Chapter 27: Overtures

“You should listen to the devil on your shoulder, my friend. I had it nailed onto there for a reason.”
– Dread Emperor Abominable, the Thrice-Struck

It went like this: the opposition insisted they could not hold diplomatic talks while one of their own was being held up by the throat. In response, I somewhat politely cast aspersions on their grasp of matters such as reality and remembering who’d tried to kill me under truce banner literally moments ago, then told them it’d be rather absurd to stand there in silence while the Grey Pilgrim went to fetch my teacher’s unconscious body. I spoke the word ‘unconscious’ with a heavy wink, because what was a little borderline necromancy between ‘friends’? Lord Yannu promptly told me talks couldn’t be had without the Peregrine, who in turn suggested that his word was enough for me to order General Rumena to release his personal Heaven-endorsed attack hound. He would then join my conversation with Malanza and the other Levantine.

“That’s an interesting suggestion, Tariq,” I smiled politely, showing a great deal of teeth. “Especially since it implies I still hold your word to be of any worth at all.”

“Mind your tongue, villain,” the Lord of Alava hissed. “To cast doubt on the honour of the Pilgrim’s Blood is to insult the Dominion of Levant itself.”

“Will the Grey Pilgrim be surrendering himself into my custody immediately, then?” I pointedly asked. “Honour might be at least in part satisfied by that.”

There was a moment of pained silence, though from certain quarters there’d been understandably no surprise. After all, Princess Rozala had been in the tent when the treaties were first drafted and signed while the Grey Pilgrim had been an actual guarantor of the terms as well as part of them.

“You overreach, Black Queen,” Lord Yannu said. “Such demands are beyond your ability to enforce, to say little of your right to them.”

“My right?” I curtly repeated. “Did they not tell you, Lord Yannu, that I have written treatises signed by both your Peregrine and the Prince of Iserre to this nature? Treatises including terms that placed the Pilgrim in the Kingdom of Callow’s hands for a time as hostage, and that your honourable Peregrine instead fled my capital in the night last year? Oaths and promises were broken, and he’s since shown no willingness to make reparations for this or even acknowledge it happened.”

“There was greater need for me elsewhere,” the Grey Pilgrim replied. “Duties whose call was keener than what had been arranged.”

“The oaths were inconvenient, so you broke them,” I translated with a beaming smile. “But that’s all right, because I’m just a villain after all. Charming.”

“I would make amends, Black Queen,” the Pilgrim offered.

“Sure,” I replied without hesitation, “surrender yourself, right now. You’ll be put to trial according to Callowan law and dealt with accordingly.”

“I cannot do this,” Tariq said, “so long as you lead an army against the Grand Alliance.”

“Ah,” I mused. “It was a platitude, then, and your word remains dust to me. Let us discard this notion of my putting faith in the promises of a man who does not afford anyone else the same courtesy and move on, shall we?”

None of them liked that, but Malanza steered the conversation away from the fact that both she and the Pilgrim had already broken terms of a bargain made with me before they lost any more feathers. The arrangements ended up being kicked down the line: talks would end until I’d received the body and released the Saint, then resume with the Grey Pilgrim in attendance. A waste of time, in my eyes, so I turned my gaze on Princess Rozala instead.

“I’m willing to bargain with you without them in attendance,” I bluntly said. “You strike me as the most trustworthy of the three, at the moment, though admittedly that doesn’t mean all that much.”

The Princess of Aequitan hesitated, while in the back of my mind I gauged her situation. There were more Dominion soldiers than Proceran ones in the western coalition army she was fighting with, so it wasn’t a given that she had the most clout in whatever power-sharing arrangement made up that host’s command. On the other hand, if she was here then it was with the First Prince’s backing and this remained the Principate of Procer: she had legitimacy the other two did not, being foreigners.

“We can speak,” Princess Rozala said, “while other matters are seen to.”

The large Lord of Alava stirred, face openly displeased, but the princess raised a hand in appeasement.

“I will not negotiate, or offer terms,” the dark-haired woman said. “Only speak. Diplomacy can take place when all are in attendance.”

The Grey Pilgrim spoke softly, in a language I did not know – a Levantine tongue, most likely, since Lord Yannu seemed to have no trouble understanding it. They conferred softly, and I watched Princess Rozala from the corner of my eyes. She seemed as much in the dark about what was being said as I, and not particularly pleased about it. Adjutant leaned in closer.

“Murcadan, I think,” the orc whispered in Kharsum. “Spoken mostly around the region of Alava city. I’m not surprised Rozala wouldn’t know it, it’s their least widespread tongue.”

I slowly nodded. Might be true that the language had never seemed worth learning for the Princess of Aequitan. Although her principality was deep to the south of Procer and closer to the Dominion than any other foreign nation, Ceseo or Lunara would have been more useful picks if she meant to dabble in learning something of narrower use than tradertalk. Whatever the truth of it, the side conference between the Levantines did not take long. Quiet words were exchanged with Princess Rozala herself, and there must have been agreement as the Pilgrim sought my eyes once more and when denied that withdrew without another word. Lord Yannu inquired to the practical aspects of the trade, namely how the unconscious body would be carried, so I glanced meaningfully at Hakram. Adjutant moved to speak with the Levantine aristocrat, leaving Princess Rozala Malanza to speak with me alone. Well, not exactly: Komena drew her talons against my shoulder for a moment before lazily flapping away to perch herself on the shoulder of her favourite, General Rumena. The old drow showed no sign of tiring from holding up the Saint of Swords by the throat, and overall had seemed rather unimpressed by her glaring even before half of Sve Noc claimed its shoulder. The crow taking flight drew Malanza’s attention to the one still on my shoulder, though she couldn’t seem to gaze at Andronike directly.

“I wouldn’t recommending looking at either too close,” I said.

“Demons,” Princess Rozala said, lips tightening into a line.

Andronike let out loud gurgling caws that might have been taken as laughter, and certainly rang of mockery.

“Sve Noc,” I corrected. “Or their attention, anyway. No summons these, Rozala Malanza, bound and bargained for. Though if that makes you fear them less, I’ll count you a fool for it.”

The Proceran princess studied me for a moment, dark eyes inscrutable.

“What does it mean?” she asked. “Sve Noc.”

“It means your learning is shallow, Rozala Malanza, while this world’s roots run deep,” Andronike spoke in perfect Chantant from my shoulder. “It will be amusing, to see how little of you the adjustment allows to remain. Already the cracks are showing, aren’t they?”

The Princess of Aequitan turned ghastly pale.

“It will take more than brandy and poppy leaves for the digging to stop,” the goddess on my shoulder laughed. “Hands and picks and tireless flesh, pulling aside the –”

“Andronike,” I calmly said. “Enough.”

“The clever little things would turn on you in a heartbeat, my herald, if they believed they would triumph in that strife,” she said. “In their wanton arrogance they prance about, blind to their utter fragility.”

“Are we not all fragile, in your eyes?” I retorted.

“Some more than others,” Andronike said, but left it at that.

Wings spreading, the crow-goddess took flight and left me to face a shaken Princess of Aequitan. Her tanned visage had turned ashen, and a tremor was running down her arm. Not, I noted, the one that clutched the handle of her sword.

“What is that thing, Black Queen?” Princess Rozala croaked.

“Desperate measures made altar,” I said. “Apotheosis is not a gentle affair, and they were not gentle before it.”

“Riddles,” she accused.

“I’ve given you truths,” I shrugged. “What you make of them, in the end, is not my concern. I am not your keeper, or for that matter your empire’s.”

That last sentence had blood returning to her face, and iron returned to her spine. I studied Rozala Malanza under the gentle light of the moon, waited as she put herself back together. It was absurd, I thought, to think of her as young when she was older than me. But she couldn’t even be thirty, and it struck me that in different times she would have been considered much too young for the importance of the duties thrust upon her. As Hasenbach’s commander in Iserre, she was arguably on par with the Iron Prince in authority within the ever-fluid military hierarchy of Procer. Perhaps even higher. Young and worn before her time, I thought. The chorus of our age.

“Procer is on the verge of collapse,” Princess Rozala told me.

I hid my surprise at the fact that she’d outright admit that. The blood was in the water for anyone to see, and here in Iserre there were ingredients enough to cook the death of empire, but there was still life in the beast.

“In different circumstances, I might have celebrated that,” I frankly said. “Not, however, today.”

“You cannot afford for the lines up north to break, Black Queen,” the princess told me, tone cool. “Too many of the refugees south would die, the sheer amount of corpses to be raised would effectively make the Dead King unstoppable.”

