance.

      By taking agency over her inner council who all but wrote her off, she is taking her destiny in her hand, unlike the prince who by all accounts has lost control. Cat needs her inner circle to come to heel. If not then similar to the many military leaders who were misled by the Tyrant they will fall into disatroys stories that will perpetuate what Cat is trying to overwrite.

      The fact that murder has not been put on the table should also be considered as a sign of Cat “educating” her allies on the schemes of the forces that they are dealing with.

      Liked by 11 people

      1. haihappen

        Viv probably lost her Thief Name because a Thief steals. And she had the opportunity to steal an entire Kingdom and didn’t do it… maybe Names are that fickle.
        Also possible: A transition is waiting to happen.

        Her military blunders… are basically splitting the Army into columns, which got cut off because of fairy gate sabotage, and then this battle. It could be reasoned that this was all Junipers fault. Except Viv should have tried to negotiate peace (,which she may have tried)?
        The campaign itself had solid reasoning behind it (see her last talk with Hakram+Akua+Archer). It was just poorly executed, “aided” by sabotage from Tyrant and maybe someone else.
        (I have the feeling the Tyrant is not behind the fairy gate sabotage. He would certainly be capable, but it does not feel like his style.)

        On a not completely unrelated note:
        Wouldn’t it be fun if Cat used the *I stab you to jump-start a Name* technique?
        I.e. (unlikely):
        Cat: “Hey Viv, do you REALLY want to rule Callow and make it a better place?”
        Viv: “Sure?”
        Cat: “Not the enthusiasm I hoped for, but it needs to be enough: I name you Heiress to the Queenship of Callow!” *stabs Viv into the heart with a knife* “Try not to die”

        Liked by 2 people

    1. haihappen

      Isn’t this Trope somewhere:
      1) Ally/Friend X leaves Person Y in charge
      2) Y messes up
      3) X returns, chewes Y up for messing up
      4) X says “know you know what not to do”/”Know you know what mistakes COST”, and promptly gives Y the same job/a job with even MORE responsibility

      I feel this should be a trope…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. magesbe

      The majority of the people who could truly imitate her could probably also fool a casual magical inspection. For example, if Assassin could be detected by a handful of mages, it wouldn’t be as brutally effective as it is.

      Liked by 17 people

    2. IDKWhoitis

      I think Cat has a certain weight on the scales, and that relentless fury that she can meter out in a ruthless barrage is a hallmark most people would barely be able to stand up against, or even mimic.

      If anything, it’s exactly this reaction that should confirm it is Cat, to not go quietly, and to break whatever she can’t use, and bend whatever she can’t break.

      Liked by 8 people

    3. Interestingly, we have not seen much use of strategic or tactical impersonation so far in the story — I think Assassin was the only case we the readers have seen. The elves certainly *could* do that, but IIRC nobody seems to consider the possibility, including them. It may well be that “a strong personality” is its own authentication, leading back to my political answer (last chapter’s comments) to “who is the real Cat?”

      Oh, and about those magical examinations? Callow sent out a Duchess of Faerie and got back a mortal with ties to an entirely different power that nobody surface-side has ever heard of. Cat was quite sensible to put the kibosh on that testing business up front.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. IDKWhoitis

          Because they cheat, Old Elves just flat out ignore Creational Laws. It wouldn’t be too far out of the realm of possibility for them to somehow cheat recognition or alter their presence to fit something else. This is all purely speculative though, as we haven’t seen the Elves mobilize much (although by Series end, I think we will have to, to put the Dead King down).

          Liked by 2 people

        2. They can reshape their bodily material at will. It was noted multiple times that Cat’s power was seriously limited by her attachment to her own, humanlike form. But elves are more comfortable with their nature, there’s no reason why, instead of turning into mist or fire, they couldn’t turn into a different human(oid). In fact, Cat did just that to Akua’s wintry form before the Keter trip (Sve Noc reverted her). On the other hand, aside from physical form, maintaining the impersonation would probably be harder for them (it’s hard enough for humans).

          Liked by 1 person

              1. konstantinvoncarstein

                No:) Fae are beings of pure magic, who live in Arcadia, and are older than creation.

                The elves are a powerful magical race, but they are material and are born in Creation (but they can send the Golden Bloom to Arcadia). And they are a splinter faction from another elvish kingdom, larger than Calernia

                Liked by 1 person

              2. No, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t implied or hinted at anywhere.

                Calernian elves live in Golden Bloom – the forest to the north of Callow, bordering on the Duchy of Daoine, with Everdark further to the north. As distinct from Waning Woods to the south of Callow, separating it from the League of Free Cities, containing Refuge and a gate to Arcadia, broadly associated with fae (scrying near Waning Woods = sending invitation to the Wild Hunt).

                We know from Bard’s POV segment in Epilogue 2 that Golden Bloom elves are a xenophobic offshoot / exiles from a bigger elf kingdom somewhere on another continent. Their slaughter of the previous Golden Bloom inhabitants – of which Deoraithe are survivors/refugees – pissed off the very forest they were aiming to claim for themselves, and ever since they haven’t been able to have children. One notable exception is Hye, whose mother was with Golden Bloom elves, but characteristically Hye is a half-elf, in defiance of Golden Bloom attitudes. (So presumably her mom broke ties with Golden Bloom first, and then as a consequence managed to have a kid, with someone who had nothing to do with GB at all).

                It’s a noted habit of GB elves to somehow transpose their kingdom into Arcadia temporarily when the political situation on Creation near them gets a bit too interesting. Then they come out and resume existing in Creation again.

                They are ruled by the Forever King. He had attempted to interfere with Calernian politics by sending two Emerald Swords (warrior caste?) to kill Akua. They were intercepted by Bard.

                Elves are technically Good, but GB-ers interpret it rather idiosyncratically and kill everyone approaching their borders unless they’re a Hero.

                Things elves have in common with fae:
                – non-human
                – more magical than humans
                – can interbreed with humans
                – can occasionally be found in Arcadia
                – constitute a good reason to not go into the woods on Callowan borders
                – kill people a lot
                – don’t die of old age
                – are not normally a noticable entity in Calernian politics.

                Differences between elves and fae:
                – elves can be Named or non-Named and are a regular mortal race in this regard, while fae are something else entirely
                – fae are bound by stories, while elves have regular free will
                – elves can selectively disallow Creational laws, while fae are very much bound by those, but often have domains
                – fae are native to Arcadia, divided into courts and governed by cycles. Elves just visit, like Cat and her legions
                – fae are bound by all oaths. No such limitation applies to elves, as far as we know
                etc

                So yeah, no. Completely different.

                Like

          1. konstantinvoncarstein

            Are you sure it is not the fae who can do that? I remember elves for their martial prowess and capability to ignore one law of creation at a time, but no more

            Liked by 1 person

  3. If Viviene lost her name does that mean the heroic group is broken or…. has it changed. Just saying:

    Archer has PTSD from nearly freezing to death

    Hakram is handless(hand of the king without hands lol)

    Vivienne lost her name… maybe?

    Masego stole a doom day weapon and is a walking disaster already.

    Cat does not have a name, lost the fae powers that everyone was afraid of(even the dead king respected her), and I think now is nearly mortal.

    Just saying the Woe have seen better days, and I am starting loose faith in a victory here. If I know our author he will make me eat my words, so here hoping that logically they can execute a hail Mary pass on this one.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. magesbe

      Things have been bad before, really bad. This is a major trial for the Woe, yes, but I believe Archer will find Masego and bring him home, Vivienne will get over this and either get another Name or at least find a place for herself that she can live with. Cat may have lost her immense Winter powers, but she was winning impossible battles long before every getting them, and at night she may even be more destructive than she was with Winter (though still easier to kill; but not much). Remember how much difficulty she had even scratching some of the Drow mooks at Great Strycht?

      Liked by 5 people

    2. IDKWhoitis

      Sometimes Cat’s Victories are less “She Wins” and more “She loses the least out of everyone present”.

      I think Cat is more dangerous without a Name, as she is totally unbound by rules and stories. Pilgrim’s plots and story weights may not be enough to subtly assassinate her.

      What is a Story to a Non-Believer? A God to a Atheist? A ward to a Mortal?

      The Woe are embodying the change the Calamities started with the Death of the Age of Wonders, Institutions, not Named, deciding the course of Nations and Peoples.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Argentorum

          True, but remember, all the other movers are still bound up in their narratives, and those stories can still be used as a loadstone around the necks of the Saint, the Pilgrim, and the Undead King.

          Meanwhile, Cat can’t be forced into things because of her name, even as the larger story has narrative weight.

          Liked by 2 people

      1. >The Woe are embodying the change the Calamities started with the Death of the Age of Wonders, Institutions, not Named, deciding the course of Nations and Peoples.

        Oh.
        I disagree that stories are so easily made irrelevant (Cat regained freedom of maneouver, not quit the game entirely), but THIS. This is absolutely correct, thank you for putting it in words!

        This is what’s happening.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. medailyfun

        Stories do affect Nameless, and Nameless do weave the stories affecting others, it’s obvious even in this chapter with her sole stand before the enemy’s army. Actually, stories affect people even in real life.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. I don’t think the nature of the Woe changing is an accident, or inherently a bad thing. Remember, Catherine is the heart/core of the Woe and it makes sense that consciously or unconsciously they’d reflect her to some extent. That includes reflecting her priorities, I think. And Catherine’s whole thing starting from going into the Everdark and very definitely at the end of that sojourn is all about changing the definition of victory until it matches the results she wants it to produce.

      Catherine used to solve problems by smashing them into pieces, and tbf that was pretty badass because she was real damn good at it. But what she’s found as she’s assumed more and more political power is that when you solve a problem by smashing into pieces now what you have is a lot of little problems instead of no problem, and those little problems will all grow back into big problems if you don’t go around taking care of them for real. She’s at the top of the food chain now and there’s nobody to come along behind her and clean up the mess on her behalf; she has to do that herself now, and she’s found that it drains time and energy and resources to the extent that it’s an obstacle to actually moving forward the way she sees she needs to and Callow needs to.

