Chapter 45: Long Prices

“Grudge is born of blood, carried by it and redressed through it. As they who came before me swore, I so swear: there will be no peace nor rest ‘til the Cradle is reclaimed.”
– First Oath of the People, taken by all in the Duchy of Daoine at age seven

I’d once had a conversation with Akua, after Indrani had hit the bottle hard enough during our ‘council’ that she’d ended up snoring on the table. We’d talked about him before, of course: the Dead King. The Hidden Horror, the Abomination, the last king of Sephirah – all that a hundred more titles, a treasure trove’s worth of grim honours accrued over the centuries. We’d all been spinning our schemes around the ancient thing in Keter since the invitation had first reached me in Callow, and no small amount of talk and ink had been spent over the thought of what he might intend. In a sudden moment of honesty, sharing a shoddy table with a woman I still sometimes remembered to hate, I’d admitted that the Dead King’s ambitions were opaque to me. Assuming he even had any. What could the immortal ruler of a near-untouchable realm truly desire from Creation? All the wants of a mortal ruler were in his hands already: wealth almost absurd, authority absolute, the adulation of the people he’d forged to worship him as their sole idol. What was there, in all the world, that the King of Death could not obtain with either a snap of his fingers or use of the patience in which he was peerless?

Companionship, Akua had eventually suggested, and perhaps there was some truth to that. When he’d spoken of the Bard it had been with an almost fond manner of respect, though they were foe in all things and more than once she had ruined him. Yet while I would not deny I’d had my moments of arrogance over the years, I would not seriously countenance that my potential apotheosis had been reason enough for him to stir the Crown of the Dead to war. Malicia’s invitation had been an open door but walking through it had been his own will and the purpose of that will escaped me still. Even if he ended up successful beyond a monster’s wildest dreams, even if he devoured the continent whole and brought forth a thousand years of darkness… then what? A fleet raised, and through ships the tide of undeath was to be taken across the Tyrian Sea? Or into Arcadia, perhaps, some other Hell or for true ambition to the Heavens themselves. It was difficult, I would admit, to truly think on the scale and scope of someone like the King of Death given the comparative speck of a life I’d lived. Yet I did not believe that the soft-spoken, patient monster I’d seen make of his own home a pyre for apotheosis would choose as his path endless war on all the world.

Akua had challenged me on that, surprised by my certainty. In some ways, she’d argued, the Dead King was the pinnacle of what being partisan of Below meant. For all that the Hidden Horror had slumbered beyond his borders sometimes for centuries at a time, that only one villain in the history of Calernia had ever been his better. May she never return. How else but war was the King of Death to subjugate the entire world? It’d been a stark reminder, that conversation, that the people who’d raised Akua Sahelian had seen conquering the world as an admirable thing to aspire to. Believed that it was natural to believe so, that all others did as well. Her peers, her highest servants, her kin: her entire little world had shared that madness. It must not have seemed like madness at all, I thought, when you were in the warm embrace of that world. How could it be, when everyone who mattered believed it reason as well? But Akua was still a Wastelander, a highborn, in ways she might never entirely shake. It blinded her to the truth that the Dead King’s victories had sprung from his rejection of everything the brood ever circling the Tower held dear. See, the thing with the kind of game that Neshamah was playing was that the opposition only needed to get lucky once – and they had forever to take yet another swing, praying for that golden day. And every time the Dead King went to war, Above got another shot at him.

An endless war, for Neshamah, was a long and elaborate suicide by odds.

Oh, we’d not peered at the heart of the Hidden Horror and unfurled its deepest secrets that night. We were, after all, both so young and taught to think in the terms of a war that rarely made it so far west. But it’d stayed with me, the thought that patience was not a skeleton key to the Dead King’s every trouble. He could retreat back into the Serenity when he misliked the cast of something, true enough, but that had costs – in champions broken, in secrets unearthed and tricks revealed. Much of that knowledge died with those who’d learned it, so soon gone, but the important bits – those that might one day destroy him? The Intercessor would hoard them, and them dole them out to heroes whenever opportunity arose. Patience allowed him to set the battlefield as he preferred, to stack it, but the battle still had to be fought. Why offer a hundred-year truce, if not because he misliked the shape of this particular battlefield? The paramount virtue of an existence like the Dead King had to be cowardice, in this world of ours, and that meant retreating immediately and without qualms the moment it seemed like there might be a genuine threat after him. That knowledge was no skeleton key either, though, for he remained the Hidden Horror. There were so few things that could be a threat to him, when it came down to it, and even in the dawn of days the Bard had named him adept at avoiding weakness.