Gods, I wished. Unstoppable was the prelude to some adolescent in colourful clothes bringing down the flying fortress, or inexplicably stabbing a villain’s soul. Unfortunately, I doubted Neshamah would make any mistake so easily exploitable by the Heavens and their chosen.

“I didn’t come to Iserre to fight any of you,” I pointed out. “I’m extracting my forces.”

“Do so,” the princess said. “You will not be hindered.”

“Including the Legions of Terror,” I flatly said.

“That,” Princess Rozala said, “cannot be allowed to happen.”

I already had a biting reply on the tip of my tongue when I forced myself to bite it instead, eyes narrowing as I looked closer at the dark-haired Arlesite. She wasn’t being high-handed, I thought, or refusing to recognize the realities of her situation. There wasn’t defiance or righteous anger on her face, only a sort of tired resignation. Rozala Malanza was essentially telling me, without outright speaking the word, that if the Legions left with my forces there would be dire consequences for the Principate.

“How bad?” I asked.

“Bad,” she replied, tone grim.

“I can’t give them to you,” I frankly told her. “I won’t backstab an ally and it’d make a bloody mess for me besides.”

“If you were to escape with them,” Princess Rozala delicately said, “after being defeated, that would be a different story. Or so I am told.”

My fingers tightened around my reins and Zombie whinnied.

“That’s not a small favour you’re asking,” I said. “Or a harmless one.”

It wasn’t an exaggeration to say that a great deal of my legitimacy – insofar as I had any – as the Queen of Callow came from my largely uninterrupted string of battlefield victories. I’d had political defeats aplenty, and strategic drubbings more than once, but even the worst of my days commanding an army could be argued to be at least draws. As the First Prince had once put it I was a warlord, and those only rules so long as they kept winning. It’d also put me in a weaker position when pushing for the Liesse Accords, coming from the cold as an already beaten foe instead of a victor, and that was without even getting in the practical aspects of being ‘defeated’. Even if I were willing to waste soldiers over such theatre, which I honestly wasn’t sure I was, this would be a risky business even if I trusted the opposition well. Which I did not. Malanza wasn’t unreasonable, but a year ago she’d been invading my homeland and she’d never bothered to hide the despised me personally. That left the Levantines, which as long as the Pilgrim was around couldn’t be trusted to do anything but what he ‘advised’. How could I be sure that halfway through the withdrawal of my forces they wouldn’t try to turn the face victory into a real one?

“I do not have room to negotiate, Black Queen,” Princess Rozala murmured. “I would prefer if I did, but what do I have to bargain with save doom and despair?”

“I’d be taking on heavy risks,” I reminded her. “On the account of people who are still my enemies.”

“There is a greater enemy still,” she told me, eyes serious. “The Enemy, and he comes for us all.”

“I’m not unaware of that,” I patiently said. “It’s not that I’m unwilling to avoid setting fire to what’s left of Procer, Malanza. It’s that I’m not convinced if I try to help you your fellows won’t stick a knife in my back halfway through.”

She grimaced.

“I don’t suppose,” she said, “that my word of honour as the Princess of Aequitan would mean anything to you.”

“More than nothing,” I finally said. “But it only matters if you’re in command of the army on the other side of this field, and I don’t believe that’s the case.”

“I hold supreme command over all armies of the Principate in Iserre,” she said.

“And the Levantines?”

“This half their forces answers to Lord Yannu, for the most part,” Rozala said. “We make plans by council.”

“Then you can’t speak for the army,” I said, not unkindly. “If the Grey Pilgrim asked the man to turn cannibal he actually might. Turning on a villain? That wouldn’t even merit hesitation.”

“You need to set aside your grudge against the Chosen, Foundling,” the other woman told me. “Though I understand he broke faith with you, it was a shallow betrayal.”

“He disappeared to hunt down my mentor, whose soulless body I’ve just had to trade for,” I flatly said. “He’d didn’t leave to take a nice stroll down a promenade, Malanza.”

“The Carrion Lord killed thousand on the field, and dozens of thousands through the burning of them,” the Princess of Aequitan spoke evenly. “I can only grieve the Peregrine did not simply slit the man’s throat instead of resorting to such theatrics.”

I could have argued this, truth be told. There was no denying Black was a monster, but he hadn’t decided to torch his way through the Proceran heartlands for the pleasure of it on a sunny morning where he’d had nothing else planned. It’d been a calculated attack at the manpower and stability of an enemy nation who’d been in the process of invading my homeland and his. While I wouldn’t defend his actions, or the validity of his methods even if they appeared to be working – to everyone’s loss – he’d not committed that atrocity in a vacuum. It’d be a direct response to the Tenth Crusade, whose stated goal was the destruction of Praes. Black’s policy had been to avoid war against Procer for decades before I’d known him, and it seemed rather rich of all these righteous folk to go out of their way declare war on one of the most infamous monsters of our age and then be appalled and surprised when he behaved monstrously. If you shoved your fingers in a brazier, at the very least you should expect to get burned. On the other hand, I was disinclined to defend an atrocity I didn’t believe in and was currently screwing all of us over. Let her talk: if that was all she did, I had no issue with it. The talk was hardly undeserved.

“My point is that he’s not ever going to consider promises binding, Malanza,” I said. “Not if they get in the way of what he believes needs to be done.”

“That is rather reassuring to me,” the princess said. “Considering he’s one of the most decent men I’ve met.”

“I’m not going to argue whether the Pilgrim’s anything with you,” I flatly said. “But you can, at least, recognize why I’d hesitated to trust in him given his history of both breaking oaths and attempting to kill me.”

“Make your peace with it,” Princess Rozala said, rather unmoved.

It occurred to me, then, that from the Princess of Aequitan’s perspective I was angry over simply our battlefield encounters and the Pilgrim’s escape from Liesse. She did not know that I’d good as begged the man to make any path but going to Keter feasible only to be turned down. Or that his wriggling into a role through the treaty after the Camps had essentially been an attempt to get me killed through a redemption story, after having spent that entire diplomatic conference trying to manoeuvre me into a story that’d get me either slain or sidelined. I wondered if she’d believe me, should I tell her. Likely not. Part of that I suspected only Named could truly understand, and then not even all of that rarefied breed. As for the rest, why would the Black Queen’s word be taken for anything? No, I was simply expected to take the word of my fucking betters while everyone dragged my own through the mud. I pushed down the sharp flare of anger I felt at that. It would be of no use to me here.

“There’s more there than you know,” I finally said. “I am not unwilling to bargain with him, but trust him blindly when the stakes are so high? No.”

“You would refuse without even giving reason?” Malanza said.

“Where’d you learn what would happen if the Legions were allowed to walk?” I replied.

She didn’t answer. Yeah, we all had our little secrets. Might be the Augur, I figured, but other things as well. Tariq had Mercy whispering in his hear, it seemed, and I wouldn’t write off the possibility that Tyrant had offered some sort of deal – or made of threat – either.

“Trust is a funny thing, isn’t?” I murmured.

I considered, for a moment, telling her about what was taking shape in Arcadia. It’d be a danger to her side as well, I figured, though not an immediate one. I knew I should tell her, because if it came out later that I had known a catastrophe was forming there and said nothing there would a price to pay in many ways. But there’d been hellgates, in that broken place. And what I believed might have been High Arcana. It was possible for it to be the work of the Dead King, who had been known to use both these things, but that wasn’t where the shape of this story – Masego missing, Liesse disappeared, everything coming to a head in Iserre – was leading. If I told any of the crusaders that knowledge would make it to the Grey Pilgrim. And more dangerously to the Saint of Swords, who I’d just humiliated and used as coin in a bargain, who I’d have to release before too long lest this situation be turned on me. If Laurence de Montfort learned that the Hierophant was meddling with these kinds of forces, she’d have a pretext to kill him. And I did not doubt for a single fucking moment that she’d try. Would she succeed? I honestly wasn’t sure.

But I was certain I wasn’t willing to gamble with Masego’s life, so I kept my mouth shut.

“There’s no point in holding talks over this, is there?” I finally said. “Not unless you’re willing to offer me hostages and other forms of safeguard, which you won’t be.”

“You know the appearances of that would make it impossible,” Princess Rozala calmly replied.

“Then we appear to have nothing left to speak about,” I said. “I’ll be marching my armies out of Iserre, Malanza.”

I met her eyes, smiling ruefully.

“I’d suggest you get yours out of my way, for all our sakes.”