      The Woe used to be oriented into combat strength with Thief providing tactical yoink-based shenanigans. But now that’s not what Catherine values most, and almost all the changes in the Woe reflect that. Hakram sawed off his other hand specifically to fix a political problem. Vivienne’s name dissipated because it no longer reflects who she is; she’s the Lady-Regent now (or she was; it sounds like she’s about to get a harsh job interview to get that trust back). Archer has had her faith in the magical power of being the most violent to solve all problems and overcome all obstacles significantly shaken. Cat herself ditched her Winter-powered smashiness for an army, a divine alliance, and what is probably a more diverse powerset (though we haven’t seen her show it off really, so that’s still speculation for the moment). The only one who doesn’t currently fit this mold to at least some extent is Masego, but he’s also been off-camera ever since the Great Thalassina Clusterfuck so I want to get eyes on him before reaching any strong conclusions about where he’s ultimately going to land.

      The Woe is in some respects in a bad way, but I think that it’s honestly mostly Masego where it is a straight-up negative (so far as we can currently see). In several cases I think the changes in them do make them weaker in a straight-up combat scenario perhaps (though I’m skeptical that Archer is actually any weaker in a fight just because she’s seen that some things you can’t fight your way out of and it shook her), but I think that’s a reflection of the changes in Catherine’s priority structure.

      In other words, I don’t see them as being less capable of victory so much as reconfiguring to better match Catherine’s changing definition of the term.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. I agree with how Cat has changed her priorities but another problem that she has admitted is that she will never be able to play the game like the first prince, Malicia, or even the Tyrant.

        She is not playing to her strengths and she is cannot find anyone to uphold the structure that she put in place.

        She lost the one thing that she had going for her, powe/fear. She did not stop the charge based on political power but the old wounds that she carved in her enemies.

        That staff also seems like a big bazooka with one bullet. I just question the shift. The calamities proved that military might can in fact effect change if held for long periods. Maybe Cat just did not try hard enough to break her enemies. Half-measures and all.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think Cat’s showing that she’s actually better at playing the game than those three, or at least as good as. She can’t intrigue like Malicia, but she doesn’t need to if she shuts down intrigue bullshit at the core. She can’t spy war like Malicia, but she doesn’t need to if she attracts people to her side who can. She can alliance-weave not worse than Cordelia. And she can out-bullshit Kairos.

          She can’t play by the rules they set as well as they do, but getting to set the rules is part of the game. Cat wins when she sets the rules, and lately, she’s been showing that she damn well CAN out-set-the-rules them.

          Part of this is narrative mastery: Cat’s better at story-weaving than Malicia, who missed the obvious WMD failure point, and than Cordelia who barely knows what the art is. She’s about equal to Kairos, or slightly worse, I’ll concede that much.

          Part of this is actually working for the common good: like Cordelia, and unlike Malicia, Cat attracts the kind of ally who looks at long-term and sees good things for themselves and everyone there.

          Part of this is incidental positioning: as Vivienne has put it, Cat is “a part of something greater than herself”. She’s the crest of the wave, and there’s no coincidence in her being backed by Juniper, the best tactician of their generation, AND the return of Callowan knights, AND the strongest Named mage around (though he’s currently MIA).

          All of this lends Catherine an advantage she just needs to not squander. If she can saddle the tiger and hold on to the reins, she wins.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. “The calamities proved that military might can in fact effect change if held for long periods.”

          I’d disagree. Black didn’t change Callow by conquering it, he changed it by ruling it. Cat’s shift in priorities is based on recognizing the difference.

          As far as Cat’s “grand strategy” goes, we haven’t seen too much of the specifics of that yet but I personally do not think it’s based on trying to play the same game as Malicia, Cordelia, or Kairos. I think she intends to play to her *real* strength; the thing that’s Cat’s true comparative advantage isn’t being stronger than her opponents, because in actual fact she almost never has been. Akua was able to take her one-on-one when they finally went all-out at Second Liesse, the upper echelons of the Fae Courts (i.e. Prince/Princess and up) outmatched her even after she murdered the Duke of Violent Squalls for his power, Saint “beat her like a rented mule” by Cat’s own description at the Battle of the Camps, Neshamah’s beefier Revenants smacked her/the Woe as a whole around, and she didn’t get very far into the Everdark at all before figuring out that the tougher Mighty were more than match for her as well.

          So what’s Cat’s real strength then, since even as the Sovereign of Moonless Nights she still found herself getting smacked around by a majority of her foes? Her real strength is her ability to change the rules of the game, flip the script on her opposition, and win by playing a different game than everyone else. See: literally pretty much every time Cat has actually won overall on a strategic level. And ditching her Fae title for renewed mortality has *improved* her capacities in that regard. What’s the one thing absolutely everybody identified as a cost of her Fae power? Inflexibility. Go look at the epilogue to Book IV again; in the POV from the dwarven deed-seeker, he specifically comments that Cat no longer feels like she has the overwhelming metaphysical weight she had when he met her as Sovereign of Winter, but she somehow feels *more* dangerous to him. That wasn’t him making a mistake. That was his danger-honed perceptiveness picking up on the fact that Cat just massively improved in the thing that *really* makes her dangerous: superior mental flexibility that lets her change the rules on people faster than they can keep up. Cat isn’t less able to win because she’s ditched raw power for flexibility. She’s *more* able, because she’s embracing what was always her real greatest strength.

          Like

        3. Also, Cat definitely *tried* to break her enemies. She wasn’t holding back against Saint or anyone like that, she just got whupped because as strong as she was when you’re fighting old monsters with decades or centuries or millennia (hi, Neshamah) of experience and power-building on you then you’re gonna have a bad time. The only thing she held back on was stuff like Bonfire that would have seen the continent converging on her like they did on Triumphant because Cat had enough insight to see that as much as she was being targeted now there was still room for it to get a lot worse. Shifting away from that approach (partially, she’s still Cat so there’s def still some smashing in the future) to focus on changing the rules of the game so that her opponent’s greater strength won’t matter is exactly the right response.

          Like

    1. IDKWhoitis

      Through the view point of Power Dynamics, this was very practical, everyone needed a stern reminder who is in charge. If she agreed, she would effectively be confirming that Juniper’s and Viv’s Orders are highest on the totem pole, and that Cat herself can’t/shouldn’t be trusted.

      She had to give everyone a well deserved pimp slap to remind them who’s “The Boss”.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Not really.
        They acted like they were supposed to, they didn’t make a grasp for power, they simply did their job, which was to make Callow function despite Cat’s absence. And the examination protocol is a sensible thing to do, just like examining people who have been around a Demon of Corruption. Besides, Cat was already forewarned about it by Robber so she wouldn’t be surprised about the examination, she simply lost her temper at the welcome and joined it to blaming Juniper and Vivienne for all the things that have happened DESPITE already knowing they aren’t to blame, Hakram already explained to her the situation and what led them to this, it would have worked fine if not for the unforeseeable change in the Fae gates (that for some reason work when Cat uses them but doesn’t when Larat and Wild Hunt do). She even threatened Juniper with losing her rank and humiliated Vivienne in front of the entire officers by harshly taking the Regency position from her.
        It is unfair to take her rage at the situation and lash out to Juniper and Vivienne, two of her closest friends who have been desperately doing the best they could.
        This tantrum that Cat is throwing now is out of character for her, ungrateful and unpractical; not to mention how foolish it is to strip two of her foremost officers from the positions at the eve of a battle when they are surrounded by enemies.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Valkyria

          Even so. Cat said that it was a reasonable thing to do herself, what she was angry about was that they did not even come to greet her themselves. I mean, if she really wasn’t Cat anymore, a few mages and legionaires wouldn’t be able to hold her off anyways, should she try to harm Juniper and or Vivienne.
          She’s furious that they sent just “someone” to fetch her like a lowly soldier. She’s the queen and even if she’s under suspicion should not be treated like that in front of her army, especially if the persons of rank who ordered the entire thing are not even themselves at the scene.
          What I think is happening is that Cat’s simply getting the impression that they are not simply checking if she was herself, (since she just stopped the enemy singlehandedly that should’ve been some kind of clue) but making her wait until they are done with their stuff and give her time for an audience.
          And as you said they are her closest friends, yet not come to greet her personally.

          Sure she’s lost her temper. But she just is the f****** Queen of Callow and that behavior is just the last drop that was missing to make it all spill out.

          Liked by 13 people

          1. caoimhinh

            Imagine that the President of a Country is about to enter a meeting with congressmen, but information was passed that the President has a bomb on him and his escorts are traitors who are threatening him to do it. So security intercepts them. Should the congressmen be in the vicinity when the President and his escort are examined? Of course not.

            Now, in Cat’s case, they weren’t there because they needed someone who could take the cold decision if it needed to be, hence why they sent Hune.
            They suspect that she might be under influence or control of something else or it might be something else disguising as Cat, so it might not be that she had the full extension of her power; that’s why the 15 mages ready to form wards and test her are there. Besides, in case of it really being Cat but mind controlled there were still the Fae Oaths she took with Vivienne, though those are useless if it’s not Winter Cat and in that case then it’s not the full power of Winter what the mages would have to contain.
            They don’t come to her by force because there’s the possibility that it’s really her, so she should just pass the test and be cleared of suspicions. She might be the fucking Queen but if there’s the possibility of her being compromised then they should take measures, same as her being tested if she had come back from fighting a Demon of Corruption, and she knows that.

            Then she proceeded to strip Viv from her position and threaten Juniper with the same, then chastised them and blamed them for the whole mess when she knows that they are not at fault, even in her thoughts she called them foolish. Her anger is undeserved and it’s ridiculous to blame them after Hakram already explained the situation to her.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. Stripping Vivi of her position is actually perfectly reasonable, even though it sounded like something else in context. Regent is only needed while the Queen is away; under any other circumsatnces Vivi would be dropping that seal in Cat’s lap at the speed of sound.

