Chapter 31: Fall or Flight

“In boldness find salvation, for stillness is the herald of death.”
– Princess Beatriz of Salamans, most famous for turning her trial for high treason by the Highest Assembly into election to the office of First Princess

“I need you to write three letters for me,” I told Hakram.

Three letters: one was a knife, one was a bet and one was a lie. Wielding those like the sword and board that had once been my favoured armaments, I would win or lose before the week was out. Comfortably settled in my perch atop the barrow of a people long scattered to the winds, I poured myself a cup of wine and kept a steady eye on Hakram. The writing desk I’d had hoisted up here had not been built with orcs in mind, that much was evident. My second was broader than the wooden frame, and could not lean his armoured elbows against it without the whole thing starting to groan like a dying calf. It was a rather amusing sight, the tall orc bent over the desk with a long quill in one hand and looking for all the world like he could be lifting the whole thing with the other. The oil lamp atop the frame was an island of tangible flickering warmth in the surrounding glow of the magelights that had been brought here and hung from the raised stones. The sight of the Mavian prayer wreathed in that pale halo was an eerie one, a reminder that once upon a time fae had tread these grounds and made bargains with those who had raised this strange work. It felt fitting, in a way, for like my old friends of Summer and Winter tonight I intended treachery.

“Which first?” Adjutant asked.

I sipped at my cup, let the warmth of the wine pool in my belly.

“To the Tyrant,” I said. “As follows: Kairos, you misshapen treacherous weasel, you should have been drowned at birth. I expect whatever spawned you tried but already the Gods had grown gills on your neck, foul monster. Sadly this must have allowed you to crawl out of the refuse pile they tossed you in to come trouble me today.”

The sound of the quill dipping into the inkpot followed by the scratch of it against parchment filled the silence that followed. Hakram’s admittedly superb calligraphy should lend a touch of elegance to the whole tirade, I decided.

“Therefore,” I continued, “in the spirit of our close and cordial alliance, I offer my support for the demand that will be made by the League of Free Cities in exchange for its acquiescence to a peace conference. That support will have the full weight of my force and influence behind it.”

I drummed my fingers against the arm of my chair as I waited for Hakram’s hand to catch up to my words, only resuming when his scrawl stilled.

“Naturally, this is contingent on your own support in extricating the Army of Callow and its allies from their current difficulties,” I said. “Should you refuse, I will be forced to withdraw from Procer entirely and begin preparing the east for the wars that will come in the wake of the Principate’s destruction.”

Adjutant finished writing before raising a hairless brow at me.

“You think he’ll believe that?” the orc asked.

“He will,” I simply said.

After glancing at the certainty on my face Hakram did not argue the point any further, simply conceding with a small dip of the head.

“And add one last thing,” I mused. “Lower down, like we’re trying to be discreet. ‘I have heard that recently you lost a great many horses, which is a tragic happenstance. As I would not have such a dear and noble friend without a mount, I offer you this purebred Liessen charger to ride into battle instead. May he serve you well.'”

Adjutant looked at me oddly.

“We don’t have any purebreds,” he told me. “They’re too costly to field. The Order uses mostly halfbloods and Vale breeds.”

“I’m aware,” I said. “I need you to find the shoddiest, sickliest goat we have and paint it white. Not well, though, just kind of half-heartedly. Try to make it a female one if you can. Send it along with my letter, when the time comes.”

The orc cleared his throat a little too quickly for me to buy him looking at me this disapprovingly.

“This is how you deal with Kairos, Hakram,” I told him nonetheless. “He’s not like Malicia or the Dead King, he doesn’t give a damn about respect or rules or making deals that’ll last longer than a moon’s turn. I offered him steel and honey and an elaborate insult – it should do the trick.”

“We’re not made of goats, Catherine,” Adjutant reproached.

“Fine,” I sighed, disgruntled. “If you can’t find a suitable one just find a stray dog and glue horns on. Diplomacy isn’t cheap, Hakram, you should know this by now.”

“As you say, my queen,” the orc serenely replied.

I gestured obscenely at him before watching him blow the last lines of my letter dry, fake my signature without missing a beat and finally roll the parchment when it was all done. It went into a small leather sheath, ad a red wax candle was lit from the lantern’s flame before he dripped it atop the scroll. The royal seal was pressed until it made its mark, my sword and crown on a balance, and it was put away. His eyes returned to me and I put down the cup I’d finally managed to empty.

“To the Pilgrim,” I said.

“Full honorifics?” Hakram asked.

I mulled over that a moment.

“No,” I finally said. “Grey Pilgrim will do, it’s in that function I’ll be addressing him.”

The tall orc nodded, and began writing anew.

“I, Catherine Foundling, first anointed Queen of Callow of my name,” I said, “formally offer the unconditional surrender of all forces under my command to the Grey Pilgrim, Tariq of Levant, also known as the Peregrine. Let there be no further bloodshed between your armies and mine, and through that surrender peace be obtained for us all.”

It was with a low whistle that Adjutant finished writing the last sentence, with a practiced hand adding signature and seal when I shook my head to make it clear there would be no other addition.

“The third?” he asked, afterwards.

“Addressed to the full war council of the Army of Callow, including summons for Vivienne Dartwick,” I said.

Hakram went still, for a moment, and when he moved it was to eye me warily.

“In your formal capacity as queen?” he asked.

“That’s the one,” I casually agreed. “Put up the formalities, make this an official decree with my seal, and take one of the larger sheaths. I want to write to them about Theodosius’ Dilemma, the whole story.”

Adjutant cleared his throat.

“Those of us who went through the officer track at the War College have already heard it,” he said. “There was a tactics class on the subject.”

“Some of them won’t know it,” I said. “So we’ll be thorough, yes?”

“Yes,” he gravelled in agreement.

For the longest time there was only my voice cast over the scratch of quill against parchment, as I told the story mostly the same as I had read it. There was, however, to be an addition afterward. Hakram’s hand stilled, and when he looked to me for instructions I have him one last sentence.

“I grant to Vivienne Dartwick the title of Lady Dartwick, with all assorted honours and privileges;” I said, “in addition I name Lady Dartwick the heiress-designate to the crown of Callow.”

I hadn’t gone as far as naming her a princess of the royal house as that would mean, legally speaking, that she was either my adopted sister or daughter. Both thoughts were rather unsettling for all sorts of reasons. But by first granting her noble title, even if that title was landless, I could make her my successor without breaking Callowan law. Didn’t much like the thought of expanding the aristocracy, even for Vivienne, but the only two ways to make her heiress-designate without making a bloody mess of feudal law had been that or bringing her into the royal house. The two ways of doing that were adoption and marriage, neither of which I believed to be palatable to us, so Lady Dartwick it was.