170 thoughts on “Chapter 27: Overtures

  1. This went more or less as expected.

    Though, I’m not sure that there’s absolutely no point in telling Malanza about what you tried to offer Pilgrimn Cat. Sure, she’d be skeptical, and it probably wouldn’t change anything *today*, but it could very well lay the seeds for the future. It doesn’t cost you anything, and might help in the future.

    Liked by 25 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      It would cost her Mal being more on guard against Cat for little to no pay off. If Grey doesn’t do anything outright “Merciful”, then she won’t believe Cat and would respect her warnings less. If Mal for whatever reason started to doubt Grey, and Grey would note this, then she might be purged for being corrupted by evil. Noone would really stop the heroes, and Cat is left with one less reasonable person to talk to later on.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. RoflCat

      Especially considering how she became First of Night.

      >Hypocrite to end, was I? Demanding what I would not offer.

      She won’t trust the Heaven and their pawns, so Pilgrim/Yannu should be out .

      But Malanza? She’s seen the horror, and she’s mortal, while she’s influenced by the Pilgrim she’s also not in his inner circle as shown with the secret talk with Yannu in this chapter.

      Maybe Malanza will not return the hand offered, but unless Cath is willing to offer it, that gap won’t be closed.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. caoimhinh

        In this case, it’s different from the deal with Sve Noc (where they didn’t know each other and trusting the other was a leap of faith).
        Here, is not that Cat doesn’t want to extend her hand and trust Pilgrim and Rozala; it’s that he has repeatedly shown that he can’t be trusted to honor any promises and Rozala simply doesn’t have the power to enforce any deal she makes.
        Releasing the Saint on Pilgrim’s word is pointless since she could attack right away and it’s a fact that Pilgrim wouldn’t let her be captured again.
        Trusting the Peregrine to uphold his side of a bargain without making any binding oath is also futile, notice that he immediately said that he can break promises if there are “greater needs” and “Duties whose call is keener than what has been arranged”, meaning that the moment he perceives that he has an upper hand or a chance, he would strike against Cat regardless of honor, because the higher call is to defeat the villains.

        If he is openly saying that he can decide at any moment to go back on his word then he can’t be trusted. Cat doing so would be stupid.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. I don’t think that ‘the higher call is to defeat the villains’ is accurate.

          This is the real pivot point here actually, for the plot as a whole: is it? Because if it is, then Cat truly has no choice but to twist the world’s arm until there’s no choice but to go along with her demands.

          But if he’s more careful in his utilitarian reasoning,

          😀 😀 😀

          Like

          1. Thing is, Cat more or less has to assume that she can’t trust him to give and then keep his word unless she both has sufficient leverage to make him agree to give his word and then maintains sufficient leverage to make him keep his word indefinitely or at least until she no longer cares if he breaks his word.

            Honestly, though, the whole massively unreliable word thing? That sounds way more like a Villain trait than one that should be associated with a Hero. A Classic!Evil Villain trait, at that.

            Liked by 3 people

              1. Yes and no.
                Remember, Cat had previously said that she thinks she’s going to need Pilgrim supporting the Accords from his side in order for them to work.
                However, if she can’t trust him to keep his word to her when she wants to let them fight the Dead King, he’s not going to be very useful for supporting the Accords.

                If he’s unreliable when it comes to cooperating against the Dead King, even to such a minor extent as letting her leave to face off with Praes while the Alliance goes to deal with the far more pressing issue of Dead King and/or Kairos … it is very hard to consider him reliable for pretty much anything and everything else.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. I think Cat plans to actually get him onboad with the Accords, like, actually supporting them and bending the rest of his plans and obligations around this idea.

                  She’s not doing it, though.

                  Methinks Cat’s having trouble following through on her own good ideas :3

                  Like

    3. ALazyMonster

      I feel like the not telling her about the deal part also largely includes the fact that there is no way to tactfully say “Before I tried get the great elder lich god to burn your kingdom down, which Malicia ended up doing anyway which was mildly convenient if unwanted, I tried to offer peace but the Pilgrim decided that my homeland should burn simply because it might result in a longer lasting peace for the alliance.”

      I do get that every person in the alliance is skeptical of her word since they’ve all grown up on stories of villains being traitorous and lying but I feel like that shouldn’t give the heroes a pass to break their word whenever it’s not convenient. The entire point of integrity is that you stand by something even when it’s not easy. If your principle is that “everything is just going to work out as long as I make a marginal effort,” which is what the Pilgrim seems to be at times, then that’s not a principle it’s blind optimism. The heroes in this universe as a whole seem to have grown a bit arrogant in believing the story will always bail them out so they can get away with letting themselves be pushed to the cliffs.

      I’m not sure if I lost my train of thought halfway through that rant, sorry.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Ehhhh, she doesn’t have to tell Malanza *everything*, as long as what Cat actually does say is true.

        Instead of saying she tried to make a deal with the Dead King before trying the drow only to be outbid by Malicia, Cat can say that that because Pilgrim refused to make peace, Cat needed to find someone to ally with against Praes(and Procer/the Alliance), tried to kill Malicia to prevent her from selling out Calernia to the Dead King and wound up making deal with the drow. And the dwarves.

        Remember, Cat had also offered to Gate the Crusaders directly to Praes/the Tower. It’s not absurd that she might try to offer a similar sort of deal again.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Also, even shorter spiel: Since Pilgrim wouldn’t deal, I went and found some allies of my own, and here they are! Oh yeah, I made another deal on the way: maybe you noticed the Dwarves won’t sell to you? That’s because you’re fighting me Instead of the Dead King, who, lest we forget, is doing rather worse to you than Amadeus ever did. Interested in a deal yet? Remember, things can always get worse….

          Liked by 2 people

    4. stevenneiman

      Honestly, the most likely outcome is that she would view Cat as less reasonable. Between seeming sane and giving a challenge to make Malanza admit that there were reasonable reasons for Cat to keep secrets, she managed to get Malanza to think of her as a reasonable equal who was willing to at least try to find a compromise which wouldn’t be ruinous for all involved, and even if they couldn’t come to such a compromise they both left feeling like the other party is someone they could make a deal with in other circumstances.
      If Cat had tried to convince her that Tariq was using story-fu to kill her, she would have sounded like a lunatic in a tinfoil hat, and that would mean that Malanza would assume that she was too crazy to work with even if they were in a situation where they both did have the bargaining power to come to a beneficial accord.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Cat doesn’t need to say why Pilgrim refused to make a deal, only that she’d offered one that was fairly reasonable, and been refused – and that Pilgrim hadn’t refused because Above ordered him to reject Cat’s offer, per Pilgrim’s own words.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Yeah. Rozala is already willing to accept that Cat might have good reasons that she’s keeping secret for also good reasons. Telling her what actually happened will not work out to Cat’s benefit at this point. With Rozala’s current level of informedness there’s no way for Cat to swing this story in her favor in any more detail than what she’s already offered.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. IDKWhoitis

    I wonder if Cat lost her call line to Cordelia after losing Winter, or if Cordelia would even answer. Like Mal isn’t a bad person, nor incompetent, but she simply lacks the power or authority to make any deals.

    I would have loved hearing Cat and Mal talk more about the Dead King or what they think of the Crusade. Like they both might hate each other on theoretical principles, but I do believe they would find some common ground.

    Oh well, let’s see Cat break another army.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        I doubt Cordelia would willingly put on an artifact that reeked of Night and Winter. She doesn’t exactly trust Cat right now.

        The God’s would probably do it, but I doubt Cat is going to ask. Grey is a major pain in the ass, and any hypothetical deal would get cheapened by Grey telling the Levs to do what is “Needed”

        Like

        1. Dainpdf

          I would expect the same artifact to work, and that her priestly Light blessings would protect her from the Night well enough, at this remote a contact.

          Also, Augur would probably warn her if there were danger. But yes, the Pilgrim is an obstacle to any negotiations.

          Like

      1. caoimhinh

        True, but remember that the artifact that Cat gave Cordelia for their communication wasn’t a scrying tool, but a fragment of her own Domain that could be used to access it when Cat allowed entrance, thus enabling Cordelia and Cat to appear in front of the other.
        It was more like half-stepping in another dimension to converse there, rather than scrying link for communication.
        Of course, whatever happened to that after Cat gave Winter to Sve Noc is anyone’s guess and up to EE to decide. Maybe it broke, or maybe it’s covered by darkness(due to Night) now so Cordelia doesn’t dare to try it on anymore, maybe Cat will try to contact her again with it after the mess in Iserre is resolved.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. ninegardens

    Noooo… no Cat, don’t.

    Malanza is being as chill as is possible.
    There gots to be some other way.