              And you do have to consider how it looks. President’s power in the modern US doesn’t rest entirely on impressions made on people present. Politics matter, and in this case, politics are what’s keeping Cat’s armies together. Don’t forget she’s commanding an explosive hodgepodge of Callowans and Praesi, with priests and goblins mingling with knights and orcs. She’s the nail everything hangs on, and they can’t afford her position weakening.

              Juniper and Vivi likely just failed to take it into account between everything else Happening All At Once, but making a show of chastising them for it is an entirely reasonable response to the situation.

              Liked by 8 people

              1. caoimhinh

                Transition is not supposed to be a yell in front of the officers saying “put the seal on the table”, the release of the position is either a ceremony or a private affair, much smoother than the humiliation that happened in this chapter.
                This wasn’t “the Queen is back, so the regency ends” it was “you are fired, get out of here” which is entirely ungrateful for all the effort that Vivienne has invested in keeping Callow together for a whole year.
                It only looked bad because Cat made it so by conflicting with the soldiers and mages sent to test her. Othersiwe it would have been simply “they are seeing if it’s really her” and most of the legionaries didn’t even know what was happening. Letting them test her for a few minutes to assure them it was really her would have been no problem and not weaken her authority. It was merely to make sure that the person to whom they are about to give full command and authority over everything is actually who she is supposed to be, there’s nothing wrong with that.

                From our perspective, we know that neither Viv nor Juniper betrayed Cat, Cat knows that too; most of the legionaries didn’t know what the security protocol was about, and Cat was already forewarned about it so she could calmly go through it. The suggestion that “it would look bad and weaken her authority if she obeyed orders from others” that some readers are defending is not applicable because this wasn’t an order, it was a security measure.

                Now, you said that it is all kept together by Cat, that’s not exactly the case anymore. Cat made efforts to make it so Callow would stand even if she was killed, even before leaving everything in the hands of Hakram, Juniper and Vivienne (plus the rest of state officials). Going through with the test to prove it’s really her who came is not weakening her position, all she has done now is hurting the reputation and position of Juniper and Vivienne, because now from an outside perspective like the rest of the soldiers, it looks like they were either traitorous or incompetent. We know they are neither. But Cat will still need to rely on them, so this tantrum and pointless show of strength did more damage that their security protocol.

                To add insult to injury, she is blaming them for the entire messy situation when she already knows it’s not their fault, Hakram already explained the circumstances and story-wise from the moment she went missing for a year the Narrative started to move to put them in distress because she had to return in their hour of need. Just like the Grey Pilgrim had said she would when she fell unconscious during the Battle of the Camps, despite that kind of story not being one for Villains. She can’t take her angry on them, it’s unfair and thoroughly ungrateful after all the messes they had to clean and handle during her absence.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. No, the situation was already messy. The chilly reception sent the message to the soldiers seeing it happen that their high command did not trust their Black Queen / expected them to disobey her orders should she give any to the contrary. Cat forced the issue for good reason.

                  The check was a methodological disaster. The Cat who’s returning is not the same Cat who left and they’d detect that. If Cat returning was the same Cat who left but taken over by principle alienation, I’m not sure how they would have been able to tell. And if the mages cried foul, how would the soldiers have reacted, not knowing whether it was Real Cat or Fake Cat in front of them? The command of the army needed to be there to handle the situation REGARDLESS of whether it was Real Cat or Fake Cat. If it was Fake Cat, they’d notice it much easier because of knowing her personally and would make immediate decisions to mitigate whatever the situation with that was. If it was Real Cat, they needed to reaffirm the chain of command and again confirm in everyone’s eyes that it was in fact her.

                  And their private hand-wringing of “Cat you can’t leave this to me I can’t do it )=” is not something Cat can allow to influence their public image. She has a duty to her people above her duty to her friends. She has to show that no, fucking up on this scale is not something she expects and tolerates in people she left in charge. PUBLICLY. And they forced her hand by making the most immediate political fuckup – the reception – public.

                  And it was a political fuckup. Oh, I don’t think Cat seriously thinks they were going for a coup, but that’s what it looks like from the side. Again, forcing the situation makes it clear that it wasn’t a coup but a fuckup, and the queen is treating it as such. Something’s wrong: HERE’s what’s wrong.

                  WRT the narrative fuckup, they made a major one irrespective of Catherine’s role. They took the ENTIRE ARMY over for a show of force that they couldn’t actually back up, because the portals weren’t narratively earned by them, they were Catherine’s. Their entire idea of a demonstration for Cordy was hubris, and hubris gets punished. Something was going to go wrong, if not the Winter/Night merger, then something else. Larat could have gotten killed by a hero, and they’d then be just as stranded.

                  Liked by 1 person

            2. Here’s the thing: Two of the big selling points for American-style democracy are exactly 1) that even the top dogs face limits to their power, and 2) that even the top dogs can be replaced* on short notice. There are tradeoffs for those features, but they’re part of the bargain made when the country was formed.

              But Cat isn’t a President, and her world is not ours. In her world, power inheres more in people than in institutions, and Cat is inherently one of the most powerful people on the continent. In her last instar, she chose to make arrangements in case of being possessed or suchlike. Clearly, she didn’t make such arrangements this time… and it was not Viv’s place to take the initiative on that. Let alone the presumptuousness of sending out a bunch of underlings to test her before allowing her into the presence of the generals. And then there’s the mess they got her armies into while she was gone — Hakram should be sheepish, they got played for chumps.

              * The question of how well they can be replaced is another story; e.g., Lincoln’s and Kennedy’s deaths both left the country in the hands of much weaker and less visionary leaders, leading to deep trouble in the long run.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. caoimhinh

                Yes, but even if Cat didn’t set those security measures, she already set a precedent with the Winter Oaths she took with Vivienne; so Juniper and Viv sending mages to test if the person who just arrived and looks like Cat is actually the person to whom they are supposed to give full authority and control of the army and kingdom is actually a sensible thing to do. Of course the way it was carried could have been better, but that doesn’t justify her response. Unceremoniously stripping Viv of the position of Regent and threatening Juniper with losing the Marshall position are humiliations they didn’t deserve, they have been through a bunch of messy situations during the year, and this is how she thanks them? It’s extremely ungrateful, to say the least.

                The entire mess they are in right now, was out of their control.
                Narratively it’s the story of Cat returning in the hour of dire need to save her companions, while in a practical sense it all went wrong because the Fae Gates were hacked by some eldritch power while they were in the middle of the rescue operation in Iserre.
                This is not their fault, forces out of their control and understanding have made it so they were in this mess, and Cat knows that, so she shouldn’t be chastising them, humiliating them in front of other officers nor taking their positions from them. Not after all they had to go through for her and for doing their fucking job on making sure the person they delivered command was actually the one it was supposed to be.

                Liked by 2 people

            3. Yes it is their fault. Cat has over and over told them what her goal was: The Liesse accords. She also had stated to them the reason she needed to go to the Everdark was they needed allies especially since they all needed to come together and fight the Dead King. Now explain how breaking the truce with Procer, then invading it somehow magically helps meet Cat’s goals and instructions. As soon as Viv got total control she ignored Cat’s instructions and did as she wanted and Juniper went along with it because she thought she would get shiny new Legion of Terror soldiers to play with.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. caoimhinh

                They were rescuing Black’s Legions while getting the approval and official permission from Prince Amadis to cross Iserre unimpeded, so politically they were fine, the Army of Callow hasn’t broken the truce with Procer nor invaded it.

                Vivienne didn’t do what she wanted and Juniper didn’t take the new recruits to play, they mounted a rescue operation with a solid strategy, a valid political excuse, and with clear benefits of gaining new and powerful allies, all the while knowing that mounting the operation was something the Catherine would have done. The plan was effective until the Fae Gates were hacked by an unknown power while they were in the middle of Iserre and that’s what led to the current mess. That was unforeseeable, and even after happening is still unexplainable, so they can’t be blamed by it.

                Not to mention that due to ‘the Force of the Story’ they were condemned to be in a dire situation before Cat returns, this was even foreshadowed by the Grey Pilgrim during the Battle of the Camps.

                Liked by 3 people

        2. Ali Khan

          If you think cat doing what people expect her to do and meekly agreeing to things like this is in character then you’ve been reading a different story to me. Look at it from the outside, it straight up looks like a coup d’etat, to the point that if cat were to just submit it’d look even less like she’s in charge. The point of her anger is that she told them to stay put and they didn’t, plus they took their entire army, plus on top of all that they didn’t even have the courtesy to come out and greet her along with the mages.

          Your point is that if the fairy gates were still working then they’d made a rational decision. IF. The entire story has hammered into us over and over again to not rely on magic tricks over solid army tactics with multiple redundancies. It was a stupid decision to have their plan hinge on this single point of failure.

          It is absolutely in character for cat to be annoyed after all the incompetence she’s seeing.

          Liked by 11 people

          1. caoimhinh

            Cat has many times made Masego analyze her over and over to understand how her body works, to check the influence of Winter in her, and even perform checks on soldiers after encounters with Demons, she also took Oaths with Vivienne (giving her ways to stop her and even kill her) as contingencies to make sure her friends, the army and Callow would be safe if other influences took over her body (that was what saved them when Akua possessed Cat). So Cat knows the value of such protocols and constantly implements them, both on others and on herself.

            This isn’t about her being meek or accepting orders from others, she already knew about the security protocols (Robber told her), and she knows the precaution is valid, yet she got angry at them for it and didn’t accept it, then proceeded to humiliate Juniper and Vivienne in front of the rest of the officers, and what’s worse she blames them for the entire situation despite knowing that there are many forces involved and they took a decision with solid army tactics, but an unforeseeable thing happened. THAT is what is out of character.