“It’s a dangerous game, Cat,” Hakram warned me.

“It’s the only kind we ever play, Adjutant,” I said. “And the letters are only to be sent when I say, so don’t worry.”

“That would be a first,” the orc drily replied, but his hand moved nonetheless.

Three sheaths of leather were hidden away after he finished, bearing my seal, letters awaiting within.  A knife, a bet, a lie. Instead of crawling into bed afterwards I spent half the night gazing at the stones where Robber had hung parchment for me. All the while silently feeding Night to the staff in my lap that was not a staff but a sword, a sword that was not a sword but a prayer.

When I finally fell into slumber I slept only fitfully, dreaming of laughing crows.

Years ago I would have been in the thick of it. Tripping over every discovery, blood going warm and cold with the twists and turns of Fate as I struggled to bend it to my will. I was older now, though, and though perhaps not all that much wiser I was at least more patient. I’d learned the value of not tipping your hand too early when playing these sorts of games. And so it was sitting in my stolen chair, pulling at a mug of steaming tea, that the news found me. It was Vivienne who carried them up the barrow, steps quick and alarmed.

“A breach had opened to the southeast,” she told me. “An army is going through, its banners from Levant and Procer.”

I inhaled the fragrance of the tea and did not reply, letting her pace back and forth. So it was finally starting.

“Who was the first out?” I asked out loud.

“Our outriders weren’t close enough to-” she began.

I raised a hand.

“I wasn’t asking you,” I gently said.

Larat stepped out of the circle of stones with the languid grace of a hunting cat. The huntsman who’d once been the Prince of Nightfall walked against what I instinctively felt to be the cast of this circle, the way its power had once been leaning. It was like watching a man stroke a cat the wrong way, only I could almost feel it in my bones. Truly, my treacherous lieutenant had taken to petty vexations the way fish took to water. His long cape streamed behind him lazily, dark as night and sewn with jewels. The furs and leather he wore were fastened at his waist by a sash of scarlet cloth, from which hung that sheathless sword he favoured.

“A hero, most tenebrous of queens,” Larat smiled. “Named and finder of paths, strutting for the rest of the cacophony to follow.”

“His actual Name, Larat,” I said, unimpressed.

“A sorcerer of roguish inclinations, my liege,” the fae replied, raising hands to appease me. “Fleeing, then finding and now all aflutter from the sight of us.”

“The Rogue Sorcerer,” I grunted. “Yeah, that sounds about right. They’ll need a mage for this, and last I heard the Witch was up north.”

“That’s all you have to say?” Vivienne said. “Catherine, the situations is getting grim. It’s an army of nearly sixty thousand that crossed, and already Malanza’s own host is sending riders to make contact.”

I sipped at my tea.

“How long before the pursuers come out, do you think?” I asked Larat.

“Within the hour there will be a break,” the huntsman grinned, a slice of pale malice between red lips. “And the parade of fools will merrily stumble out.”

“Cat?” Vivienne slowly said.

Her eyes were moving back and forth between us, like she couldn’t quite decide who to look at.

“Kairos is crazy enough to take a shortcut through a crumbling half-realm likely run by Masego having a breakdown just to get here earlier,” I said. “On the other hand, are the crusaders? Would they take that risk just to go quicker? No, they wouldn’t. But Kairos wants them here as well, and he dictates the military strategies of the League. Which means…”

“He cornered them,” Vivienne said, eyes alight with sudden understanding. “To give them the choice of a battle where they’d likely be annihilated or taking a chance on a path through Arcadia.”

He’d been able to do this not because he was a peerless military genius, I knew, or because he had some oracle at his side. It was simply that the Tyrant of Helike had most likely been trading information with near every other army out in Iserre, and so alone of all the commanding generals he’d had the bird’s eye view of what was happening in the region. Given that, and the cadre of skilled warlocks that the Stygian Magisterium was made up of, it was far from impossible to both corner the other Grand Alliance army and ensure there was a breach nearby when he did. Desperation would do the rest.

“And the crusaders got a guide for the journey, perhaps the only wizard that could truly help them in all of Iserre,” I said. “That is Above’s due, the cast of providence. But that wizard also carries something I want, because Below always gets its due. It all comes to a head here, Vivienne.”

My friend rested her hand on the back of her neck, pressing back a few curls of hair that’d not been brought into her crown-like braid. I’d caught the twitch in her fingers with muted amusement, recognizing it as Vivienne wanting to pass a hand through her hair before remembering it’d been styled.

“What are you actually up to, Cat?” she finally asked. “Juniper’s been on edge.”

“Because I’ve left her to decide how an engagement should be fought, if it happens,” I said.

“Because you haven’t been part of the planning,” Vivienne frankly said. “Until now, you’ve been at the table for every campaign. That you’d take a step back after chewing us out has us a little perplexed.”

Larat’s lone eye was on us, the huntsman nonchalantly leaning against a stone as he listened to our conversation. I debated dismissing him, but I’d been the one to send for him in the first place and I still had a conversation due with the unofficial captain of the Wild Hunt.

“If I didn’t believe the two of you capable of discharging your responsibilities, I would have demoted you,” I replied. “It’s that simple.”

Blue-grey eyes narrowed as I gave answer to only the least important part of what she’d asked. I sighed and raised a calming hand.

“You can’t be in the know for it,” I said. “It wouldn’t work if you were.”

“We don’t have a great history with complicated plans,” Vivienne reminded me.

“It’s not complicated,” I said.

She looked skeptical, which only served to irritate me.

“It isn’t,” I sharply said. “It’s not a series of events building on each other, it doesn’t fail if there’s a part that doesn’t happen. It’s a set of counterweights that only move if there’s a push.”

“I don’t mean to question you,” she delicately said.

Larat snorted, too loudly for him not have meant for the both of us to hear it.

“That’s exactly what you’re doing,” I flatly said. “And in principle I don’t mind, but in this instance your having incomplete information is part of the design. Which makes it all the more pointless when you press for answers that I can’t give you without making the plan irrelevant.”

“That is mildly polite way,” Vivienne said after a moment, “to tell me to shut up and move along, isn’t it?”

“I understand you’re worried,” I said. “But I’m telling you this has been accounted for.”

A mirthless smiled quirked her lips.

“So either I trust you or I don’t,” she said.