    Also, if you suspect that Malanza is following Auger’s rules, and Auger is a tool of Bard then….
    then…
    Oh crap, I don’t know what you’re meant to to when you gain the info “The best manipulator is trying to manipulate this”- what you do with that? huh?

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Be extra careful?

      And yeah, it is often the case in diplomacy that the absence of some trust causes the absence of more trust.

      Neither can trust the other not to backstab them, and neither can trust the other to trust their reasons. Their needs aren’t very compatible, neither is very willing to bend, and they’re operating off of almost disjoint sets of information.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. caoimhinh

      I think an agreement could be made if Cat states to them her intentions of marching against the Dead King, which I expect her to do once Pilgrim returns and talks can resume, since it’s pointless to keep hiding it, if Cat wants to wait until later to state her position in the war in the North and talk with Cordelia after Cat has taken all her troops away from danger, she is risking causing enmity and damaging the relations with the other armies, which she would be fighting along against the Keteran hordes.

      So Cat needs to make it clear to them that she wants to help them against Keter, because if she keeps acting like her only desire is leave the mess for the Grand Alliance to solve then she won’t be admitted into it later and the armies here would still stand in her way.

      She might not push for a deal and treaty made now, but voicing her intentions early would do more good than bad.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Except he’s demonstrated that he can’t be trusted to keep a deal, and outright said that he either would not or could not be assured to keep his end of the deal even while Cat kept hers. Not in those exact words, but that’s what his words meant.

          If you can’t mistrust someone because (a) they previously violated a deal they agreed to, and (b) have as good as said that their word to you specifically (if not in general) is unreliable …
          Well, who can you mistrust?

          Pilgrim has proven that Cat cannot trust him to maintain his part of a deal he makes with her. Hell – Pilgrim joining the Prince of Iserre in Callowan custody as a hostage was Pilgrim’s own idea.
          He can’t be trusted to keep the part of a deal he makes that was included in the deal at his request/demand/instigation.

          Trusting Pilgrim would be even more of a mistake than not trusting him.
          Cat already tried trusting Pilgrim and he betrayed that trust, and on top of that, he basically just said that she couldn’t trust him to keep his word if keeping his word would be inconvenient.

          Maybe if it were only Cat that would be affected by Pilgrim being unreliable, she might (or might not) be willing to gamble on Pilgrim keeping his word, but it isn’t, it’s the Legions and Army of Callow being immediately affected, and ultimately Callow as a whole.

          Liked by 8 people

          1. Your points are good too.

            Literally the only reason in existence to put trust in Pilgrim is to put trust in his competence and good intention from a willing position of weakness.

            Cat’s done that before, with Sve Noc, in a more or less self-sacrificial move. It’s not strange that she’s more hesitant to do it with an army and her entire political position at stake, but I feel like narratively that’s the winning move that she’s going to come to sooner or later.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. But it’s not like dealing with Sve Noc.
              Cat and Sve Noc didn’t trust each other in a vacuum – they didn’t trust each other because they didn’t know each other or anything about each other.

              Cat has very good objective reason to not trust Pilgrim’s word (both his actions and his own statements just now).

              Cat and Sve Noc is like somebody who is a picky eater not wanting to eat mushrooms because they’re a picky eater and have never had mushrooms before and aren’t going to start now.
              Cat not trusting Pilgrim is somebody who doesn’t want to eat something with shrimp in it because they are massively allergic to shrimp and could die if they have any.

              Liked by 8 people

              1. medailyfun

                Cat just needs to make the deal clearly beneficial for Pilgrim to keep it, e.g. saving more lives not just here and now but also in longer run. Also well shaped story may help

                Liked by 2 people

                1. caoimhinh

                  But that’s the issue: Cat already offered that and it’s still offering that, but they didn’t accept before and are still refusing to accept now. Because they don’t want to save more lives, they want to defeat Evil.
                  They launched a Crusade on the pretext of defeating Praes and liberating Callow, when in reality they were made for purely political reasons; they invaded Callow already making plans to divide it among Proceran princes and it didn’t matter to Pilgrim that Cat offered to Gate them into Praes because it couldn’t be allowed that a Villain was still ruling Callow, Cat offered to abdicate in 5 years but they want it now.

                  And right now, Cat is offering to leave without a fight but they don’t allow it because they want to eliminate the Legions of Terror and inflict a defeat on the Black Queen, because not doing at least one of those things would be a political blow for the leading members of the Grand Alliance.

                  It has never been about saving more lives for neither of the Crusaders members, it’s about defeating Evil. That’s why they refuse peaceful deals, they don’t want peace, they want victory.

                  Liked by 3 people

                  1. >“It would smother in the crib,” the Grey Pilgrim said sadly, “what is perhaps the last chance for peace in our time.”

                    >“I’m offering peace,” I hissed.

                    >“Peace on your terms would unseat the First Prince,” he said. “She has spent years forging an alliance with Levant, fighting her Assembly tooth and nail every step of the way. For that same ally to twist her arm into making a pact with one of the most famous villains alive would see her removed within the month. And everything she seeks to accomplish vanish with her.”

                    >A long moment passed and the only sound in the tent was his steady heartbeat.

                    >“You can’t be serious,” I said. “If you’d said the Heavens were using their veto, I would have been furious. I won’t pretend otherwise. But at least I wouldn’t be disappointed.”

                    >He opened his mouth but Winter flared like half a world howling for blood and he closed it.

                    >“No, disappointed is too mild a word,” I said, voice barren of any speck of warmth. “This, Pilgrim, is worthy of contempt.”

                    >“The treaties she has made and would deepen will end wars in the west,” the old man said. “Callow restored and Praes humbled will allow Calernia to finally turn towards the true face of the Enemy. The King of the Dead. The Chain of Hunger.”

                    >“It’s funny,” I said, smiling mirthlessly. “How it’s never the lot of you that have to make the sacrifices. Us, this entire fucking kingdom since the dawn of time? Well, that’s just how things have to be. Someone needs to take care of Praes so the rest of the continent can kill itself in peace. But then someone else has to do the bleeding, for once, and suddenly there’s all these considerations.”

                    >“This is not fair,” the old man said. “Nor it is just. I will not pretend otherwise, child. But I will not offer you succour at the price of Cordelia Hasenbach’s dream. It is too great a good to be slain in this manner.”

                    Liked by 1 person

                  2. medailyfun

                    I believe Pilgrim/Cordelia were dreaming about bigger stronger polity in place of Procer/Callow/Levant that would stop internal wars etc. Thus still taking lives into the account, but in strategic terms

                    Like

              2. I would say it’s someone refusing to eat food that has something that’s either shrimp or regular perfectly hypoallergenic meat in it, and they’re not betting on the chance it’s not shrimp.

                Cat has a very good objective reason not to trust Pilgrim, but also a very good narrative reason to :3 (this is me going meta really – the way I see the shape of the story going)

                Liked by 1 person

            2. Sylwoos

              The Pilgrim already made his intend pretty clear, he wish to remove Cat from Callow more than peace or anything else. Putting her trust in the Pilgrim isn’t a leap of faith like with Sve Noc, she know exactly what she’ll get in return: the Choir of Mercy will made done. Because at the end, the Pilgrim is only a agent of higher being and don’t have much of a agency for himself.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. This is inaccurate.

                >“All of this rests on the fact that it is you who rules,” the old man said.

                >“And if I abdicate, can you guarantee that Callow will be left untouched?” I asked. “Will you swear on your Gods that if Procer tries to annex it, you will turn your sword on whoever is trying? Or even that you’ll stay out of my way and let me take care of them?”

                >“I do not rule Procer,” the Grey Pilgrim softly said. “And if I take the field against them, too many would follow. It would birth a war as dangerous as this one, in many ways.”

                >“Do something,” I asked quietly. “Intervene. Offer to arbitrate. Thief tells me you could be king of Levant with a snap of your fingers, if you felt like it. You have influence to wield.”

                >“Seljun,” he said calmly. “We do not have kings, in Levant. And there is a reason I do not sit the Tattered Throne, Catherine. Your Good Kings have done well by Callow, but the Dominion… It is a different land. It would end the honour duels, the forays into the wilds, but it would be a call. To the kind of war best left in the past.”

                >“I’m not saying usurp your ruler,” I said. “But Gods, you’re not nobody. If you make a truce with me Levant will fall in line. That’ll force Hasenbach to reconsider.”

                >“It would break the Tenth Crusade,” he gently said.

                >“So do it behind closed doors,” I said, frustration mounting. “You’re trying to shove redemption down my throat, and don’t bother denying it. Fine. I’ll fucking lean in, even if it’ll probably get me killed. Just act. I’ll kiss the hem, quote the Book. All you need to speak up and thousands don’t have to die.”