            If Cat’s anger had gradually risen after passing the tests or if Juniper and Vivienne had slighted her in some way when making decisions later on (like when planning the next battle) then it would make sense and could be seen as them pushing her out of the control of Callow (although it is her fault, and even was her objective before, that things needed to be made into a way that Callow could function without Cat); but her immediate angry response and the proceeding humiliation of the two top members of her Army while blaming them for something she knows it’s not their fault, THAT doesn’t make sense.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Morgenstern

              *ahem

              If she WERE Winter possessing Cat… how the heck would a few dozen mages stop her?
              Viv would have been the ONLY ONE with any real chance. Viv not being there in person violates the whole protocal – SHE is the one who has the OATH. Not those mages… I don’t see how Cat should not get angry at *that* failure. It’s more than just the personal one. It’s a logical failure for the security protocol itself.

              Liked by 4 people

            2. lennymaster

              One, Mgic tricks and trinkets always, ALWAYS fail the villian at the worst possible time. The Gates just suddenly not working HAD to be expected, maybe not from Juniper, but definitly from Vivienne, a (former?) Named.
              Two, she is a MONARCH, and intends to leave some kind of monarchy in place, wich means that the MONARCH may not be publicly slighted without consequences.
              Three, not even having ONE of the two show up to greet her smacks of rebellion, rebellion in front of the soldiers. Monarchies do not survive letting shit like that go.
              Four, sending the ENTIRE army was a stupid fucking move. Why?! To threaten Cordelia as Adjudant said? To what end when she is already busy holding of the Dead King? Sending something was necassary, risking the entire army was stupid.
              No, Viv has been getting to comfortable making decisions in Cats name.
              What she did was show the top dogs that THEY are replaceable.

              Liked by 7 people

              1. caoimhinh

                I partially agree, but you have to consider other things.

                1. The Fae Gates had never failed before, and they were the only way to get in and out of Iserre fast enough to mount this entire rescue operation. Not only it was a valid option, it was THE ONLY option if they wanted to get there in time and be able to evacuate. The reason the Gates are hacked is still unknown and was completely unforeseeable. You say that Narratively they should have expected it, but not only this had never happened before and the scope of it was out of their knowledge, it was also the only available mean to their objective, it was a solid decision. Besides, the only one with a true knack for Story-Fu is Catherine, nobody else in the Woe has that talent.

                2. The Monarch wasn’t slighted, she was supposed to be tested to make sure it was actually the Queen before handling her the control of the army. The only reason this looked bad was because Cat made it so, she could have cleared any analysis in minutes without a problem (although they would probably be surprised at her lack of Winter).

                3. I agree that they nor being present and carrying the test out in public was not the best way to do it, but it was still a sensible security measure. They sent someone who would carry on the tests without letting sentiments take the best of her (Hune who was not Cat’s friend). Also, most of the soldiers didn’t even know about the security protocol, this would have gone without an issue if Cat had gone along with it. NOW, after Cat angrily reacted, unceremoniously stripped Viv of her charge and threatened to do the same to Juniper without saying ‘hello’ or ‘thank you for your hard work’, NOW it looks like they tried to pull a Coup but were humiliated by the Queen

                4. Hakram already explained why they did it and Cat agreed that it was a valid point. They needed to show strength, needed to rescue Black’s Legions, needed to carry supplies for all of them, needed to be able to deal with any unforeseen circumstances that presented in Iserre. If they had sent fewer soldiers that they did, they would all be dead. They are alive right now because they sent enough soldiers for it. So it was the right decision all along.

                Vivienne hasn’t done whatever she liked, she has done exactly what Cat sent her to do, same as Juniper and Hakram: Making Callow work without Catherine.

                Cat reappearing during their time of need was Narratively enforced, but her coming to them angrily for doing a sensible identity check, and the first thing she says to them is that she is about to dishonorably discharge them from their positions and blames them for the whole mess? That’s extremely ungrateful after the harsh year they had spent keeping Callow afloat in her absence. Not to mention how out of character it is for her to blame her companions for being at a disadvantage and things being against them, since that has always been the case for her and them.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Andrew Mitchell

                  Well said. When I read the chapter I almost came here to say that Cat was being way too harsh IMO. Then I read the arguments on the other side of this debate and I think there are some valid points on that side as well. You’ve explained my view much better than I would have.

                  Liked by 1 person

                2. The monarch was slighted because of Juniper and Vivienne not coming out to greet her in person. It’s a bold assumption both that (1) real Cat would tolerate that (she’s not supposed to, in the eyes of her people) and (2) fake Cat would submit meekly in their absence (that one’s straight out stupid).

                  Like

              2. Regarding the gates, note that from Viv and Juniper’s point of view, the gates were strictly “borrowed magic”, which is exactly the stuff you’d expect to fail. When Cat was making Winter gates,it was her own power. When Viv and Juniper asked Cat’s minion to do so, in her absence, they were trusting in the power (also competence and goodwill) of an elf… who they don’t actually have direct control over. That’s would probably be foolhardy for a Hero, let alone a couple of Nameless villains.

                Liked by 2 people

    2. werafdsaew

      Security protocol or not, she’s still their Queen, and so the top generals all needs to come out and greet her alongside the mages, even if it increases their personal risks.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Well, yeah. I agree that they should have done the test in private, not immediately. But it’s also a sensible thing to do if it could turn out that it was someone else disguising as Cat or that Cat was under external influence. If afterwards it turned out that the person who arrived wasn’t Cat, how would they explain it to others without it looking like a Coup? Better do it right away and clear suspicions.

        Juniper has always the careful type of person, and Vivienne has witnessed both Assassin’s shapeshifting abilities and Akua’s possession of Catherine in the past (setting a precedent that Cat can be possessed), they had valid reasons to be careful, and that’s without them knowing just how powerful the Night and Sve Noc truly are, if they knew the true extension of that power they would be paranoid. From an outsider’s POV Cat being constantly carrying the twin goddesses with her might look to anyone like possession.

        Liked by 2 people

    3. Agreed
      This was frustringly stupid at the beginning and unjust at the end.
      An idea just came to me, perhaps she’s being influenced by Stories again, like when she shouted at Black way back at the beginning.

      Because otherwise it just looks like erratica fucked up bad or intentionally had Cat fuck up bad.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. lennymaster

        Unjust? They fucked up! She told them to stay put, not risk her ENTIRE army on what was basicly a political move, to bloody green troops and threaten Cordelia when she is already busy with the Dead King: “Today, I found you engaged in a pitched battle with a Grand Alliance army – that is, a force that should be three months to the north preventing the fucking Dead King from rolling over Procer.”
        Sending something was just reasonable, but if they considered the portals to be reliable, then a few thousend scouts with some fey to quickly find and pull out Grems army would have been enough. Sending everything forced Cordelia to reroute entire armies from the north and put all of Callows stricking power at risk.
        You could have just waited for eratic to explain all this in the next few chapters or spend a few minutes to think things through.

        Liked by 6 people

      2. If Cat had been possessed what they did would have gotten those 40 troops including the 15 mages killed plus however many others and wouldn’t have stopped her. The only one that could have prevented it was Viv as it was explained way back when they talked about the protocol. You don’t trick a possessed being that when she left had the power of a demi god by sending 15 mages with an armed troop to drag her in front of the Regent, That isn’t a trap that is an arrest and coup attempt. No to trick her you come out an meet her yourself, invite her into the command tent and as walking along use the command phrase. IF she was possessed she is now contained and powerless, If she is not Cat says good job Viv for doing your duty and checking away from the mortal army that is powerless to stop a possessed Demi God.

        Liked by 6 people

          1. thearpox23

            1: The mages with Malicia were top mages, if unnamed. Probably better than what Callow has.
            2: She had a contingent of them, which was why the containment worked. If you remember, the moment some of them were killed they were no longer able to maintain the wards around her and had to switch to protection Malicia and themselves instead.
            3: Cat was notably under-powered as a Winter god due to wielding her power like a sledgehammer. Expecting someone possessing her to be stopped by something like that is exactly the kind of optimism that makes one unfit for command.

            Like

      1. RanVor

        That’s absolutely irrelevant. The test was necessary from the point of view of Vivienne and Juniper and Catherine should have known it and refrained from acting like a spoiled child for a few minutes.

        Like

  4. IDKWhoitis

    I think Cat entering in with the subtly of a battering ram is proof enough that she is Cat. Going meekly into chains would if anything add more doubt.

    Also, if it was Cat or Not-Cat, sending 40 mortal soldiers to stop her would only add to a brutal body count that would resume if she really forced it. Everyone with a heartbeat in the Camp is lucky she browbeat them into submission.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Exactly. All those complaining that Cat screwed up need to go back and reread the entire arc from the time she left for the Everdark up until she losses the battle to the Tomb Maker and Sve Noc. Cat had the entire power of the Winter Court at her disposal, IOW she had the power of the Winter King at his greatest strength and he is considered something between a God and a Demi God. In that battle against Sve Noc she could have won if she let herself become that Goddess because Sve Noc wasn’t a Goddess yet. That was the trap that the Gods below set, one way or another a new Goddess was going to come out of there whether it was Winter that had eaten the Night or as we seen Night eating Winter, The trick was on Akuas part that allowed Cat to survive, because the Dark Gods wanted either her or Sve Noc to die at the point the other wins. If Cat had let herself go and pulled on enough Winter to win and become what had been hinted at what she could, that Cat would have killed those Mages and troops for their presumption they could have contained her and from there killed everyone else in that camp including Juniper and Viv before they could have done anything. Even if it was just Akua possessing her do you think Akua would have gone along with that or would she have blasted the entire Army and Viv before she could use the Oath, gone back and told Hakram that Viv rebelled and tried to arrest her after saving them. What is Hakram going to believe at that point? Remember he had to cut his own hand off to stop a completely irrational Viv from starting a Civil War after losing her Name, so he could believe she went off the deep end again at the loss of the regency because it would fit a pattern.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Cthulhu

        This is bullshit.

        20 minutes earlier Juniper and Viv were fighting a losing battle. They are tired, stressed, and fearful of a magic trick to finish them off — be it named or a choir or god knows what else.

        In flies what appears to be their leader, with different magic (Night v Winter). She stops a cavalry charge and then rides up to camp and demands homage.