Part of me wanted to sharply point out that Hakram was almost as much in the dark and he’d not needed this kind of coddling, but I held my tongue. I did not mean Adjutant for the same kind of purposes that I meant for Vivienne, and so it was unfair to both to try to expect the same behaviours of them. I could not put the dark-haired woman in front of me in positions of command and authority repeatedly and expect her not to act like someone in them. She, and Callow itself, couldn’t remain under my shield forever. One day I would have to abdicate, and when that day came I would not brook chaos and disorder in my wake. That meant there had to be a worthy brow for the crown to be settled on, and that brow would not belong to someone who feared to ask questions when it was inconvenient. So I held my tongue, and let my irritation bleed out in the silence that followed.

“The Everdark changed you, didn’t?” Vivienne finally said.

My brow rose, but she did not elaborate.

“I’ll talk to Juniper, make sure she understands there’s nothing to worry about,” she continued. “Good hunting, Black Queen.”

“You’ll know what to do, when the time comes,” I said. “I trust in that.”

She sketched a bow before retiring, and it had my fingers clenching. How was it, I wondered, that losing her Name had made her harder to read? Larat’s lone eye had been watching us eagerly that entire time, drinking in the complexities of the relationship hungrily. It was the kind of thing Winter fae had delighted in, and my huntsman might no longer claim any allegiance to that dead court but roots were not so easily discarded. That vicious coldness would always be at the heart of him.

“Larat,” I said. “Approach.”

“My queen,” the fae replied, bowing after a flicker of a smirk.

The raven-haired huntsman stepped forward, light-footed and sure, and smoothly knelt before me. I drummed my fingers against the staff in my hand, idly wondering whether I’d gotten to the point where I should kill him. Did he suspect my thoughts? I couldn’t be sure, but it was with interest he looked at my ebony staff.

“Curious?” I asked.

“No threat to me, that softest of deaths,” Larat said.

I leaned forward and smiled.

“Are you sure?”

The urge to deny me flickered across the fae’s pale face, but a moment pass and that denial never left his lips.

“You make sport of me, my queen,” he said.

“Clever little fox, you are,” I said. “But not as clever as you think. We made a bargain, and it’s your way out, but we are bound by more than that.”

“To my oaths I will remain true,” Larat said.

“Of course you will,” I said. “You don’t really have a choice, do you? It took me a while to understand, but the details put it all into place.”

“We gave our word willingly and without qualms, my queen,” the one-eyed fae reproached me. “Why do you now remonstrate?”

Remonstrate,” I laughed. “How offended you are, now that I know I own you body and soul. Winter – my Winter – died and suddenly your gates are a spinning wheel of destinations. Come now, did you think I wouldn’t learn of it? I am more than you liege, Larat, this entire time I’ve been your patron. The source of your power. You took a chance when you left Arcadia reforged, made yourself into a Wild Hunt that was not matched to a Spring and Autumn. So to stay here in Creation, you needed a little more than just calling yourself that. You needed an anchor.”

“Have we not served you faithfully, O Queen of Night?” Larat said.

“It must have been terrifying,” I mused, “to realize one day that your oaths bound you to more than the Winter in my veins. That there was an ocean of darkness, now, and that within it swam creatures in every way your superior.”

Superior?” Larat hissed, and the anger was bare and terrible. “These-”

I smiled, inviting him to continue, but the former Prince of Nightfall curbed his tongue. Too late to avoid confirming what I’d suspected yet not known for certain. Ah, pride. Of all the weakness of the Fair Folk it had always been my favourite.

“Seven crowns and one, laid at your feet,” I said. “That is what I promised you, and that is what you will receive. Rise, Larat.”

I rose, and let a sliver of Night pulse through my veins. The Wild Hunt was summoned, and my own mount with it.

“Don’t worry, old friend,” I told the fae with a warm smile. “I’ll see to it that you get everything that you deserve.”

I wondered if it was a trick of the light, or if I was truly glimpsing fear in that sole eye. No matter. When night fell I would ride with the Hunt, and the three of us – Pilgrim, Tyrant, myself – would find out whose cunning would cut deepest.

124 thoughts on “Chapter 31: Fall or Flight

      1. haihappen

        Necause he is a magnificent bastard and will either rise in notoriety to a point were Creation itself twists itself to keep him alive leading to the most ironic/heroic/glorious death of all, or he will anticlimactically die, probably off-screen.

        A subversion would be that he leads his band of misfits to a ripe old age past his natural lifespan, only to vanish into the night one day, no body ever to be found. And the remainder of his “Tribe” will continue to whisper of the one Goblin that defied the Matrons and the Tower both, of His glorious exploits and vicious ruthlessness. How he joked in the face of the Black Queen himself, drawing not blood but laughter. They will lower their voices even more when they speak of his True Name, barely inaudible: “The Lesser Lesser Footrest”.

        (Yes, I have described Robber becoming a Folk Hero here… for Goblins, anyway)

        Liked by 28 people

        1. Ashen Shugar

          Ooh yes, the epilogue. Cat has disappeared after settings things right and within a month or two, a cohort of goblins also disappears. “Some years later…”, a group of heroes comes upon a hidden manor and carefully enters. Going down a quiet hallway, clean but empty, they come to a large room and across from them sit’s Cat on her Fae Chair, in front her kneel’s a goblin facing the heroes with Cat’s legs crossed and resting on his shoulder.

          Liked by 7 people

        2. For goblins, nothing. My money is on Robber eventually becoming Governor-General for Callow, and/or the commanding officer and founder of Catherine’s special forces units, as well as the officially recognized leader of the Grey Aeries, who will revere him to almost the same degree as the Levantines revere the Grey Pilgrim. “Lesser Lesser Footrest” will become the only goblin term known to all races, as it will be too revered a title to ever be changed, one that verges on being a Name in its own right.

          In the decades after his death of extreme old age at about 70 or so, the Name Robber will become one of the most revered of the villainous folk-hero Names, and will command fear and respect in equal measure throughout Calernia, and, after the inevitable kidnapping of Black and Ranger’s children–because that’s what Fate demands when two major Names like that have kids–and the absolute destruction of at least one global super-power that follows (and that’s BEFORE Black and Ranger show up to…express their displeasure), the Name of Robber will become one of the most feared Names in the world.

          Of course, this is only the least of the achievements that the goblin known as “Robber” is fated to accomplish while in service to Catherine Foundling and/or the Callowan crown, but many of those deeds of derring-do are highly classified, because nobody wants to admit that they’re possible, lest somebody accidentally over throw a kingdom, possibly while drunk.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. magesbe

    So, assuming “knife, bet, and lie” weren’t in that exact order, which one is which do you think? I think the letter to Kairos is the knife, the appointing of Viv as heir apparent the bet, and the surrender the lie.