                >“It would smother in the crib,” the Grey Pilgrim said sadly, “what is perhaps the last chance for peace in our time.”

                >“I’m offering peace,” I hissed.

                >“Peace on your terms would unseat the First Prince,” he said. “She has spent years forging an alliance with Levant, fighting her Assembly tooth and nail every step of the way. For that same ally to twist her arm into making a pact with one of the most famous villains alive would see her removed within the month. And everything she seeks to accomplish vanish with her.”

                >A long moment passed and the only sound in the tent was his steady heartbeat.

                >“You can’t be serious,” I said. “If you’d said the Heavens were using their veto, I would have been furious. I won’t pretend otherwise. But at least I wouldn’t be disappointed.”

                Pilgrim’s reasons for doing what he did had absolutely nothing to do with the Choir’s opinions.

                Like

          2. konstantinvoncarstein

            Honestly, this chapter make me lose nearly all the respect I had for Tariq. I agree that sometimes you have to do horrible things for the greater good, but this is going too far. If you do not respect your promesses and say clearly you will not in the future, no one is going to speak with you anymore. There is absolutely no point, because you will act like nothing was said.

            Attacking someone under truce banner is the same thing. Even if teased (like the Saint), it is unacceptable. It breaks all hope of a peaceful or reasonable ending.

            And they cannot use the excuse “villains always lie”, because Catherine never, ever lies nor breaks an accord with someone. And thanks to the pilgrim, they know perfectly well that she is genuinely trustworthy.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. RandomFan

              Catherine does too lie. She just does it very badly, and usually only to claim that she had a plan beyond “Allow chaos to reign, Be better at dealing with chaos than my enemies, Chaos, Victory!”

              She doesn’t lie when doing diplomacy, though.

              Liked by 3 people

    1. caoimhinh

      It’s not exactly that. I mean, sure, they don’t really trust Cat but that’s not their issue. The problem here is that they have heavy reasons to want to defeat her and Cat doesn’t trust them into not obeying those reasons.
      Both Rozala and Pilgrim know that Cat would hold her end of the bargain (Yannu is irrelevant since he will just do whatever the Peregrine tells him to do), but they can’t let her go peacefully (they need to either destroy the Legions of Terror that invaded or inflict a defeat on the Black Queen) and Cat doesn’t trust them into not attempting to take her down because Rozala has no power to enforce the promises and Pilgrim already has shown and stated that he won’t hold his promises if there is a “higher need” or “keener call”.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dainpdf

        Rozala can’t trust Cat with the information on why she needs to defeat her. She also can’t trust Cat to fight by the Alliance’s side.

        Cat can’t trust Rozala with why she has such a poor opinion of the Pilgrim, and she can’t trust Rozala to inflict only a paper defeat.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Rozala has already given Cat information on why she needs to defeat her, although not the source of it.

          Cat’s shaping up to be the most trustworthy player at the table, and it’s nice to see that develop and deepen.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. ninegardens

    Wait! Wait wait wait- new plan!

    Plans?

    A) Zombie up some forces. Leave them zombies to “Lose” the battle for you, and then run away.

    B) (more likely, given forshadowing). Kidnap/murderize a bunch of princes, and leave the enemy force intact. Thus solving the diplomatic disupte, while also leaving the enemy forces MOSTLY in tact.

    C) Surrender. Lose now, with zero fatalities.
    Surrender on conditions of being sent to the front lines to face the Hidden Horror.
    Just declare yourselves prisoners of war. For gods sake, have they got ZERO rules about POW’s?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dainpdf

      1. and 2. Interesting, though both run the risk of hero intervention in unfortunate ways. If only Malanza would condone necromancy for this (also, if such a working wouldn’t leave Cat or her casters vulnerable and spend a prodigious amount of power)

      3. Gotta remember any treaties regarding PoWs with the Arch-Heretic of the East would be null and void. Plus, Cat doesn’t necessarily want to have the Legions on the frontline against Neshamah.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Argentorum

      Remember, Cat’s only remaining clout on the political scale, beyond being in possession of an army, is that she has *never lost a battle*.

      The forces of good don’t respect her crown, they don’t respect her words, they don’t respect her treaties, or her nation, or her even her name.

      All they respect, and indeed the only thing that won her the battle today by pulling up the Proceran horse short before they could route her legions, was that very fact, that on the field of battle, the Black Queen has always triumphed. Giving that away, even if she could know it would let her pull out the legions with no losses, with no betrayal, it would not be lightly done.

      Knowing that she will take losses and she’ll probably be betrayed as well? She would be selling her Kingdom for a bowl of pottage.

      Liked by 16 people

    3. Agent J

      C) would be a terrible idea. Aiding in the fight against the Dead King is her leverage to get the Accords signed. Spending that political capital just to get the Legions out isn’t very smart.

      Liked by 2 people

    4. ninegardens

      Okay, so those planes don’t work.
      Fine.

      But my point is this:
      You have a LARGE number of lives on the line, neither side ACTUALLY wants this to happen, both sides Actually want a peace treaty and to fight Keter.

      This is the perfect time to sit down for more than ten minutes and scheme things.

      Could they do it via single combat?
      Could they agree to LIE about their being a battle?

      Could Cat point out that she has access to a proxy hellgate via Arcadia, and that she’d really rather not use it?

      The stakes are too high. They are both giving up on negotiation too easily.

      with the cost of diplomatic failure this high (for both parties), it seems like a good time to sit and chat for several HOURS, not several minutes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sylwoos

        Actually, the problem is that one side doesn’t want a peace treaty.

        Cat and Malanza could sort thing out between themselves, but the Saint is out for blood and the Pilgrim want Cat removed from the board. Whatever scheme those two cook out, it will be unmade when the Pilgrim decide it is. And even if they get him on board with the plan making , he’ll spend that time trying to kill Cat with story-fu or preparing the terrain for a knife in the back.

        Liked by 2 people

          1. RanVor

            That’s not what Pilgrim said his aim is. Funny thing about Pilgrim is that outside of the Peregrine extra chapter, nothing he does on screen actually furthers his stated goals.

            Liked by 1 person

              1. John

                By burning down part of it himself, and even if that was a net gain he’s probably more than canceled it out by drawing forces away from defense against the Dead King.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Tariq did not draw any forces anywhere. Laurence’s bullshit =/= Tariq’s bullshit, he was literally in Laure playing hostage at the time the Arch-Heretic thing hit and forced him to cut his losses there.

                  As a matter of fact, Tariq somewhat freed up the forces chasing the Legions around. Admittedly they still didn’t catch up with the Legions for a while, but they would have had Juniper not intervened.

                  And one fishing village / small town =/= an entire province full of them. Pure math says Tariq saved a lot more than he killed, in those provinces on the other side of the lake that Amadeus was aiming for next.

                  Like

      2. caoimhinh

        Remember what Saint told Cordelia: this isn’t about Procer, Praes, Callow nor any other country, this is about Good vs Evil. So earthly matters and politics cannot stop the Crusade.

        Remember the reason Cordelia, Pilgrim, and Rozala had given to Cat for refusing peace treaties with her: Callow can’t be allowed to have a Villain as Queen. They won’t make deals with her and will not stop trying to defeat her. Also, the Levantines and the more militant side of Procer’s church will not stop making up lies about Cat to antagonize her and push for her execution.

        The number of lives that will be lost does not actually matter to the Crusaders, that’s their hypocrisy (and I suspect part of the reason why Narrative is screwing them, as they are actually the bad guys in this situation), they are just appalled when the dead are on THEIR side, they don’t care about how many die in Callow and Praes, they were in for the invasion and partition of lands but would accuse Cat of being a cruel monster for killing the Alliance soldiers. Even right now, as Cat offers to leave without a fight, Rozala is obliged to deny that because politically it would ruin Cordelia and destabilize the Grand Alliance.

        I wonder why Catherine hasn’t told them yet that she wants to fight against the Dead King, she probably wants to do it from a safe and strong position, but waiting longer is dangerous. Besides she is bound to fight against him, as that was the deal the Ever Dark made with the Kingdom Under.

        My hypothesis of a way to solve this issue would be Cat being honest with them about her aim (Not the Liesse Accords, but the fighting against Keter) and tell them that she has the agreement of the Kingdom Under for it (telling them that she has the Dwarves’ backing would be a stretch of the word, but it’s not completely incorrect), which would make everyone in the Grand Alliance reconsider their stance on allying with Callow, given how powerful the Kingdom Under is and how much everyone in Calernia fears it.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Proxy hellgate is right out, remember Cat is pushing the Liesse Accords. No devils, much less demons. Single combat would have the usual problem, which is the loser not abiding by it. “Lets not and say we did” is amusing, but probably impractical.