        And now she’s mad that Viv and Juniper did not immediately rush out and salute? That they sent what wizards they had to try to understand what the hell just happened?

        Sure, take control—but firing people because things didn’t go great is stupid and wasteful. This isn’t sensible. It’s piss poor leadership. It’s Akula.

        Wanted to have everything go great? Maybe stay fucking in your kingdom and fucking run it. Wanted everyone to follow directions? Maybe leave better instruction.

        We hope this improves: right now she seems pissy and petty.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Horseshit, complete and utter horseshit. She didn’t ride up demanding homage, she rode up and expected Juniper and Viv to be there to tell her what is going on but instead gets greeted with an arrest party. Like I said you need to go back and reread that entire arc.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Cthulhu

            Read it. Look at the timing. She literally rode from where the calvary was charging — no more than a few hundred yards from the front lines — where a hastily assembled party was waiting for her. In the time it took her to ride from the stopped calvary to her lines, they put together a greeting party to find out what the hell just happened and why the enemy retreated.

            So, literally, 10 minutes after a battle, she wants a full report of all her senior commanders? Because she’s queen? She wants them meeting her and saluting and is angry they send an Ogre General because it doesn’t show enough respect? Imagine this from Juniper’s perspective, just for a moment:

            ******

            “General!,” shouted the Lieutenant. “The plan to tie up the enemy has failed — our tunnels collapsed early.”

            “How bad is it?” Juniper asked. “Send reinforcements to the north wing and tell them to lay down cover fire; sound all horns to call the wings back to the center.” *We’ll hold them here, she thought.* After disaster came….more disaster. One of thegoblins in the makeshift tower shouted, “Oh shit, General! We’ve got more than 5,000 cavalry advancing towards our open belly.”

            Vivan turned to Juniper. There was little she could do other than say “Pull them back. We’ve got to save what we can.” Aiiiiigh! Shouted a dying Callowan infantry soldier. Juniper watched as his friend tried to help him.

            “Uh, General,” said the Goblin, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but a flying hose just landed in the middle of the charge. The cavalry stopped.”:

            “What?”

            “They are sounding retreat. All enemy forces dropping back. Single rider approaching.”

            Vivian stared. “Is that her?”Juniper looked around. “I sure hope so. otherwise, we are royally fucked.”

            Vivian swallowed. “What if its….not?”

            “What do you mean?” asked Juniper.

            “We put together methods to verify if that really is her.”

            Juniper nodded. “Good point.” To a goblin she said, “Get me a line of mages and an escort of 20”

            “Better make it 40”

            “Fuck it, get me a line of mages, 5 ogres, and a full company of regulars and escort her to us after the mages take their first stab at making sure she’s not some kind of trick. Gods below.”

            *****

            And now Cat lands, rides up, the living embodiment of Night, and says, “Fuck you all, you’ve done a shit job of this, and why aren’t you immediately saluting?”

            Dude, that is lame-ass shit from Cat. Give them a chance to figure out that they aren’t all going to die right away.

            Liked by 1 person

        2. stevenneiman

          She demanded an explanation for Juniper deciding that it was worthwhile to risk exactly what just happened and what could have happened for the sake of a few legions which aren’t even loyal to the same side. And they publicly make an effort to check if she’s real, which could lead to paranoia and weaken morale right when the troops need something to reassure them most. They could have done the check in private, though the chances of it actually finding anything if someone was willing to go to the effort to impersonate her are questionable.
          Also note how unlike Juniper and Vivienne, she did this in private. That means that she has a chance to spin whatever the results of this conversation, where the two options if Cat had submitted to their magical check are that either the soldiers have their hopes crushed or even their loyalties confused if Cat was an impostor or else there’s a suspicion that the next time she leaves something else might come back, which would make the soldiers paranoid about things they can’t really deal with. If they’d had the check in private it would have been much harder for Cat to believably refuse, and unless they had to actually kill her they could sweep the whole thing under the rug and not scare the rank and file.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Yes, this. Note that the essentialists here in the comments are pretty much claiming that “something else” did come back. Which in some ways is true… but what came back: 1) still answers to both “Cat” and “Black Queen”, 2) still is fighting for them, or at least rescuing them from enemy armies, and 3) still has enough personal presence to intimidate an ogre general face-to-face. Not to mention that 4) she is literally acting like a boss, specifically their boss, and a better boss (“praise in public, criticize in private”) than lots of mooks get.

            Trying to test her bona fides after she just saved their asses, was “looking a gift horse in the mouth” big-time.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Hardric62

    Quick answer, Cat? You’re working on the very wrong assumption everyone taking decisions have brains and logic has a voice to the chapter.

    The reality? The Saint of Bitches is trying its damnest to make the mess as bloody and total as possible to create a ”’worthy”’ nation out of Procer’s ashes, most of the Princes would eat ignited goblin munitions rather than stop intriguing, even or rather especially while their homes are burning, the latter are probably used by the former as a club to tie Cordelia’s hands, the Grey Hypocrite is looking at it happen without interfering with the Saint of Bitches, the people of Procer have a genuine reason to be angry right now, consequences be damned, and do I even have to talk about the Tyrant and the Hierarch?

    Logic has no right to voice any complaints when all these loonies are around. Sorry, but you’ll have to prune the stupid out manually. You have to create that Princes’ Graveyar somewheere after all.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Worse still, she is taking out her anger about the situation on two of her closest friends and even blaming them for it, as if she didn’t know how many forces were at play. This fit of anger seems out of character to me, and a bit stupid, considering that taking out the head of the chain of command and humiliating them in front of the rest of the top officers is not a wise move when there are enemy armies close and ready.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Hardric62

        Yup to that too. They need to remind Cat that circumstances going as planned and everyone taking not even best but reasonable course of action is already an hallucinated pipe-dream for War College newbies.

        Then again, I guess intense frustration at this whole mess is a humane thing too, but boundaries will need to be put so they can actually work on getting things somehow back on rails.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yes, circumstances change and things rarely go as planned, especially when heroes are involved.

          Which is why you don’t bring your entire army into enemy territory with no way to resupply or retreat except for a magical method that is highly vulnerable to heroic intervention.

          And you certainly don’t split your army into four smaller units that are wide open to defeat in detail.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. caoimhinh

            Read again the part where Hakram explained what led them to take that decision, it was a valid move. They even took measures so they wouldn’t be politically affected.
            Besides, if they wanted to rescue Black’s Legions then THE ONLY way to do that was the Fae Gates, there was simply no other way to get to them in time.
            As for the number of soldiers that were taken, it was that what has allowed them to survive so far. So it was the right decision.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. The number of soldier taken was what made them a target in the first place. And a lesser number of soldiers being defeated would have been a much lesser disaster than what’s happening right now / what would have happened had Cat not arrived in the nick of time.

              Liked by 1 person

      2. lennymaster

        One, Magic tricks and trinkets always, ALWAYS fail the villian at the worst possible time. The Gates just suddenly not working HAD to be expected, maybe not from Juniper, but definitly from Vivienne, a (former?) Named.
        Two, she is a MONARCH, and intends to leave some kind of monarchy in place even if she wants to leave eventually, wich means that the MONARCH may not be publicly slighted without consequences.
        Three, not even having ONE of the two show up to greet her smacks of rebellion, rebellion in front of the soldiers. Monarchies do not survive letting shit like that go.No, Viv has been getting to comfortable making major decisions in Cats name. What she did was show the top dogs that THEY are replaceable.
        Four, they fucked up! She told them to stay put, not risk her ENTIRE army on what was basicly a political move, to bloody green troops and threaten Cordelia when she is already busy with the Dead King: “Today, I found you engaged in a pitched battle with a Grand Alliance army – that is, a force that should be three months to the north preventing the fucking Dead King from rolling over Procer.”
        Sending something was just reasonable, but if they considered the portals to be reliable, then a few thousend scouts with some fey to quickly find and pull out Grems army would have been enough. Sending everything forced Cordelia to reroute entire armies from the north and put all of Callows striking power at risk.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Abstract

    This has the shape of a debrief, but changed due to the half-assed coup attempt. Awhile back, cat told Thief that she trusted Hakram without question. Meeting Hakram and learning that he isnt the one giving the orders puts her on her toes. Proper protocol for vetting a superior is to do it out of sight of the common troops, doing it out in the open means there’s a decent chance that, whether she’s clean or not, she’d be called compromised, and thus ambushed by her own troops. There’s no reason why you’d check her in front of `her` soldiers unless it’s a coup attempt, or to undermine her authority. I’d put money on her originally planning on just debriefing them, and learning why they’re in this mess, and catching up on current events, before this debacle.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. I don’t think Cat seriously expects this to be a coup attempt. The problem is, the reason she doesn’t are private, and the attempt obviously looking like one is public. So she has to make a scene about it in public, and if they have any issue with that – in private it is. Later. After the political mess is sorted out.

      Like

  7. caoimhinh

    Cool chapter; Cat displaying authority and taking control of the camp instantly is good and all, but I think she could have done it in a manner less harsh, without being angry at her closest friends and blaming them for the mess they are in, she already knows that the mess was due to the hacking of the Fae Gates (which seem to work fine for Cat and Sve Noc but apparently not for Larat and the Wild Hunt).

    Cat’s lash of anger towards Juniper and Vivienne, and their humiliation before the rest of the officers seems odd. Although it will enable her to have a firm command over the entire army for the following battle (however we know this wasn’t a calculated move, but Cat genuinely getting angry at them).

    Seems it will be one chapter of Cat chastizing them, then another chapter of preparation for the battle when Hakram and the rest of the army join them. So the real battle will be next week. Things will be interesting.