    Liked by 8 people

      1. ninegardens

        “The forces under my command” – the wild hunt? That would be amusing.

        Oh, and heck, she has recused her self from command by leaving Juniper and Vivi too it. clever.

        Liked by 19 people

        1. It depends just when she sends the respective letters. I’d worry more about the Drow, since she does seem to be in command of those.

          The thing is, she’s betting her crown against strange stakes, but she’s not all that attached to the crown; if she loses it, she’ll just continue operating as the First Priestess of Night, and still the one human all those Drow will actually answer to.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Gunslinger

            Aah but Rumena is in command of the drow army. Cat is only the advisor and mouthpiece of the the Sve Noc. At least on paper and the Pilgrim has no way of knowing that

            Liked by 10 people

    1. SilverDargon

      mmm, I can see that. Unfortunately, I can also see it a different way.

      It seems to me that the Bet is the letter to the Grey Pilgrim, because she’s betting that he won’t take the bait. Like she said last chapter, more than anything he want’s a draw, and by presenting him with a victory, she’s betting that he won’t be able to take it.

      If that’s the bet, then the lie is almost certainly the letter to Kairos. Since his whole setup right now relies on having perfect information due to the numerous deals he’s made with everyone around him, I can’t see a reason to tell him anything but a lie.

      That leaves the appointment of Vivienne as heir the Knife. That’s probably a knife aimed at the hero’s faction if I have all this correctly. Because if the Grey pilgrim commits to a fight on the basis that Cat is a big bad evil person who can’t be allowed to lead Callow, then having a ready made heir who isn’t named or even all that evil cut’s straight through his argument.

      That’s my take anyways.

      Liked by 22 people

    2. Aphorism

      Just for shits and giggles I’m going to assume that it’s her message to pilgrim that is the knife. Her surrendering to him lawfully may make actions he takes against her a narrative vulnerability.

      Liked by 16 people

    3. Nafram

      I believe you to be correct. The letter to Kairos appears to be meant to make him fall in line for this particular operation, threatening to endanger his interests. This is the knife.
      The letter to the General Staff cannot be the lie, for Cat truly intends for Viviene to rule and furthermore has no reason to lie to them, therefore, it is the gamble.
      And the letter to Tariq specifies the armies under Catherine Foundling, First of her name, are surrendered to him. This means that, should Cat abdicate, Tariq loses command of her armies because they are no longer her armies, and thus he must negotiate with Viviene in order to get them to fight the Dead King. This is the lie, a temporary victory for the Grey Pilgrim that can be turned hollow at will by either her or the Callowan War Council by means of abdicating/deposing her.

      And now that I’ve said this, I look forward to Erraticerrata either proving me wrong or in a twist, confirming my theory.

      On a sidenote, does Theodosius’ Dilemma get explained at any previous point of the series? Because for the life of me, I can’t remember it.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. ATRDCI

        I can’t recall it being called out by name before now. But the only context Theodosius has been brought up in up to this point has been his being Unconquered and his defeat to Isabella the Mad. (Whose love of chaos is shared by the Tyrant and whose written work is the only legal military guide in Bellerephon.). So I presume the Dilemma involves that fight.

        This epigraph is of particular relevance given the Auger/divine guidance behind the Grey Pilgrim.

        “It is said that on the eve of the Maddened Fields, the Tyrant Theodosius consulted with the many Delosi soothsayers among his host. He asked them if he would find victory or defeat, should he give battle at dawn as he intended. The Delosi squabbled among themselves for hours, until the eldest among them looked the Tyrant in the eyes and spoke his answer: Yes.”

        Liked by 16 people

      2. werafdsaew

        There are a few epigraphs from Theodosius; this one is my guess as to what Theodosius’ Dilemma is referring to:

        A hundred battles, even victories, will always lose you the war.

        Liked by 10 people

        1. Hmmm…this puts things into a different perspective–I’d always imagined Isabella the Mad as beating Theodosius simply by dragging him down to her level, and then beating him through sheer experience. That quote implies that there was an actual sound, reasonable methodology behind her victory.

          Liked by 1 person

    4. RoflCat

      IMO:

      Knife – Vivienne

      Bet – Kairos

      Lie – Pilgrim

      The Knife with giving Vivienne title is that it cut down basically every arguments that’s made against Cath (Viv is former Heroine, is working hard to recover Callow without being a warlord, and is no way heading towards being a new Dead King/Triumphant)
      So when Cath abdicate and Vivienne take the throne, not only Procer have to stop their Crusade (or at least can’t sack Callow using excuse of it being Evil), even Heaven have to stop because otherwise they’re basically ruining a Callow that’s turning back to ‘Good’

      The Bet on Kairos is her trying to bet on Kairos’s crazy plan, after all she doesn’t know his true thoughts.

      The Lie to Pilgrim is her ‘threatening’ him with a ‘lose’ to break his Pattern of Three with that surrender. Remember that her goal is for all forces to have a peace conference on equal ground.
      But the Pilgrim doesn’t know that, to him what he’ll see is her trying to get a lose in without too much actual loss on her, much in the same way he’s trying to get a draw against her for the eventual guaranteed win.

      Liked by 5 people

    5. caoimhinh

      This is like that warlock Schrodinger’s magical experiment with a cat, he put it in a box warded with High Arcana and claimed that due to “thaumaturgic wave function collapse” until the box was opened and the cat observed, the cat was both dead and alive.
      Of course, it turned out that the cat was undead in the end, but I digress.

      These letters are Foundling’s Cat: all three of them are simultaneously Knife, Bet, and Lie until they are observed by the world, and the story places them into place. They serve multiple purposes while unreceived, and only when they are read do they turn into a specific Role.
      XD

      Liked by 23 people

    6. Decius

      The letters go where she wants them to. The letter to Kairos goes to Kairos, the other two letters go to the Grey Pilgrim.

      The letter addressed to the general staff is the lie, but it doesn’t contain any untrue statements- it’s there to make him refuse the surrender of ‘all forces under my command’, because of the new ‘loophole’ he just found out about. The bet is that the Grey Pilgrim will decline the surrender for a combination of narrative reasons and an abundance of caution; but he cannot abide unnecessary suffering, so if he declines the surrender he must let the armies leave.

      That leaves the knife as the letter to Kairos. It’s there to create a chaotic multiparty parley which Cat can win.