        I think there will be at least the start of a battle. The thing is, Cat’s human troops are enough to put up a real fight on their own. But if she can hold out until nightfall, the Drow will more or less own the field, pending a tussle between the heroes and Cat with her Well and staff. She may even be able to just bypass the enemy troops “under cover of Night”, so to speak.

        Like

  5. Someguy

    Unfortunately this is the Princes Graveyard and not the Pilgrim’s Graveyard (that would be the village that he plagued to extinction).

    With the collapse of Procer as a nation, too bad it would not be feasible to re-direct the Praesi refugees into the land formerly known as Procer so they can rebuild their homes in “New Colonies”

    Liked by 2 people

        1. Sylwoos

          Why? I bet he’s in Arcadia in the first place because he can open hell gate without affecting the real world. Having a private piece of Arcadia that he can stretch to its limit without the risk of destroying ALL Arcadia would be even better.

          Liked by 2 people

  6. RandomFan

    Negotiations have failed again, fun times. Saint gets to gasp for the breath with which to stab evil with for another chapter, also fun. The knives have come out in the end, which is always going to be fun. Cat hasn’t been stabbed yet, which is- fun.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Chow Chow

    Soo~ I’m no mathematician, but if my calculations are correct than we’ll soon have one spare body freshly traded and one spare soul safely stored inside a cloak..
    the next course of action seems obvious

    Like

    1. caoimhinh

      Putting Akua inside Amadeus’ body is out of the question, both due to it being of no real use (as Akua doesn’t need that) and because profaning his body would not be something either Cat nor Grem would do or tolerate.

      On the other hand, I remember Cat’s first words to the Saint of Swords, when they were fighting and Cat was in Winter mode:
      “Saint of Swords. You will make very useful artifacts.”
      Let’s hope after the next battle Cat gets her hands on her, since leaving the corpse behind will only let the Pilgrim Forgive her back to life.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. caoimhinh

          That’s because Cat holding Fae title is in her right mind, but when she is actively unleashing the power of Winter she has Principle Alienation, which twists her mind into the arrogant and story-bound Sovereign of Moonless Nights.
          She faced multiple heroes and simply killed them, it’s only when she is full on Winter mode that she starts to think, speak, and act in a different manner.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. caoimhinh

    Nice chapter.
    Procer’s side being hypocrites making demands and acting self-righteous as always, nothing surprising there. I hope Catherine tells them soon about her intentions of fighting North against the Dead King; because from the Grand Alliance’s POV she just wants to get away and leave them to deal with that mess, and in that condition they can’t really allow her to have fresh and rested armies while the Grand Alliance’s forces are dying up north.

    Waiting for longer will only lead to conflict; she doesn’t have to negotiate with them now, but at least tell them clearly that she wants to fight against Keter (of course, not tell them that she is bound to do it). They might not believe her, and there might be nothing change now, but she needs to make her intentions clear. Actual negotiations with Cordelia and the rest of the leaders can wait until later (I get that Cat wants them to need her and be desperate before extending her offer, but waiting too long to at least let them know her intention is quite risky too).

    I wonder if Amadeus will really be unconscious, since we have seen that people can extract their souls and still walk around without issue, but that might be because it was done willingly and with measures taken for the body to operate without the soul, and the Saint likely wouldn’t do any of that for him. Then again, it might happen that he is able to awake and move his body while his soul is held prisoner (they expected to make a public execution, after all).

    I’m looking forward to next chapter and the Extra Chapter on Monday.

    Typos found:
    -she’d never bothered to hide the despised me / to hide that she despised me
    -He’d didn’t leave / He didn’t leave
    -It’d be a direct response / It had been a direct response
    -go out of their way declare war / to declare war
    -whispering in his hear/ in his ear
    -isn’t? / isn’t it?
    -there would a price / there would be a price

    Like

    1. Rozala has good reasons for acting like she does, and is acting in good faith here. She’s at the point of actually putting trust in Catherine and asking her for favors, because she assumes her to be trustworthy enough for it.

      Unfortunately, that’s not enough 😡

      And I hear you on the ‘unconscious body’ part 😀 a public execution is hardly fun with a soulless husk, isn’t it?

      Liked by 6 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Yeah, Rozala wants to make a deal but lacks the power to enforce it, whereas Pilgrim has the power to do it but doesn’t want to and has already stated that “greater needs and keener calls” can make him go back on his words. And there’s no higher call for a Hero than defeating a Villain, so Cat can’t trust him with holding his end of the bargain ( I think an oath could work, but that Arch-heretic thing supposedly makes them null so I’m not sure, and submitting the Pilgrim to such binding would not be allowed politically so it’s unlikely to happen), not to mention that there are other heroes who would not be bound by a promise made by him.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I don’t think we know that he doesn’t want to. It’s Cat’s assumption, and I suspect she’s wrong about that – based, if nothing else, on him keeping Black’s body alive and being willing to return it.

          Liked by 1 person

                    1. RanVor

                      That’s so fucking obvious the only explanation of you not understanding it I can think of is wilful ignorance.

                      SAINT AND PILGRIM ARE ON THEIR WAY TO SALIA. THERE’S EVIL TO VIOLENTLY MURDER IN VICINITY. SAINT GOES SMASH. PILGRIM GOES WITH HER, FIGURING THEY CAN DELIVER THE BODY TO SALIA LATER. IT’S THAT FUCKING SIMPLE.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Alright, I do see your explanation. That’s one possibility, though it’s not as obvious as you think – ‘there’s evil to violently murder in vicinity’ does not strike me as something to stop them from executing their plan, especially when it brings Black’s body which they have plans for closer to the people who will very much want it back.

                      Like

                    3. RanVor

                      She’s not the only one in charge of the party. She doesn’t have to order anybody around, just giving Tariq no reason to stop her is enough.

                      Like

                    4. Amadeus/his body represent a source of leverage against Cat, the Legions, and the Army of Callow. One that mostly got wasted by Laurence.

                      Consider, what might have happened if Pilgrim didn’t have leverage on Cat, and Cat did more or less the same thing – Laurence would either be dead or a huge bargaining chip against the Alliance armies, arguably one large enough to force them into allowing Cat to take the Legions with her unhindered.

                      Admittedly, since Cat won’t be getting Amadeus’s soul back right now, Laurence hasn’t totally wasted the effort of capturing Amadeus.
                      But still … the Alliance could gotten something out of holding Amadeus, even if it was only deterrence against being pushed too hard – no way to guarantee the Army/Legions could have gotten to and secured Amadeus’s body before the Alliance/Heroes slit his throat or something.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    5. “arguably one large enough to force them into allowing Cat to take the Legions with her unhindered.”
                      Arguably indeed. I’d argue against that.

                      Like

                    6. So your position is that the Alliance would sacrifice Saint – one of the few Heroes realistically capable of fighting, even killing, the Dead King, per Pilgrim here – just to prevent Cat from getting the Legions and Army of Callow out of Procer without more casualties?

                      I don’t know about that.
                      Malanza and the Proceran contingent’s leadership would likely consider it a good enough reason to give them cover to do what they’d really rather prefer to do anyways.
                      And unless Pilgrim is lying about Saint’s value here, which I suppose we should not completely discount as a possibility, he’d probably want to lean on the Levantines to not get in the way of getting Saint back.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    7. I guess?

                      You’re not wrong, we’re just into hypotheticals theory by now.

                      My point was just that as Amadeus had remarked back then, Tariq’s plan is oddly bad the way it’s presented. If a clever opponent makes an obvious mistake…

                      Like

                    8. My guess is that they didn’t kill Amadeus precisely because somebody back there had the brains to realize that killing him would be a really good way to put the Black Queen (that is, Catherine the Undefeated), into a killing rage, and maybe give her a limit break to boot. (You know, like Masego reacted to the death of his fathers.) They might not get time to explain that they’ve got his soul on ice.

                      Liked by 2 people

          1. caoimhinh

            Because they were going to send his body to Procer’s capital where it can be publicly executed, thus giving Cordelia a political victory and a boost to the Grand Alliance, while still secretly having the Soul in possession so they could use it as leverage over the Evil side (A.K.A Malicia and Catherine).
            It wasn’t Cordelia’s decision, but Pilgrim’s decision. The First Prince wanted Black completely dead immediately, Pilgrim is the one doing things behind her back.