    P.S: “Rozala’s curves and long curls would be well worth a second look”, eh? They should get to know each other better ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

    Typos found:
    -what made cavalry charged / charge
    -It was beautiful display / it was a beautiful display
    -You weren’t like at the peace talks / You weren’t like that at the peace talks
    -you’ve still keeping Arnaud around / you’re
    -you filth Damned / filthy
    -It would be, I thought, only be sensible / delete one of the ‘be’
    -I have you an order / I gave you an order
    -footsteps told me that had / footsteps told me they had
    -she tread forward / she trod forwards
    -there will be need a need for gallows / eliminate one of the ‘need’

    Liked by 3 people

    1. edrey

      no, harsh it’s not the word, vivi should have expected battle with heroes at he third day and even malicia making another slaugther by the second day, Nauk is dead, thousands of soldiers had died, Juniper is lossing the battle, and cat saved her. both were incompetent but instead of welcomed her and apologize, risking their heads and asking for the mages to do their job then. but they didnt, they chose to stay in the tend in safety and send mages to act high and mighty agains some who had saved them, someone who fought several heroes, or something stronger and thought they would stop her. its not jus stupid, is insulting. moreover this is not about friends, she is the queen of callow, the mages should had asked in their knees and her words should have been absolute, her order should not be doubed not for a second even if the marshall was killed in front of them. their measures are ridiculous and not realistc. that is just the act of the coward and the fool, regardless if they were right or wrong

      Liked by 4 people

      1. caoimhinh

        I agree with you that Juniper and Vivienne didn’t proceed with this on a good way (I think a more private test would have been far better) but I disagree in them being incompetent. They had done their best, the only reason they are in this harsh situation (even disregarding the fact that almost every other major force is at play there) is that the Fae Gates were hacked, which left them stranded in the middle of Iserre, otherwise they would have left already. If Cat had been on the surface she would have led the expedition herself to rescue Black’s Legions (and will probably mount the rescue operation for Amadeus), so they haven’t done anything wrong, they have simply been outbested. She should know better than to humilliate them in front of the rest of officers.

        Cat, the 15th Legion and the Army of Callow have always fought uphill battles, in harsh conditions and strong enemies, this is just another one of such cases (and Story-wise this is the Narrative of her coming back right at the time of need of her friends and loved ones, just like the Pilgrim expected it would be during the Battle of the Camps). So while Cat might be in her rights to be annoyed at the testing, she can’t blame them for doing it nor blame them for the mess they are in, the situation was beyond their control.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. edrey

          the story have reach certain point now. the price for mistakes is too great and Cat is now the queen of callow, she cant allow this kind of mistakes. all sound good in paper but she knows that is how you get killed

          Liked by 2 people

          1. caoimhinh

            Let me ask you this, as you say Cat should have arrived as an absolute and unquestioned Tyrant disregarding all protocol and nobody should question her nor doubt her identity: what if it had been someone else disguising as Cat or if Cat was possessed by an outside influence?

            The only reason this is all good and fine is that this is actually the real Catherine. Otherwise, they have just let an unknown entity enter the camp and take command.

            I agree with you that they didn’t do it in the best way, but the security protocol is a sensible thing to do.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. edrey

              if she wasnt Cat they would be all dead, you dont act like that with your savior, your friend, much less your Queen, you dont force orders to a superior in a war, that kind of thing is called high treason for usurping the throne, they should have asked personaly, even more after been saved, not send mages and ogres to act high and mighty. And to be real, something that could control Cat, like Sve noc wouldnt be detected by mages much less stop her. or have a reason to save the Army of callow

              Liked by 2 people

              1. caoimhinh

                They were right to be cautious, there was already precedent of Cat being under possession.
                It is not high treason to check if the person claiming to be your Queen is actually her or someone else in disguise.
                And yes it would be noticed, even in this chapter Cat was even cautious of using Night to enhance her sense because it could be felt by the Procer’s delegation and seen as an attack (and none of them were Named nor mages). Robber has nightmares just for staring at Cat’s staff-sword, of course a being possessing Cat or a being disguising as Cat would be detected by the mages actually analyzing her.
                Juniper is extremely careful and Vivienne outright paranoid ( and has seen Assassin shapeshifting and Akua possessing Cat before) so they took measures, they sent someone whose feelings wouldn’t cloud cold judgement, Hune.
                Verifying her identity and checking for outside influences is not treason at all.
                This situation escalated and now looks bad because Cat made it so. Getting all offended and suddendly acting like a Tyrant, when she has all the time made efforts to NOT act that way. Night might be affecting her a bit and making her personality get prouder and acting high and mighty at the first perceived slight.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. edrey

                  mortal mages would be able to detect sve noc just because cat the mortal without the proper learning speculated that the procerans would be able?,
                  the problem here is not the mages looking if she is controled, is how they acted, hune saying orders with a show of force of several ogres behind her, And yes it is treason, if the mages said she is controlled when she isnt, then what would you thing will happen?. happily. it is a mistake of foolishness and not treason

                  Liked by 1 person

        2. magesbe

          She can totally blame them. Cat already ragged on Adjutant (though not that harshly) for bringing an army instead of a small contingent of troops to port out with. The army is in this mess because Juniper and Vivi BROUGHT the army into this mess, and counted on a magical trick to get them out of it (which Cat, if she had been there, could definitely have told them to not rely on). Oh it’s not 100% their fault, or even mostly their fault, but they have enough fault to go around.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. caoimhinh

            Hakram already explained why they did it, and Cat agreed. So there’s no reason for her to be angry with them now.
            They needed to rescue Black’s Legions, Cat would have personally gone to rescue them if she had been there. How do you think they could rescue them without using the Fae Gates?
            That was THE ONLY WAY to arrive in time and the only way to get out safely.
            It’s not a whim nor relying on a magic trick, it’s a strategy that they have been implementing ever since Cat gained the title of Duchess of Moonless Nights and the Gates had never been hacked before.

            Like

            1. magesbe

              The closest she got to approval was admitting that it was a solid plan. And to me, it sounded like the kind of admittance that is usually followed by, “but you still fucked up.” And she herself proposed that it would have been better to only send a minimum force to pick them up. Now, because of Vivi, Hakram, and Juniper deciding to get greedy (basically trying to take everything), almost the entirety of the Army of Callow is at risk of annihilation.

              And sure Gates have always worked. Just like I’m sure the Exiled Prince’s magic armor always worked. Until it didn’t. Getting to them obviously required Gates, but they shouldn’t have put themselves in a position where they were utterly screwed if they couldn’t Gate out. If there were only a few of them, they could travel more lightly, and for all that Cat wants to help out Black’s forces, she doesn’t care so much that she’s willing to put the Army of Callow onto the bring of ruin.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. caoimhinh

                Ok, so we agree that the Gates are the only way to get there in time to rescue Black’s Legions, then you must also agree that the only way to get out fast and safely is the very same Gates that let them get there. They didn’t rely on this out of whim, but out of necessity, and even then, they took measures to ensure that they could deal with unforeseen circumstances, that’s why they brought a large army.

                Remember that the only reason that they are being in the mess is due to a combination of many factors, beginning with the hacking of the Gates, summed by the Dominion’s troops and finishing with the unforeseeable movements of Helike’s armies.

                Again, if they had sent a small force they would have been wiped out, sending a huge army was the most sensible option and the one that achieved the most objectives while giving them the most safety in case things went wrong.
                Not to mention that Narrative twists causality and enforced them to be in peril by the time Cat returned, but that’s out of their control.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. If they had sent a small force the gates would have likely kept working. Narrative bullshit and hubris.

                  And even if not, Grem’s Legions are not worth the entire army.

                  Like

                    1. From Juniper explaining what the reasoning was?

                      They were trying to make good decisions, not “decisions Cat will like”. Important distinction there.

                      Like

    2. Agent J

      Cat and Sve’s Gates are Night-based. Larat’s and the Hunt’s are not. Different power source, so it could be that whatever’s fucking with a former Fae Prince’s power isn’t powerful enough to fuck with a Goddess’s power. Or, hell, maybe Larat’s Gates are still Winter-based and Winter is no longer a thing.

      Regardless, it’s perfectly reasonable to chew these two out for their fuck up. Because, yes, the fucked up. Firstly, they shouldn’t rely on magical doohickeys. Secondly, they shouldn’t have committed they’re entire army. Thirdly, they shouldn’t be distracting the Grand Alliance from the fucking zombie apocalypse that is raging up north.

      Cat left her army on the other side of the Whitecaps. She’s understandably miffed that someone misplaced it. Her army has been getting shitted on left, right, and center. Her oldest friend is dead, the Third Army was almost annihilated, the Fourth Army was made a fool of and bloodied viciously, and Juniper was on the verge of her first military defeat (and a savage one at that, had that cavalry struck). At every turn, Catherine had to bail out her army from imminent disaster.

      And after all that, Juniper and Vivienne send a line of troops (as if she couldn’t slaughter them in under a heartbeat if she truly was compromised) to vett her at the door. Even if there’s sound logic to that, and she admits there is, Catherine’s patience with this whole debacle is understandably taxed. She’s pissed, has every right to be pissed, and is channeling that anger at two very appropriate targets, because again, they fucked up.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. caoimhinh

        That might be the case, it will be interesting to see how Larat and the rest of the Wild Hunt react to WInter being devoured by Night (Larat might even like it, since he was Prince of Nightfall).

        Please remember Hakram’s explanation of why they sent the army. They aren’t relying on magic tricks for fun, the Fae Gates were the only way to get to Iserre in time to rescue Black’s Legions, there was simply no other way to do it. The amount of soldiers that were sent were to: A) secure Black’s Legions B) protect the new recruits as they had real campaign experience C) deal with any unforeseen situation.

        The only reason they are alive right now is that they sent enough soldiers, otherwise they would all be dead.
        Again, they really can’t be blamed for this whole mess, because it has been one unforeseeable circumstance after the other that has been striking them.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Agent J

          Whether or not they feel like they have to rely on the magical doodad is an entirely moot point. William would likely have argued that he’s not using an angel feather for a damn sword for fun either. That it was the only way he could feasibly wage war against monsters like the Carrion Lord and the god damn Sovereign of the Red Skies. But the narrative didn’t give half an iota of a fuck about the “necessity” of it. He relied on a magical tool and said magical tool fucked him over at the worst possible time, because that is what they do. It set up a “rightful queen” story for his enemy to exploit and was driven into his damn throat to boot.