      Liked by 3 people

    7. Insanenoodlyguy

      The bet is Viv as heir. She intends it for real, at least one day, but she says she has trouble reading her lately. She doesn’t expect Viv to intentionally ruin her plans, but it’s possible she’ll step into the wrong story or just plain react at the wrong time to something.

      The lie is Kairos, she has nearly no intention of backing whatever crap he says once they get there, and if he proposes something she wants, will probably at least seriously reconsider wanting that thing. Because she can turn to him, look him in the eyes say “Yeah, turns out I lied” and odds are good at least part of him will want to propose marriage. He’ll certainly still consider them friends.

      The knife is pilgrim. He wants a knife to her, so she’s pointing one back at him. And it’s got two sides, and goes in one way or another no matter what he does. If he accepts her surrender, there’s rules for that, she’s giving up less then it might seem, as Callow is under her designated heir that is probably going to re-appoint her as soon as she goes home anyway, and a fallen hero being in charge is going to at least leave a bad taste in his mouth, and none of it can be considered a draw, she said he won and he acknowledged it if he accepts. Meanwhile they have to sit down for peace talks now and the Tyrant is backing her?! which means his options are limited. Even if Cat herself is part of the bargain, if he just kills her or destroys Black’s Soul or whatnot Viv is taking her army and going home at best. The one real option that tracks is to make the villain find redemption by fighting for good, and march her north: Exactly what cat wants to begin with. And he knows full well once the wars over, Callow becomes much harder to fight. You don’t call yourself the side of good and march against your allies, and more practically the army, of which a vast majority part of the population is or is friends and family with, now has a story where Callow came up north to help out and probably is noted for turning the damn tide. War with them for anything short of Cat going full traitorous and having everybody killed during the victory parade is going to be met with revolt.

      If he doesn’t accept her surrender, he spurned (thrice over, even) a woman who came to him with entreaties to peace and chose war instead. That’s stabbing yourself as these things go. Cat has enough narrative weight to start whooping his ass. Malzana will eventually surrender herself: since she will see her troops losing and see Procer’s death, Grey is down, probably even captured which means Levant is not going to keep the fight going on it’s own, Saint is probably dead, oh and the Legion just showed up declaring itself in alliance with Callow. They have to sit down at the table now, and that goes mostly the same as what I said above.

      There’s ways it can fall apart, and at least one will be in danger of happening because stories, but that’s what knives are for. Her footrest knows this is “Matron Games” and will probably take it upon himself to stab at least one of the lesser threats without even having to tell her.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Yep, I agree with you.
        Kairos can be lied to and he won’t even be bothered by it as long as it’s done with style, he might even like it when it’s so magnificently blatant.
        Cat is betting on the Army of Callow and Vivienne’s behavior and reaction in her absence once Viv is officially designated as the heiress to the throne.
        The letter to Pilgrim is only an offer to surrender to him, not to Procer nor Levant, and only affects Catherine and the forces under her command, which would be only the Wild Hunt, but they could be liberated once Larat achieves his promised seven crowns and one. Letting the Pilgrim win now would ensure a draw on their next conflict.

        Of course, that lie to Kairos works as a knife against the Grand Alliance armies if he acts as if it were a true thing (even if it’s ultimately an empty promise), and offering her surrender to the Pilgrim now is also a huge bet, Vivienne as heiress of Callow is a knife against their enemies’ excuses for invading Callow, too.

        We have seen that Narratively multiple stories can be at work at the same time in the same place, and a single object or act can serve more than one purpose when looked through different angles. This will be a very interesting development.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          No draw, rule.of three works to flip. Its loss, draw, win or vice versa. If she wins or loses now it’s over and done, pattern broken. He could still take her out with another story but that one will be lost.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Anonymous

    Firstly, let me preface this by saying that I absolutely love the guide! It’s become a delightful addition to my morning routine (I live in the EU, hence the ‘morning’ bit).

    However, because it has become so ingrained in my way of life recently, I can’t help but notice that the chapters have been posted later and later recently. Is there a reason/explanation for this that I’ve missed?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      I don’t know for sure. But it may be changes to daylight savings time. I read several web serials where the authors live in countries other than my own. So jumps of an hour (or two jumps in short succession) do happen and, in some cases, the timing does change from year to year. My timezone AEST recently finished daylight savings a week or so earlier than usual.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Stormblessed

    I wonder just what is Cat learned about Larat, the Wild Hunt, and seven crowns and one. If the wild hunt pledged itself to the queen of moonless nights, shouldn’t the old oath be null and void?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. naturalnuke

      Basically Cat slipped the chains of the Oath by tying them to a big rock(The Night) in her place. However Larat is still attached to his side of the chain(oath). While Cat is no longer limited by the Oath she does own the rock and so holds power over Larat.

      Liked by 14 people

    2. Actually, what Cat has discovered is that they weren’t in fact pledged to Winter; they were pledged to Cat personally, and she was the source of their power. She knows this because when Cat’s Winter was taken, Larat &c. weren’t freed, nor transferred directly to Sve Noc, but they lost their gate control, because now Cat gets that as-needed from the Twins. They apparently can still contact what’s left of Winter, but not tap it directly. And I’d assume Cat arranged with Sve Noc for her Wild Hunt not to be drained into nothingness.

      Like

  4. Ah, the Rogue Sorcerer appears. Hopefully, he’ll still have Black’s soul with him, not stashed somewhere.

    Interesting. I wonder about the timing of things here, and Cat’s plan. How much fighting does she plan for before sending the letters and engaging in talks?

    An open ended commitment to back Kairos’s demands, whatever they are? That might be a mistake, especially since you don’t know what they’ll be.

    Liked by 10 people

      1. ______

        Then again, with the Wild Hunt being the only force under her actual command and its leader about to get what he deserves, that would basically mean the support of one murderous vagrant that recently stole eight crownd from the princes of Procer.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. Skaddix

          My issue is more Cat is way too confident in her read of the Tyrant despite not really knowing what his endgame is at all. Thus its dangerous to build a plan that requires the Tyrant to act exactly how you want for things to work. With Pilgrim at least Cat understands his current goal and they both want to take down the Dead King.

          Liked by 5 people

      2. No check, regardless of the value written on it, is worth more than what it can be redeemed for. Put another way, Cat might have given the Tyrant a blank check but it’s made of rubber and if he slaps that down on the bank counter to cash it in it’s going to bounce so hard it’ll ricochet around the room and out the window.

        Liked by 3 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        Ah, now that’s an interesting thought. The need to get Uncle Amadaus’ soul back may be just the think to help get Masego back from the dark place he’s currently inhabiting.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I think that if what Masego is doing is any of the options commentariat has predicted specifically, it’s already this – trying to find Amadeus.