            Liked by 1 person

              1. caoimhinh

                It might be lack of time or simply because the situation escalated to the point they had to turn around and intervene, Pilgrim might have received whispers of the Choir of Mercy which led him to stay in Iserre.

                They captured Amadeus about half a year ago, right? But crossing Procer takes months, and the Army of Callow has been in Iserre for about 2 months, so I would say the Heroes turned around and came back to Iserre ( or never left).

                Like

                  1. caoimhinh

                    I’m not exactly sure about the time, given that it hasn’t been specified. But Cat was in the Ever Dark for about a year and five months had passed and Amadeus was still raiding Procer, so I think he was defeated around eight to 3 months ago, so half a year seemed a good stimation to me.
                    We might need to go back and check the chapters again to make sure.
                    Still, if it was Autumn when Amadeus was captured and now it’s Winter, then it’s less than 3 months and there would be not enough time to take Amadeus to Procer’s capital.

                    Like

                    1. No, she wasn’t in Everdark for a year. The previous winter was the one she spent playing whack-a-mole with the heroes, the entire Book 4 happened over the course of a little less than a year.

                      I agree that it wouldn’t be enough time to take Amadeus to Salia. I just question…
                      …okay first of all why did Pilgrim take his sweet time actually going through on the soul cutting plan. Why was there a period of time when Amadeus was simply bound? Why did the events in the Epilogue happen?
                      The best non-Tariq-suspicious guess at the time had been “because they need tools/laboratory for it that are waiting for them in Salia”.
                      Evidently not.

                      So, ???? Why has Tariq been procrastinating on every part of this plan?

                      Like

                    2. caoimhinh

                      Hmm, perhaps it was a compromise with Cordelia’s need to exhibit a victory (since Pilgrim has shown concern about keeping her at the head of Procer), his initial plan might have been to have Amadeus in body and soul prisoner but changed his mind to enable the public execution to happen. Thus the separation of his soul recently.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. At the very least, his position is not as extreme as Cat and half the readership believe -_-

                      And Bard said that the separation of body and soul was the plan back then already. I guess it’s possible he had -just- changed his mind on that when she came 😐

                      Like

          2. I’d guess that the Pilgrim is more frightened of what story might come of trying to (or succeeding in) killing Black while Cat is alive and in play than he is of Black getting successfully rescued.

            That or he’s more aware of internal Praesi politics than he lets on and he’s keeping Black in reserve as a “trigger a Praesi civil war so they don’t backstab us while we’re fighting the Dead King” button.

            Those are the obvious ones to me, but I’m guessing the real truth is something we don’t have the information to guess at yet.

            Liked by 2 people

              1. I don’t think he’s going for blackmail. In fact he’s probably deeply aware of just how bad of a storyline that is to back himself into. I think he’s just trying to keep Black out of play as long as possible without triggering a mentor’s death narrative. He’s not keeping Black around as a piece to play against Cat, he’s just trying to not trigger a “revenge for my mentor” plot from Cat.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. caoimhinh

                  Yep, shaping the story into “putting criminal in jail / punishing the bad guy” rather than making it “this is a hostage”.

                  Like

    2. Bigger typos:
      > treatises signed by both your Peregrine and the Prince of Iserre to this nature? Treatises including terms

      treatises –> treaties (!) They may have been making history, but they weren’t writing the history books on the spot!

      Liked by 3 people

  9. werafdsaew

    It will be amusing, to see how little of you the adjustment allows to remain.

    I don’t understand this line; what is this about?

    Like

    1. caoimhinh

      The trauma Rozala (and the others who have fought the Dead King’s army) are experiencing after the battles in the North.
      They have Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and Andronike was mocking her for it since Rozala is an enemy still bent on opposing Cat and Sve Noc while in the goddesses’ eye the princess is only a brittle mortal on the verge of mental collapse pretending that she can stand against them.
      Sve Noc has no mercy for an enemy, if at all.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Caerulea

          I don’t believe so. Because the next thing that she says is “It will take more than brandy and poppy leaves for the digging to stop,” the goddess on my shoulder laughed. “Hands and picks and tireless flesh, pulling aside the –” which is quite clearly referring to the war against Keter.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. caoimhinh

          Sve Noc practically told Rozala that she is Going Mad At The Revelation that there are great powers on the Evil side.

          “your learning is shallow, Rozala Malanza, while this world’s roots run deep. It will be amusing, to see how little of you the adjustment allows to remain.”
          Adjustment to what? To the learning of the deeper truths of the world, the old monsters of eldritch power that lurk in the dark. Facing those powers that went beyond her nightmares is something that has changed her and all others who were up there, their traumas manifesting in different ways.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Qwormuli

      Don’t say that, or you’ll have Liliet defending him and every action of his from your heinous assault (seriously,no offence meant against him/her, but there isn’t one comment about him where he/she hasn’t appeared in an attempt to make him into an unsung hero.) Not even suicide vests on unwitting civilians are bad with him on the wheel!

      Like

      1. konstantinvoncarstein

        Personally, before this chapter I was fond of him. He was of course no perfect et committed horrible actions, but at least he was a genuinely good and decent man, interested in peace. His refusal of Catherine’s proposition was comprehensible. But here he goes way too far. When you outright say you will not hold your promesses, speaking with you is like speaking with wolf: nothing can prove he will suddenly open your throat.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. caoimhinh

          Well, Tariq is being indirect about it, but he is simply admitting what we already knew: he is a servant of the Heavens, so his promises, beliefs, and oaths will not hold in the face of higher calling.
          He is bound to the Choir of Mercy, so the moment their whispers come he HAS to obey, it’s pointless to be angry about it, it’s not that he is simply being an untrustworthy person, it’s just that he has something above his promises, same as a soldier has to obey his superior officers regardless of their own opinions or desires. The same would be true to Hanno, who has outright stated that he keeps his opinions to himself and doesn’t base his actions on such but on the commands of the Choir of Judgement, if Hanno wants to go right but the Seraphim say to go left then he WILL go left, regardless of promises or common sense, he will obey. Frustrating as it is, it is still understandable.

          Tariq is a decent person most of the time, and a good man who likes to help and heal people (as you have said), but that doesn’t mean that he can’t kill and be ruthless, just as most of Cat’s group are hardened killers but loyal and really likable people to their friends.

          What I personally dislike about Tariq is his hypocrisy and attitude of “I am correct and know more than you” when it’s clear already that they are the ones in the wrong. Like Cat has said before, an invading force has no right to complain and cry about how evil its enemy is for killing them.
          He has reasons why he does things (political and otherwise), but I abhor his way of trying to pass it all as “it’s for good” and pretend everyone else’s reasons are naive and wrong.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. caoimhinh

              Nothing we have seen so far indicates that a Hero can disobey the commands of the Choir they are sworn to, and we also know that Angels don’t take kindly to defiance. A hero sworn to a Choir obeys the Angels of that Choir, that’s obvious.

              We know for a fact that neither William nor Hanno would disobey, what makes you think Pilgrim would? The only time we saw him try to ignore them for a short while, the whispers grew insistent and his lover told him to go (he would have gone anyways, but he simply wanted a bit more time to rest with her, yet the Angels wanted him to move immediately).
              There is a reason the Heroes are sworn to those Choirs, and it is not to disobey them.

              Like

              1. >Nothing we have seen so far indicates that a Hero can disobey the commands of the Choir they are sworn to, and we also know that Angels don’t take kindly to defiance. A hero sworn to a Choir obeys the Angels of that Choir, that’s obvious.

                It’s not obvious to me that angels give commands in the first place.

                Tariq has said it himself, that the Choir of Mercy just happen to agree with him – and when for a while they didn’t, they just went quiet.

                William never actually got any guidance from his Choir beyond the initial push.

                Hanno gets yes/no answers to questions he has to actively ask.

                I don’t think angels have commands to give. In caring about nothing but their chosen virtue, they don’t actually have opinions on anything happening in Creation except filtered through their champions. Choirs present themselves to each of their heroes as what that hero expects them to be.

                Note, again, the curious case of Hanno and Judgement, and how the angels confirmed for Hanno his point of view on “mortals cannot judge” even though that is not how heroes of Judgement have historically worked.

                Like

            2. caoimhinh

              Actually, I remembered something. You might be right that they aren’t exactly forced to obey.
              What I remembered is that they are brainwashed in different ways, so that they aren’t forced to obey but are led to believe that the Angels’ words are the most optimal course of action.
              William said that “they never force anyone, they just show you things and you accept on your own accord” or something along those lines.
              Contrition showed William all his sins, to the point that he turned into a repentant trying to do the right thing before his death.
              Judgement showed Hanno that they had a broader scope of vision and thus their decisions were better than anything a mortal could do since the Angels had access to much more information.
              Mercy guided Pilgrim with whispers that took him to places he could do more good, and he grew dependant on them, trusting them that their whispers are the correct choice.