          Vivi and Co. were stupid for relying on a magical gate as the linchpin to their plan and the fact that they “had to” does nothing to alleviate that.

          “-there was simply no other way to do it.“

          Then perhaps they shouldn’t have done it.

          “The only reason they are alive right now is that they sent enough soldiers-“

          False. The only reason they are alive right now is because Catherine bailed their sorry asses out time and time and time again. From the Levantines. From the Helikeans. From the Procerans/Levantines. Hells, it’s barely been a week since the poor girl’s been topside and already she’s had to stare down three cavalry charges to keep her people safe.

          If Cat had not arrived when she did, the Third Army would be annihilated. The Fourth Army would have been too far from both the Third and the First/Second Armies to effectively help out either, all while continuing to hemorrhage soldiers day in and day out. And, as we’ve just seen, Juniper’s Armies would have been badly crippled by a well placed, well timed charge of several thousand mounted killers.

          It would have been objectively better to lose a small force sent in to rescue Grem One-Eye than to cripple the entire bloody army doing so.

          “Again, they really can’t be blamed for this whole mess, because it has been one unforeseeable circumstance after the other that has been striking them.”

          That… doesn’t matter in the slightest. It’s war. Their enemies aren’t expected to telegraph their every movement for the Army of Callow’s convenience. Preparing for unforeseen circumstances is literally their job, especially on a campaign they willingly volunteered for. No one twisted their arms into barging over the Whitecaps. They did that of their own volition.

          This line of reasoning makes as much sense as the Procerans complaining that the Invasion of Callow was only a failure because there had been unforeseen circumstances. How were they supposed to know a lake would be dropped on their heads. The answer is it doesn’t matter. They launched a war against foes they barely understood, were caught flatfooted when things didn’t go according to plan, and then they were savagely bled for it. In short, they fucked up.

          Much like Juniper and Vivienne.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. RanVor

            There were two options, use the gates and save the Legions or not use the gates and not save the Legions. There was no safe choice to be taken. Vivienne and Juniper have done literally everything in their power to stack the odds in their favor. It turned out not to be enough, but they didn’t half-ass this. They took the information they had and decided the risk was worth the payoff. You must remember that they’re no narrative experts. They were given tools to use and they made the best use of them they could. When Cat ordered Larat to listen to Juniper, she didn’t do it with the expectation that the Marshall of Callow won’t make use of him. Moreover, Cat would be pissed at them anyway if they just left Grem and his forces to die. They miscalculated, sure, but fits of anger are not an appropriate response to that.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Agent J

              They made a choice. It blew up in their face and without Divine Catherinic Intervention it would have cost them a quarter and change of their army at the very least. Shake it however you want, but the decision made was a bad one. Losing the Third Army, bleeding the Fourth, and decimating the First/Second combined forces all for Grem’s legions is nothing short of a very costly mistake.

              Vivi would have lost more soldiers than she saved. She’d also be losing officers loyal to Callow and her Queen in favour of one’s loyal to Black. And if Cat herself were ever asked if she would trade Nauk for Grem, she would not take kindly the insult.

              “When Cat ordered Larat to listen to Juniper, she didn’t do it with the expectation that the Marshall of Callow won’t make use of him.”

              Make use of him, sure. Use him to launch an invasion of Procer while the Dead King rages up north? No. I highly doubt that was her expectation.

              “Moreover, Cat would be pissed at them anyway if they just left Grem and his forces to die.”

              Would she? Would she really? Since when did it become her job to save old men trying to relive their glory days from the consequences of their actions. When Black was with them, she assumed he had a smart plan. Now that Black isn’t with them, the only thing that would drive her to save Grem’s legions is politics. Former Legionaries in the Army of Callow would be miffed if she left them to die, but that doesn’t mean commit the entire army. That particular bout of stupidity was entirely their own decision, made to bloody the troops and put pressure on the First Prince. Two goals that are not necessary, not worth crippling their army over, and not worth anchoring tens of thousands of Alliance troops three months south of the raging apocalypse.

              Anger is the only appropriate response to that.

              Like

                1. Agent J

                  As opposed to, say, Laure to pick up the entirety of her army (that she believed to still be in Callow at the time)? Almost like she thought sending in a rescue team should not jeaprodize her kingdom’s entire army. Hells, she didn’t even commit the entire army of the Empire Everdark. This is just the Southern Expedition.

                  Like

          2. caoimhinh

            It doesn’t matter when assessing victory and defeat, but it DOES matter when assigning fault and blame.
            Being defeated is not the same as blundering with mistakes; they made preparations and did the best they could, it just turned out to not be enough, that doesn’t call for Catherine entering the tent chastising them in front of all the officials and unceremoniously stripping them of their positions as if they were a pair of traitorous incompetents.

            Every campaign that Cat, the 15th and the current Army of Callow have fought could have been their last battle, they have ALWAYS been at risk of total collapse if they were defeated in the field, this time is no different. And she has NEVER blamed officials for the loses during campaign, not even once, so it is completely out of character for her to start doing it on two of her closest friends, treating them like idiots and half-rebels, it is just not like her at all.

            Yes, they are in a grave situation, but they are not to blame for it, now is not the moment to be blaming offcials for circumstances out of their control and the movements of 3 enemy armies around them, now is the moment to sit with them and look for a solution, this entire tantrum is a pointless act of “the slighted monarch” that befits petty Tyrants, not the practical fighter that Catherine has always been.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Agent J

              Your first paragraph would hold more weight if this war was one Cat had sent them on. It’s not. They took it up themselves, in her name. Catherine has referred to it as a “stupid war” even while commending her fallen soldiers for fighting it bravely anyway. The decision to take up this war factors in as well, and colours the string of embarrassing defeats rather starkly.

              “Every campaign that Cat, the 15th and the current Army of Callow have fought could have been their last battle-“

              True, but there is another common thread as well, all were absolutely necessary. The Liesse Rebellion had to be put down. The Fae Invasions had to be stopped. Akua’s Folly had to be answered. The Proceran Invaders had to be checked. Callow survived all four and is a weakened mess. It would be a shattered mess if just one of these were allowed to come to pass, but most likely, one would have snowballed into the next. Callow literally would not survive such a catastrophe.

              Callow can survive the death of Grem.

              “And she has NEVER blamed officials for the loses during campaign”

              Mostly accurate. She’s blamed Hune for… Nauk’s injuries I think? I’m not gonna chase down the quote, but it was the catalyst for her finally having a frank talk with her and she agreed, when Juniper chewed her out for it, that she was wrong.

              But my need for accuracy aside, she’s never gotten this pissed at an official before, because she was always the one giving the orders. If, despite their best efforts, her officers failed to achieve the task she gave them then she would accept it or deal with it as best she can.

              Catherine has been gone for nigh on a year. She’s had no part in the decision making process. This entire campaign is the child of Vivienne, Hakram, and Juniper. Catherine has her eye on the bigger picture and is furious that her army is bogged down and on the brink of destruction for what is, essentially, a needless, extremely costly, and shortsighted passion project.

              “Yes, they are in a grave situation, but they are not to blame for it-“

              Yes, they are.

              “-this entire tantrum is a pointless act of “the slighted monarch” that befits petty Tyrants-“

              I see an exasperated mother harshly disciplining her children after they ran out onto the street in rush hour traffic. A little heat is good if you mean for the lesson to stick.

              Nauk already died for this pointless exercise of theirs. How many more loved ones would Cat have lost were she still in the Everdark? How many more soldiers? The body count is already well in the thousands and we’ve yet to receive the First and Second’s casualty reports.

              What happened at the gate is salt in the wound, it is not the source of her anger.

              Like

  8. Interestingly enough, and differently to most I think, I didn’t find Cat rang true here. Not that I don’t think she’d be angry but it felt too cold and distant an anger for someone as close as Hellhound and trusted as Dartwick. It’s closer to the anger she’s shown to those she’s been forced to deal with.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m reading this as tightly controlled fury, but very functional. I doubt she’s going to start Night-choking people as examples, but in the context of a screwup on this scale, making her displeasure known is very much “part of the story”. Her anger is certainly justified, and it’s not just Evil armies that punish their own officers for major mistakes. Much less insubordination!

      Liked by 4 people

    2. I read this as Cat realizing she can’t let her personal relationships interfere with politics.

      She likes Juniper and Vivienne. Personally, she understands their fuckup. Politically, a line has been crossed that she needs to throw a public scene about or suffer a blow to her side’s cohesion.

      Like

  9. Dainpdf

    More than the anger (Cat has always had a temper), I find the *pride* here interesting. Or at least the notion of her position. Cat cites as the last straw not being received with appropriate deference. Seems like her days of waffling are done.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. lennymaster

      One, Magic tricks and trinkets always, ALWAYS fail the villian at the worst possible time. The Gates just suddenly not working HAD to be expected, maybe not from Juniper, but definitly from Vivienne, a (former?) Named.
      Two, she is a MONARCH, and intends to leave some kind of monarchy in place even if she wants to leave eventually, wich means that the MONARCH may not be publicly slighted without consequences.
      Three, not even having ONE of the two show up to greet her smacks of rebellion, rebellion in front of the soldiers. Monarchies do not survive letting shit like that go.No, Viv has been getting to comfortable making major decisions in Cats name. What she did was show the top dogs that THEY are replaceable.
      Four, they fucked up! She told them to stay put, not risk her ENTIRE army on what was basicly a political move, to bloody green troops and threaten Cordelia when she is already busy with the Dead King: “Today, I found you engaged in a pitched battle with a Grand Alliance army – that is, a force that should be three months to the north preventing the fucking Dead King from rolling over Procer.”
      Sending something was just reasonable, but if they considered the portals to be reliable, then a few thousend scouts with some fey to quickly find and pull out Grems army would have been enough. Sending everything forced Cordelia to reroute entire armies from the north and put all of Callows striking power at risk.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. RanVor

        I judge it an insufficient reason to barge in, ignore every security protocol in existence and threaten to fire everybody. In my opinion Cat acted like a child with a temper tantrum here, and I don’t care if you disagree.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Exactly, it’s not like they were there for fun. They were rescuing Black’s Legions and the only way to do that was through the Fae Gates and sending a large army that could deal with any dangers that might arise in Iserre.
          That unforeseeable circumstances had led them to this mess is not their fault, and is out of character for Cat to blame them for it, she has NEVER done such a thing before.