          And getting ‘target not found’ becuase he’s currently in two pieces probably -_-

          Liked by 2 people

  5. caoimhinh

    That title and the epigraph reminded me of an awesome quote from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic books.

    “It is sometimes a mistake to climb; it is always a mistake to never even make the attempt. If you do not climb you will not fall. This is true. But is it that bad to fail, that hard to fall? Sometimes you wake up. and sometimes the fall kills you, and yes, you die. But there is a third alternative: Sometimes, when you fall, you fly.”

    Liked by 10 people

  6. HardcoreHeathen

    I would like to note that Catherine’s offer of surrender mentions no prohibitions about bloodshed between her, personally, and the heroes. Hopefully that trick (if that is the trick) doesn’t end up with every bone in her body broken, like it did for Akua.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. HardcoreHeathen

      Also, quoting the earlier piece where the deal with Larat was first revealed, in conversation with the Princess of High Noon:

      “I will take the crown of seven mortals rulers and one, to lay them at the feet of the Prince of Nightfall,” I said.

      Her face went still. A glimmer of something like fear passed through those shining eyes, and shit that wasn’t good at all.

      “You know not what you have promised,” she said. “This must not come to pass.”

      Are we finally going to find out why a Princess of Summer was fearful of Larat earning his crowns?

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Kissaten

        Larat was a duke or whatever, and Winter King was chosen amongst the most powerful vassals every new year. Maybe he was cursed to never take the crown of Winter until he fulfilled some obscure prophesy regarding crowns. As Winter is already consumed by the Night, maybe it means he will get swallowed into the Night the moment he gets the crowns.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Agent J

          The Crown of Winter was passed around by the Princes and Princesses of Winter. A rank Larat did, in fact, hold. Larat, the Prince of Nightfall was, at some point, the King of Winter.

          Whatever’s had the the Princess of High Noon pissing herself is likely a great deal more frightening than Larat being the next King of Winter.

          Liked by 3 people

      2. skovbenjamin

        Of note the 7 princes and 1 was mentioned in the 4 fold reflection trap akuma caught Cat in back during Second Liesse. In the timeline where Cat was a hero the Conjurer used them to close the red vales with a massive spell.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Kissaten

    Cat is horrifying. If Pilgrim even dares to think of accepting Cat’s surrender (as if it was in his plans in the first place) it will immediately turn the whole situation into some kind of Night-sanctioned Crusade with heiress pulling a sword out of stone (staff is made from obsidian?) and a free resurrect (Pilgrim Forgiving a VILLAIN?) for someone on top of that. Kairos will totally go for it as he gets to place a crown on Vivienne’s head and this is a much more fun than a useless peace treaty.

    But that is just an initial, obvious thrust. Even Vivienne knew that Cat is trying to become enemy’s hostage since Cat didn’t want to know her side’s plans. My guess is Pilgrim letter is a bet – whether or not he accepts the conditions it makes Pilgrim lose or lose, letter to Callow is a lie – most likely to somehow fall into Kairos’ hands as a bluff against both Pilgrim and Kairos, and letter to Kairos the knife since it somehow allows Army of Callow (and allies) to run away unscathed, and that is the real goal of whole thing.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Ein

    Lets game this out a bit…

    If Cat surrenders to GP, Kairos cannot get his compromise and as such looses. He has to do everything in his power to stop GP from accepting it or forcing a the loss. Cat wins

    If Cat is killed in the ensuing battle, Larat’s oath falls on to Sve Noc (who recieved the crown as a gift freely given) and I really doubt he wants to be sworn in debt to a bunch of psychotic murder elves. Remember, she is the only one who can release them from service. Larat, like Kairos, has to keep her alive at all costs. Cat wins.

    If the surrender is not accepted, and Grey forces the fight, Cat can then abdicate and take the wind out of his narrative sails. The Army of Callow is in agnostic, mundane hands and Cat takes herself off the board. Grey looses any handle on the situation and is now facing two armies against one. Cat wins.

    If the surrender is accepted, Cat abdicates like above, the drow return to Sve Noc’s service (they are loaners iirc), and Cat essentially surrenders nothing. Kairos looses, Grey looses, and the Armies are still pointing at each others throats and 600k drow run rampant over the north. Everyone looses big.

    I dont see the win condition though. Grey backs off, peace talks start, and Kairos wins? Cat abdicates during peace talks and as such does not have weight behind her to enforce her side?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. > Larat’s oath falls on to Sve Noc […] and I really doubt he wants to be sworn in debt to a bunch of psychotic murder elves.

      Pot, meet kettle. Also, the Drow would object to your description of them… they’re no relation to elves! But seriously, I think Larat needs a living, or at least material, person as anchor.

      Like

  9. caoimhinh

    It’s very cool how Catherine is predicting everything that’s happening by simply knowing what kind of story is being built, while the rest are stunned, surprised, confused and even a bit scared. Her sereneness in the face of what is to everyone else unexpected circumstances, allows her to appear like the one who is in control of the situation, which also gives her a weight narratively.

    Nice to see Larat’s elegant and ambiguously treacherous semblance again, hahaha. Well, Sve Noc are now goddesses so it makes sense that they are more powerful than Larat. It is an interesting thing that Larat is bound to Cat, not to Winter, so even now that Winter has been consumed by Night and Sve Noc probably holds some influence in the Wild Hunt they belong first and foremost to Cat. That hints at Larat being still under service of Catherine even if he obtains the seven crowns and one, which now is confirmed to be “his way out” and might make him a Fae capable of standing on his own without needing Arcadia. That would give Cat a very powerful servant in the future, obedient to her beyond circumstances, station or place.

    I’m really hyped for next chapter.

    Typos found:
    ad a red / and a red
    I have him one last sentence / I gave him one last sentence
    the situations is getting grim / the situation is getting grim
    A mirthless smiled / A mirthless smile
    didn’t? / didn’t it?
    a moment pass / a moment passed
    Of all the weakness / Of all the weaknesses

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “It’s very cool how Catherine is predicting everything that’s happening…”

      Well here’s the thing. The surrender went smoothly. Inviting Kairos went smoothly. Given Cat’s luck, what do you want to bet there’s a hitch with the abdication?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. caoimhinh

        Hmm, I doubt there would be much trouble there. The problematic situation will be in Arcadia when they go to try to get Masego back to his right mind. I would bet Pilgrim and Saint aren’t simply going to let Cat reunite with him without obstacles, since he is a powerful threat.