The ability to take back a Revenant from the grips of the Dead King would be a strategic threat, but not an overwhelming one. Save if I was prepared to assemble my own army of dead Named to match his, which would taint my reputation beyond repair in my seat of power and antagonize near every possible ally, it was little different from losing one of his champions to the blade of a hero. Of course, I’d not simply petitioned Sve Noc to aid me in clawing back the free will of the Good King: we were doing it while the guiding will of the Hidden Horror was still inside. Now, I was no mage and my learning in such matters were still young. But I knew, from having raised corpses and bound them to my will as well, that the kind of fine control that I’d seen displayed here could not be done without investment. I couldn’t be sure what it would cost him, if we succeeding at trapping whatever part of him he’d disseminated into the Revenant, but that hardly mattered. The Dead King was, not to belabour the title, dead. He no longer healed, in body and soul. Every loss of him was a permanent loss. And so, as the might and attention of doom-crowned Sve Noc poured into the corpse of Edward Fairfax, I returned to a familiar place. Surrounded by the absolute pitch black of nothingness, I stood leaning on my staff and met the gaze of Neshamah in the… flesh, so to speak.

“I do not hold much respect for recklessness,” the Dead King said.

I replied nothing. The hourglass had been flipped, I thought, and it was not for me the sand was running out. Oh, there was no real guarantee that we’d succeed at trapping him. But even if we failed it would be at a cost, and greater to him than us. For all that the King of Death had made attrition his sharpest sword in some ways, it may yet be turned on him to cut just as deep.

“Still,” Neshamah said, “your use of it as a calculated measure continues to surprise.”

It would have been an empty gesture to look at anything other than him, for there was nothing else to look at, so I did not bother with the theatrics. I did not speak either, though. It was not me, who had come to bargain – though I had schemed the coming of this conversation, I would not deny.

“You will require guarantees as to the Hierophant’s life,” he said.

I inclined my head in agreement. I’d been worried, since the start, that there might be some things that not even the Pilgrim’s resurrection could take back. Or that his hand would be forced early to spend that aspect on some life I cared less for, preventing the use I needed for some lesser prize. Receiving assurances from the Dead King was preferable, for though he was no fae bound to his word he had to know that if he crossed me on this after making a promise I would never bargain with him again. Recklessness, he’d called this. Like in these struggles of ours there was meant to be a manner of cordiality, mayhaps not of fair play but at least of an… understanding that this was a game, a play, a sport to be had. Do not forget, the ache in my leg whispered. Do not forget. I bared my teeth in a feral smile at the King of Death, the savage pupil of savage teachers, and let that pretence die. We were no Proceran princes making courtly war, for there could be no such thing as a war courtly.

“Six months,” I said.

“Pardon?” the Dead King said.

“You armies will not advance a single step for six months,” I said. “This, and the release of the Hierophant. That’s my offer.”

“You overestimate the strength of your position,” Neshamah warned.

“You have,” I murmured, “taken my friend and now bargain with his life while scheming the death of others dear to me. You arranged the destruction of my armies, of near everyone I’ve ever cared for. But for my intervention, you would have buried Iserre in death and borrowed Hierophant’s hand for the deed.”

“You clutch the remains of what you once were, Black Queen,” the Hidden Horror said. “It does no favours to what you have since become.”

“It was never really personal to me, before,” I told him. “You were a foe, but in some ways an ally as well. In principle I thought it tragedy that others died to your invasions, but no one weeps for faces they never knew nor loved.”

“A taste,” the Dead King said, “of what is to come. They will be strangers, Catherine Foundling. One day, and sooner than you believe, they will all be strangers.”

“And if that day comes, I may yet become the horror you foretold,” I admitted. “But today, Dead King?”

I limped forward, into his space, with cold eyes.

“Today you are the thing that took my friend,” I hissed. “The thing that would have slaughtered the Woe and the Army of Callow without batting an eye. I ‘overestimate the strength of my position’, Merciless Gods.”

I struck at the nothingness we stood on with my staff, the sound ringing like a thunderclap.

“You think after this I’m not willing to try falling off the cliff together, Neshamah?” I said, tone sharp. “To gamble on which of us will find our wings on the way down? Look at my back, King of Death, and see what is writ there – when given the choice between risking ruin and kneeling, I’ve only ever replied one way.”

A moment passed.

“Has your tirade ended?” the Dead King calmly asked. “No purpose was served by it, save the thinning of my patience.”

“You have my terms,” I coldly said.  “Six months and the release of Hierophant.”

“That is no bargain,” he said.

“Aye,” I replied. “It’s a price. And if you know a single thing of my people, you’ll know ours are always long.”

“I’ve more than a single hostage in my possession, even if the Tyrant has once more turned,” the Dead King said.

“I knifed Black when we last spoke before ordering him to find his decency,” I said. “He’s since arranged the starvation of several hundred thousand innocents. Try again.”