              Still, my point remains the same, if the Angels speak the Heroes obey.

              Like

              1. William was already wandering in the woods broken-hearted and hating himself, the angels just gave him a push to actually do something about it.

                Hanno was already confused about justice and determined to find something better than mortal judgement, the angels just gave him reassurance that that better does exist and he can act on it.

                Tariq has literally commented that the Choir of Mercy is with him as long as and to the degree that his mindset aligns with theirs.

                And my point is not that it wouldn’t work like you’re saying. The Angels could give their heroes orders that the heroes would then obey. I bet if the Choir of Contrition descended into Callow and informed Willliam that leading an army and a band of Named was a fool’s affair for him and he should stick to what he’s good at – lonely terrorism – he would have listened.

                But they didn’t and they don’t.

                Like

          1. konstantinvoncarstein

            I don’t care that he is ruthless, everyone in the story is too🙂 But like you say, his hypocrisy is upsetting. The other problem is that he state that he will not respect his promesses if the Angels say so, but expects everyone else to hold to theirs, and he find appalling when they break them. And he has the gall to accuse the other side of villainous treachery.

            Liked by 1 person

      2. RandomFan

        Everyone else likes to hate him too much, though. Yes, the Grey Pilgrim is an old monster, as much and as deep an anti-hero as any- but he’s no more monstrous than Black. He’s not good. But he’s no Diabolist.

        By now, we should know that Good is as willing to dabble in evil as the reverse, so.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. caoimhinh

        Actually, in one of the Peregrine Extra Chapters (I think it was on the third) Liliet and I discussed because Tariq’s actions made sense to me and not to Liliet. So she hasn’t always defended Pilgrim’s every action.
        Nevertheless, remember that each of us has a different impression of the characters, even if the narrative may present them in a certain light, and each reader likes and dislikes certain aspects of the characters, so of course our opinions vary.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Ooooh, yes, I am definitely operating on the purity culture principle that if someone is good then every single thing they’ve done must be good also. That’s exactly my argument, good reading comprehension there.

        Also lmao @ unsung hero, given that a hero is literally what he famously is. For his deeds. Like, things he’s actually done over his lifetime, which is very long.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. nimelennar

    Two thoughts:

    Cat has to be careful: the general who wins every battle, but loses the war, is a well-worn trope.

    And, didn’t she lose already lose the final battle against Sve Nice, pretty definitively, on every level? Yes, she still got her alliance, but only after she, Archer, and her entire drow army were defeated.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Politics are about perception, not actual facts. Like 10 people know about that defeat, all of them Catherine’s inner circle – considering that from the point of view of drow Catherine accomplished exactly what she said she was going to accomplish: get Sve Noc’s attention and help.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Qwormuli

        True. Not to mention that those battles didn’t include a single callowan casualty. “I went to a battle and lost most of the troops I conscripted along the way” just doesn’t have the same sting.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. John

          Any battle where you’ve got more and better troops under your command at the end than you did at the start, most people would call a win. Didn’t technically retain control of the field, but she wasn’t interested in territorial expansion anyway, and managed to secure favorable trade terms with the folks who were. Not bad at all for a few months’ work.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. caoimhinh

            “I, my hot friend, and the ghost of my fallen nemesis entered a cave. We came out a few months later with my humanity restored plus new superpowers, a pair of goddesses on my shoulders, an army of hundreds of thousands genetically enhanced and magic-powered supersoldiers, 50 thousand of which are marching with me right now, and a trade deal with the most powerful nation of the continent that also cuts their weapons supply to any enemy nation. Also, my hot friend is now my friend with benefits. I think I’ll count it all as a win, thanks.”

            Liked by 1 person

  11. Enjou

    Alright, so Cat knows that if she doesn’t lose this coming battle that bad things will happen for Procer and she doesn’t really want that due to the Dead King situation. On the other hand, losing puts her in a bad position politically, so she can’t just allow herself to lose, especially since she can’t trust the other side to keep to a bargain to minimize her losses.

    IMO what she needs to do is lose while still winning. Say she loses the battle… but kills the Saint of Swords. And it’s a good time for it, too. Narratively, the Saint has made herself villainous by trying to kill Cat under a truce banner, and she’s madder than a bag of wet cats that she was humiliated like that, practically guaranteeing that she’ll make a beeline for Cat. The Pilgrim’s heroic cred has also been damaged due to the oathbreaking being pointed out. Cat’s prepared something to neutralize the Pilgrim without killing him, and she’s got her staff which is specially prepared to kill Saint. So she activates her trap cards, and ends the Saint of Swords.

    End result? If she hasn’t lost the military battle too badly, she’s simply been forced to retreat. Her forces aren’t happy about that, but the scary bosslady warlord is still the scary bosslady warlord because she killed the big name Saint of Swords, which is an achievement large enough to make the stain of a military loss something they can ignore. Procer gets to claim a Pyrrhic victory over the forces of evil, and losing the Saint gives them legitimate enough reason not to pursue the retreating Army of Callow and Legions of Terror.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      It seems nonetheless a little risky.

      I hope that Saint will die in the oncoming battle, and that it will happen at night. I can’t wait to see Mighties at full force take the field!😀

      Liked by 2 people

    2. caoimhinh

      That is a possible outcome for the coming battle, but the thing is that it can’t be a planned thing agreed on both sides, but a natural result of their forces clashing for real.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. magesbe

      I think the best outcome for Cat is to win but not damage the enemy army more than she needs to in the process. It’s one thing for angry commoners to hear that their Lords let the ones who hurt them escape. It’s harder to justify rebellion when they tried to avenge the commoners but failed.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. magesbe

          I mean it’s possible. But much less likely. And by this reasoning they might get mad that the Legions were allowed to retreat at all. There comes a point where you need to take the risk.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. caoimhinh

          Commoners had never been of importance in Procer’s politics.
          It’s the Princes and Princesses that rule different principalities (especially the ones affected by the Legions of Terror’s march) that are the determining factor, since they can switch alliances and take their support off Cordelia and back another Prince instead, which would then unseat her and there would be a new First Prince of Procer.
          That has always been the issue in each of Procer’s army’s actions during this Crusade and the thing that has led Cordelia’s movements (at least until the Dead King started invading and she had to make moves to ensure sheer survival).

          Like

  12. Maginot

    I thought Black had escaped? With the Wandering Bard assisting him, even bargaining on behalf of the Gods Below with him.
    There is more to this than there appears.

    Like

    1. magesbe

      Not necessarily. The Wandering Bard wasn’t going to directly help him, she just had a chat with him. And apparently Amadeus decided against trying to escape himself, possibly because he learned Bard has plans for him.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. So, three kingdoms are tangled up in the Bard’s plan to destroy at least two of them (and Levant should be nervous), while the Dead King attacks, Malicia plots, and Masego does we know not what (except it involves hellgates and completely trashing a chunk of Arcadia).

    And if my calculations are correct, we should be getting an extra chapter on Monday… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  14. SpeckofStardust

    3 things.
    1. Pilgrim has lost points because-
    a. He broke his goddam agreement with cat
    b. his agreement as an observer was in fact as a hostage. (Telling us otherwise was a asshole thing to do by the way)

    2. Pilgrim has gained a point by openly telling cat that she cant trust him
    a. it means he isn’t aiming to betray her
    b. it makes it easy to blame him for what happens next

    3. There was never going to be a deal here even if Pilgrim wasn’t here, Proctor has no choice at this point to not engage in a fight, There was never a way for these peace talks to work and us viewers need to remember that before blaming Pilgrim for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. magesbe

      I don’t think most people are thinking that Pilgrim is at fault for the situation, they’re just saying that Cat can’t trust him to keep his word and since his word would lead half of her opposing forces to do whatever he asked… yeah.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. konstantinvoncarstein

        Of course Pilgrim is not to blame for the intransigeance of the Proceran. What he is to blame is that it is impossible to trust him in any way. And that he is an hypocrite, who expects everyone to respect standards he will not hold to.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Telling someone “you can’t trust me” is, at best, a neutral point. You’re not professing false sincerity and then stabbing them in the back so you’re not actively losing points, but like, you’re telling them you can’t be trusted because *you are untrustworthy*. That’s not something which should earn points. You earn points for being trustworthy.

      Like

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