        Like

          1. caoimhinh

            They probably can kill him or at least wound him, though. Remember the times they clashed in the past: Laurence cut through everything Masego threw at her and Tariq’s miracles matched Hierophant’s sorceries.
            Cat is the only one in the region that can talk things out with Masego (although Indrani might be on her way here), the Heroes would enter combat against him. That’s going to be one funny discussion, since Saint is going to be really pissed after this fight.

            Like

      1. Valkyria

        Well, apparently they also got the odd stray dog with glued on horns should the goats not be available en masse. Also night shinenigans can be explosive if used by the right wrong hands I’m sure.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. stevenneiman

    I could barely breathe for a couple minutes after I read that line about her cordial alliance with the Tyrant.
    As a side note, there was a little inconsistency near the beginning of the chapter. It mentioned Hakram writing with one hand and looking like he could lift the table with the other, but he doesn’t have another hand at the moment, and the one he does have is a skeleton.

    Liked by 10 people

  11. Dainpdf

    So much suspense. And trying to find some reference for Theodosius’s Dilemma landed me in a land of Christian Theology and Roman History I was definitely not prepared for.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. raimn

      if i remember correctly she made that promise during the fae arc before or during the fight against summer. i think it was for his help(+winter troops) against the army of summer in arcadia, the battle that ended with the summer queen naming them the “woe” and the princess of high noon prisoner.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. caoimhinh

      Exactly what the two comments above have said, the bargain was struck when Cat was marching across Arcadia in order to get Winter Fae’s help in fighting Summer’s troops.
      However, the terms of the bargain were only known afterward, when Catherine was interrogating Sulia (the Princess of High Noon), to get information about Summer and the reasons and consequences of the Fae Incursion into Creation.

      The specific chapter is: https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/chapter-35-questions/

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Cat is using the Oracle against Pilgrim. Using the fact they will aways choose the best option against Pilgrim and Oracle.

    Vivienne’s letter is aimed against Oracle since Oracle is the only way the other side will know about it. Cat can’t tell them because they won’t trust her. What do you want to bet that Theodosius’ Dilemma is a precedent for an heir to take over if a king or queen is captured?

    Neither Vivienne’s letter or Pilgrim’s letter can’t be a lie since the Oracle would be able to tell, so the Tyrant’s letter is the lie.

    I am thinking Vivienne’s letter is the bet since she is trusting them after they have just stuffed up. She has the Adjutant spell out the right answer for them in baby talk, further showing a lack of trust.

    Pilgrim’s letter is the knife threatening to break the pattern and plunge three armies into costly chaos for no purpose.

    She is playing chicken, except the people in other car can see the future and she is putting a brick on the accelerator and tying herself up so she can serve.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Decius

    “It was a rather amusing sight, the tall orc bent over the desk with a long quill in one hand and looking for all the world like he could be lifting the whole thing with the other.”

    Did Hakram keep his other hand? Does he wear it on a necklace, or is it autonomous?

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Aotrs Commander

    So, does anyone else think Kairos is going to treat Cat’s letter as tantamount to a marriage proposal? (Regardless of the actions he takes over it?)

    ‘Cos I can just seem him waiting until he’s all alone, and then cradling it and staring off into the distance, sighing dreamily and going “she really gets me…”

    I mean, the badly-painted goat-slash-dog-steed. It’s such a *thoughtful* insult.

    Anyone want to take a bet, next time see see him,he’s got the goat/dog skull and a chain around his neck or something as a keepsake…?

    Liked by 6 people

    1. caoimhinh

      If they actually send Kairos a dog painted and with horns glued on its head, odds are he will present himself to the international talks while carrying the dog with him and introducing it as a purebred Liesse stallion gifted by the Black Queen herself.
      No one will dare deny it, hahahahaha.

      Liked by 8 people

        1. Agent J

          Nah. That’d be whatever Emperor held the epithet ‘the Tanner’. In order to be a humble shoemaker and not draw Heroic ire, Irritant the Incredible would have to keep his shoemaking business on the up&up.

          Liked by 2 people

  15. Enjou

    Alright, not sure which letter is which exactly, but I do think that Cat is basically setting the Wild Hunt up to be surrendered to the Grey Pilgrim. And he’ll accept. He’ll have no choice.

    Why? Fairy gates. Right now, Cat has them and nobody else does. It’s one of the things he fears about her, an advantage so big that it might make her the next Dread Empress Triumphant if she gets things rolling enough. But if he’s being handed the Wild Hunt on a platter, it evens the scales massively. What’s more, he can use those fairy gates to move troops against the Dead King, which is something the forces of Good would really, really need.

    It narratively moves Cat away from being the Big Bad, which makes it less likely she’ll get killed. Also, tipping the scales in a way that favors the heroes like that means that the Heavens are less able to interfere by putting a finger on the scales, which would disrupt whatever the Heavens have planned. They can’t give the heroes whatever counter they had planned to her advantage of having fairy gates if it’s no longer an advantage she holds over them. If the scales are eventually going to be made even, then better to even them on her terms.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. The bet is the letter to the Tyrant–he’s the wild card, and he’s the one with the plan. The knife is the letter of resignation, and it is aimed at the Bard–she’s the one who a resignation will most cripple, because it puts a non-named in charge of Callow, and thus makes the kingdom effectively immune to her meddling. And the lie is her surrender to the Pilgrim, because he gets everything he wants, and absolutely nothing that she is claiming to give him, except that now he has to listen when she says “let my people go”.

      As for the Wild Hunt…there are two crowns belonging to villains in play, seven Princes of Procer, and at least three crowns of the Levantine kingdoms. Once that oath is filled, only Catherine, herself, can command the loyalty of Larat and those he leads, which has to be freaking Larat out big time.

      Like

    2. Agent J

      I’d also like to note that the Fae are immortal. If she, as the head of the Army of Callow and Legions of Terror surrendered, then the Procerans would slaughter Grem and his troops at the very least. But if she’s only the Queen of the Hunt, then what’re they gonna do? Stab a fae? Big whoop. Ranger does it every season.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Alegio

      I REALLY wanna see Akua and the Tyrant drinking tea together, the conversation would fall into who has the better taste in adding flavored poisons to the other drink.

      Liked by 7 people

  16. Alegio

    Ok the less likely to be the lie is Viv’s queen to be letter so I will say that’s somehow it, next the knife is more probably than not our favorite Tyrant, while the bet is making the pilgrim take the letter while not knowing that Cat is neither gonna be in control of Callowan nor Drow forces or some crazy half-truth like that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I suspect Hells are all going to spontaneously freeze over before Cat hands another villain a strategic victory in exchange for tactical assistance.