          Liked by 2 people

  10. superkeaton

    Cat’s cracking the whip. She might call them close friends, but there are Responsibilities to be had and Consequences to consider. And, of course, nobody likes seeing the army they fucking built look at them like they’re a threat and dance to the tune of a pair of underlings.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Azure

    So we know Winter made Catherine cold and inhuman, but it looks like Night has made her prideful and arrogant. She really doesn’t like being challenged or not given her due. How many people has she asked to Kneel so far? That’s Sve Noc’s influence all over her.

    Harkram escaped it because he never challenged Catherine. Only just though because she was ready to lash out at him when he questioned her about Akua.

    Really not liking how she’s treating Vivienne and Juniper. She’d better watch that pride or she’s only gonna end up with sycophants and yes men.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You really need to go back and re read Chapters 48, 49 and 50 of Book 4. Prior to her leaving for the Everdark Viv was all pissy and rebellious to Cats face and just before they split up Hakram stated this for the group:

      “No,” Hakram said, shaking his head. “You were right to be displeased. We debate in private, when we differ. One front.”

      Did she get haughty and make Hakram kneel, even with being pissed at him for being in Procer? No, she didn’t because Hakram went into private and talked to her. So what does the rebellious Vivienne Dartwick who takes a verbal cheap shot at Cat on their parting do? Tries to arrest her.

      Like

    2. It’s a show she needs to put on.

      Cat CAN step over her pride and anger, as quick as she is to them. But in this case she shouldn’t, because her army is looking to her for confidence and assertiveness. This was a public insult, and however unintended, NOT getting angry would make her look weak in the circumstances where she can least afford it – where her army can least afford it.

      Like

  12. Malanza and company has been duped in this instance but when they hear of what happened to the Levantine vanguard’s cavalry and the Helikean cathapracts, Malanza will be vindicated in her decision to retreat. One just doesn’t use a cavalry charge the Black Queen.

    Liked by 5 people

  13. curious

    I wonder if Catherine actually is corrupted, by Night. She has been drawing on it regularly to sharpen her staff/sword she leans on constantly, in addition to invocations for miracles. Collar Fairy is knee deep in making a Well of the stuff. Cat might not be a construct anymore but her soul was Corrupted, mutilated, bound up with Winter, and then literally exploded. We have not had Masego around to comment on the current state of her Her-ness.

    Comment Thread Consensus is that by being priestess, she is not personally affected by the principle alienation as she was when WinterCat. But remember what “Sve” was? I am far from certain that being the Get of Night, as the drow consider her, comes with zero strings attached.

    What would corruption by Night look like? Winter was about hunger, pride, backstabbery, isolation. Night is about terror, yes, but what else? The actual properties of Night have not been explained clearly for us by a narrator. Many of the uses of Night by Mighty were corrosive. I would worry about sinking my soul in that. Other uses, per the Longstriders, involve movement / uncertainty of position of things in the Night.

    Cat is notably weaker after the Everdark. It is confounded by not being a construct anymore, but her leg (which she keeps mutilated for irrational reasons) fatigues even more rapidly than it should (I have a chronic knee condition and go to PT, her stamina is really bad) and her body is exhausted after working miracles. Is not part of Night getting sleepy/tired?

    I think she isn’t a reliable narrator, and would [and should] have failed the mage inspection. But killing her off [correctly] would not work narratively here so she was saved more by plot armor than anything “her”. I think when Masego gets back, the state of her soul will become the major plot focus.

    Lastly, part of the reason I think she can’t get a new Name is she is not a person. Before Winter, the Demon of Corruption took a third of her soul when it claimed her third Aspect. That piece of her soul was sawed off by Masego and replaced by Winter, which then was exploded in Strycht. Then Akua crept into Winter, and Saint sliced up Winter, and we have no idea what that did to Cat’s soul.

    Bottom line, Cat is physically herself again, albeit a low-stamina, crippled, dragonbone pipe-clenching, extremely impulsive, easily angered version that somewhat superficially resembles, but differs in a lot of important ways, from SquireCat. I don’t know how much is Folly PTSD and how much is soul mutilation but her soul was mutilated multiple times in extremely unusual ways.

    We need Masego.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. RanVor

      Interesting. I was recently thinking about how Cat’s behavior seems more at odds with who she was at the beginning than when she was the Sovereign of Moonless Nights…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Cat’s behavior seems more at odds with who she was at the beginning than when she was the Sovereign of Moonless Nights…”

        Yes, she’s far more confident and mature now than she was at any previous point — and by her own choice, less violent. Note that she’s always been impulsive, right from the beginning, but now she’s showing better sense about when and how to do that sort of stuff. (As someone else said, she’d earned that Intimidation bonus. Also, I suspect Night could have provided a quick escape if needed.) As I noted before, she acts more human now than she did as Winter Cat.

        Anyone who’s worried by her display of anger, or who thinks it’s excessive, consider this: She was confronted by a group of her own troops with (insubordinate) orders to detain and test her. None of them died or even got hurt — in fact, Cat simply faced them down. And when facing Viv and Juniper, Cat did not in any way threaten them physically, not even as hyperbole. Instead, she invoked their oaths to her, and her final “threat” in this chapter was the loss of, not simply their positions, but the trust represented by those positions. In short, she’s finally acting like a commander and a sovereign, and people are responding accordingly.

        This actually raises an interesting point: What do you do when your buddy’s possession represents an improvement over their original? I’ve heard of one similar case in the real world: Dr. Charles (iirc) told the tale of a cranky and obnoxious matriarch who suddenly woke up… nice. Her alarmed family promptly rushed her to the ER, where brain scans revealed a developing tumor. When that was removed, Grandma promptly went back to her nasty old self.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. RanVor

          “her own troops with (insubordinate) orders”

          Actually that’s bullshit. The orders were not only coming from the officers Cat herself appointed, but also totally sensible and I’m really shocked that Cat didn’t know better after all she went through. But she decided to throw a hissy fit and punish people for doing what she would expect them to do in any other situation instead. Good job, very mature.

          Liked by 1 person

  14. In fairness, we have never seen Juniper miscalculate so badly. I suspect there is a good reason, but this is Cat’s first time dealing with a serious display of bad judgement on the part of her crew.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Actually it isn’t. Go back and re read Chapters 49 and 50 of Book 4, where Vivenne Dartwick threatened Cat with disobeying her order to go back with Hakram to rule Callow in her name. This came after Hakram and Viv conspired before discussing things with Cat about who was going into the Everdark with her. That was seriously bad judgement and Hakram realizes it during Chapter 49 and admits it mid way through 50 after watching Cat take her frustrations out on the Hunt for their bad judgement during the Battle of the Camps months earlier and then topping it off by not wanting to Gate Masego, Viv and Hakrum. Remember she had one member of the Hunt kill another member after smacking the second one around and literally putting her boot on her neck. This is why I keep telling people saying this isn’t Cat need to go back and re read the entire Everdark arc because they sure did miss/forget a lot.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Aotrs Commander

    Hahahaha!

    Nice,

    Yeah, not feeling a lot of sympathy for Juniper and Viv, here. If Cat had not showed up (or was dead) or not when she did and intervened in person, they would have lost all four armies (how much of that is the totality of the armies of Callow?) AND their Callow’s remaining best generals AND its regent AND the only Named it had left on its side (including the only greenskin named in centuries).

    What would have been left? What would have happened to Callow after that? (Malicia would certainly have had a good laugh, if no-one else did.)

    Yeah, their plan was incompetantly handled and the decision to even attempt it was poorly-thought out at best. Juniper is supposed to be better than this.

    Regardless of why they thought they had to do it – they FRACKED up impossibly badly and were out-maneouvered at every turn. Audacity is rewarded only by success and this was literally one Cat-stride (and they aren’t very big, y’see of account of she being short[1])) away from the definition of utter failure.

    And then not bothering to even check for themselves it was Cat? (As if, y’know, the enemy suddenly all buggered off was a fricking CLUE.)

    Damn straight they get a Proper Bollocking.

    [1]Dont kill me! She has a REALLY tall personality, that’s clearly where all the mass goes.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. stevenneiman

      They did check for themselves. The thing is that they did it publicly, which was a public insult and challenge to her authority. And considering that last I heard Juniper was a competent general, I feel like Cat would almost be more justified than Juniper in wondering if the other was an impostor.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. It could have been a catastrophe no doubt but I give more credit to Malanza’s and the Tyrant’s abilities rather than the Hellhound’s and Vivienne’s lack thereof. Malanza is no joke as a military commander and the Tyrant survives and thrives in clusterfuck situations.

      Remember, Callow was getting their ass handed to them at the start of the battle of the camps until Catherine dropped a lake onto the battlefield. Then you have the Tyrant who won the war within the League against a side with a hero band with Black (and company) and the Bard looming in the background.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. 'Ladi Williams

    That was badass! I would dearly love to see the guide as a seasonal production.
    And watching Cat calmly smoking while being charged by 7 thousand horse wit h only a line and her reputation between her and them and forcing them to flinch! That would be awesome.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. stevenneiman

    One kind of little thing I just noticed: Even when she’s furious enough to go on a tirade and threaten demotions, she doesn’t even consider threatening execution. Horrendously impractical and villainous in the way that gets you killed, even if you are in a foul enough mood to go through with it.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. The Wild Hunt is still in play. I wonder if the promise of ‘Seven crowns plus one’ is still valid now that Winter as a unique power has ended. Perhaps said crowns will tie into the Prince’s Graveyard somehow.

    Like

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