      She’s not having a second Governess Akua fiasco.

      Like

  17. “Fine,” I sighed, disgruntled. “If you can’t find a suitable one just find a stray dog and glue horns on. Diplomacy isn’t cheap, Hakram, you should know this by now.”

    I actually fell off my chair laughing at that one. I love the banter between Cat and Kairos

    Liked by 6 people

  18. Phoenix

    “One was a knife, one was a bet, and one was a lie.”

    First off, I love how she saw the letter as a knife as a callback to how her story started with Black handing her a knife.

    Last chapter, Cat planned out what everyone wanted with parchment. One for Tyrant, one for Grey Pilgrim and one for the Black Queen, and above those three was one for her actual lose conditions. Interestingly each, paper had three goals/conditions. At the time, it struck me as odd that Cat included the Black Queen on there. What she put under Black Queen was what her read of Tyrant and GP thought she was after. During that conversation, it was also mentioned that Tyrant was her borrowed knife.

    Looking at the three letters, when Adjutant asked which letter was first, Cat had only told him that there were three letters, not that one was a knife, a bet and a lie. She told began dictating what was to be in the first letter to Tyrant. The contents of that letter was an offer to back Tyrant’s demand at a peace conference in exchange for being willing to agree to a peace conference, as well as a threat of retreating entirely. The most interesting part of the wording here was that her support would have the full weight of her force and influence behind it.

    The letter to the Grey Pilgrim was an unconditional surrender, that Cat had mention herself by name as ‘first anointed Queen of Callow of my name’ and not as the Black Queen or the Queen.

    The last letter was to her entire war council and it was of a story that most of them should have known, however the story ended with making Vivian Dartwick a Lady and then naming her heiress-designate to the crown.

    On the surface, it seems like the letter to Tyrant was the knife, the letter to GP was the bet and the letter to the war council was the lie. And that may be true, but the second half of the chapter made me realize that the letters do not need to be sent for them to act as their function. Cat has intentionally made her headquarters in the center of this Mavian prayer, a weakened boundary to Arcadia. After having Adjucant write her letters, an enemy army comes through a breach the following morning. Without sending for him or any surprise, Cat speaks out into the air and Larat answers.

    I believe that this is the twist that Cat is making, for she prepared this place with the knowledge that Larat would have been listening to Cat’s conversation for a long time. Cat planned and explained what she was after as well as what her enemies were after and what conditions she needed to meet all with Larat able to listen in. Her twist is a knife for Larat. This is likely the Prince’s Graveyard and Larat was once the Prince of Nightfall.

    Like

  19. Walter

    Perhaps im mistaken – but do members of the Wild Hunt qualify as possessing Crowns? Or possibly something qualifying as “one”?

    I don’t think they do being, iirc, members of the fae court, but it would ironic to if Cat would be able to qualify members of the Wild Hunt as “Crowns”, thereby sacrificing them to satisfy the promise she had made to Larat.

    Like

  20. Foundling and the Duchess

    Said Foundling to the Duchess
    “I must make a man out of you
    That will stand upon her feet, and play the game
    that will butcher his oppressor as a Praesi ought to do
    And she sent the Duchess Sergeant Whatshisname
    Not a Count or Lord, nor yet a legate,
    It was not a big brass general that came
    But a man in Legion kit who could handle men a bit
    With his armor labelled Sergeant Whatshisname

    Said Foundling to the Duchess “Though at present singing small
    You shall hum a proper tune before it ends,”
    And she introduced the Duchess to the Sergeant once for all,
    And left ’em in the desert making friends
    It was not a Royal Palace nor the Tower;
    It was not a public-house of common fame;
    But a piece of red-hot sand, with a valley on either hand,
    And a little hut for Sergeant Whatshisname.

    Said Foundling to the Duchess, “You’ve had miracles before,
    When the Fairfaxes turned demons into prey;
    But if you watch the Sergeant, he can show you something more.
    He’s a charm for making legionaries from clay.”
    It was neither Miezan, Callowan, nor Kharsum;
    It was odds and sods and leavings of the same
    Translated by a stick (which is really half the trick),
    And the Duchess harked to Sergeant Whatsishname.

    (There were years that no one talked of; there were times of horrid doubt–
    There was faith and hope and whacking and despair–
    While the Sergeant gave the Cautions and he combed the Duchess out,
    And Foundling didn’t seem to know nor care.
    That is her awful way o’ doing business–
    She would serve her will or vision just the same–
    For she thinks her reach ends with Vale and Isle.)

    Said Foundling to the Duchess, “You can let my people go!”
    (Foundling used them hard and often from the start),
    And they entered ’em in battle on a most astonished foe–
    But Foundling had hardened the Duchess’s heart
    Which was broke, back when Callow fell
    Twenty years before the Sergeant came
    How they mended it no man can tell
    Save for Sergeant Whatshisname

    It was wicked bad campaigning (cheap and nasty as they marched),
    There was cold and snow and endless work and ice,
    There were fires and armies and lands that endless flame had parched
    But the Duchess marched across Procer twice,
    Cross Orne, cross Issere, and cross Salamans
    Like the Praesi had come just before
    Tween the armies of dust and fire to the land of their desire
    And their guide, it was Sergeant Whatshisname!

    We are eating dirt in handful for to save our daily bread
    Which we have to buy from those that hate us most,
    And we must not raise the money where the Sergeant raised the dead,
    and it’s wrong and dangerous to boast
    but he did it on the cheap and on the quiet,
    and he’s not allowed to forward any claim–
    though he drilled a green man to Callowan, though he made a goblin fight,
    He will still continue Sergeant Whatshisname–
    Private, Corporal, Sergeant, and Instructor–
    But the everlasting miracle’s the same!

    With many, many, many apologies to Rudyard Kipling, but this seemed like such a great fit!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. After rereading the end of this chapter, I came to the realization that people will be telling tales for centuries of the Black Queen, the Queen of Air and Darkness, and her Wild Hunt riding in the night. Parents will tell their children to not go out during the dark of the moon, for the Wild Hunt will take them away to serve the Black Queen. And those tales may not be wrong!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Isaac Martinez

    We have a staff was not a staff but a sword, a sword that was not a sword but a prayer.

    Why can’t we have a letter that is not a lie, a knife or a bet, but is a lie, a knife and a bet?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nah…he’s going to have military-style memoirs, like Ulysses S Grant. And like Grant, they will probably be continental best-sellers.

      By the way, on a totally unrelated note, does anybody know how long orcs live? Assuming they’re not killed, anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

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