“If you are to assemble your coalition against me, you will need a ruler for Praes,” he replied. “You cannot tolerate the continuation of Dead Empress Malicia’s reign, which leaves him your sole reputable candidate.”

My fingers clenched. It’d been too much to hope for that playing it off would work.

“Amadeus of the Green Stretch and Masego the Hierophant,” Neshamah said. “For assurances I will not take the life of either on this field, your crows will loosen their talons.”

I breathed out.

“No,” I said.

His eyes tightened the slightest bit, which on another man would have been frustration and surprise.

“Down we go, Dead King,” I said. “Gods help neither of us, the fickle pricks.”

“Assurances,” he said. “And three months.”

It meant he wouldn’t release Masego, that whatever purpose he was using my friend’s body for he would continue until the very last moment. But three months, Gods even just three months? It kept the Lycaonese in the war instead of letting them stumble down the slope into oblivion, and it was enough breathing room to turn this war from lost to losing.

“Night’s not over,” I said, matching golden eyes to mine.

“Once more, in this we agree,” the King of Death said. “Bargain agreed?”

“Bargain agreed,” I replied, and darkness broke.

The Sisters had not reached apotheosis gently, and their works were not gentle ones. Yet this was a matter of theft, of taking, and in such matters we were all well-learned. Sve Noc, discerning my thoughts as they formed, loosened their grip on the Revenant just enough that the wisp of spoke that’d been the Dead King’s will slipped away into nothingness. And along the footpath the Hidden Horror had used to withdraw, rapacious Night coursed down. Imperious and grasping, it devoured what bound the man who had once been the Good King Edward Fairfax to his subjugator in Keter. Komena, I knew as she deigned to brush her thoughts with mine, wanted to claim him in the Hidden Horror’s stead. To have a Fairfax flagbearer of her own, to spread the Tenets of Night wherever dusk was known. For where, among the realms of men, were more fertile grounds for her red-handed lessons than the war-torn fields of Callow? Andronike, ever cautious and calculating where her sister craved clash of arms, felt more inclined to snuff the Revenant out. Mastery over the tainted carried risks, she grasped, and brought opportunities for that most dangerous of foes who our war against was only beginning. Why chance it, when there was little need? I disagreed. With both of them I disagreed, and though it was not in the nature of prophets to argue with prophecy or of heralds to argue with the message born, that was not the lay of our ties. It was for my contentious nature most of all they had raised me to be First Under the Night.  And so when I spoke the Sisters listened, and our wills joined in miracle.

King Edward Fairfax, Seventh of His Name, breathed his first free breath since he’d died below the walls of Keter. That was the first of the two great workings I would unleash today.

“It has been,” the Good King said, “many years since I last tread the streets of sunny Liesse.”

Letting out a long breath, I opened the floodgates and Night begin to fill me. A rising tide of power, too much of it for me to able to shape or grasp with my own hands. In the sky above us all, deafening shrieking noises began to fill the air as hellgates were torn open one after another. This already half-ruined realm began to shudder at the roughness it was treated with, a sinking ship with yet another hole made in the hull every few moments.

“You appear to have incensed the Abomination, Queen Catherine,” King Edward said.

“I tried to strong-arm him into some fairly major concessions,” I admitted. “It appears he believes I am in need of an admonition.”

Night continued to pour into me, a tide rising, until the world around me turned into an oil painting: imprecise, as if smudged, but no less beautifully coloured for it.

“So it does,” the Revenant said. “I thank you now for the breaking of my chains, you who they name Black Queen, but I must wonder at the price of it. What dark patrons have sought my indebtment?”

“Nothing,” I said. “You owe not a single thing. Miracles are not bought and paid for, even those of the Night.”

“A gift,” King Edward said, sounding unconvinced.

“I have request to make of you,” I admitted. “Yet it would be meaningless if you did not agree of your own free will. And so there will be no talk of debt, to either myself or Sve Noc. On this all three of us agree.”

“Mercy gifted without strings, yet with purpose,” the Good King said.

He sounded, I thought, almost glad.

“I am a priestess,” I said. “But also a queen.”

And there were so very few things that a queen could afford to do with a single pure benign intent, in the end. Virtue alone did not win wars, or keep people fed through winter. In the distance, as if in an entirely different world, the Tyrant of Helike was still speaking. The devils around us and afar were boiling like a pot about to tip, stirred into a murderous frenzy by sorcerous means and now swelling in number with every passing moment. The Saint of Swords fought still, unbending and without pause, and though I could almost hear the Rogue Sorcerer’s panting breaths in my ear still spellfire spun out and devils died. Yet the battle around us, coming to us, seemed almost like a distant scene. I already knew that it was not out there victory or defeat would be found.

“Your petition, Queen Catherine,” the Revenant said. “I would hear it.”

Leaning tiredly on my staff, I raised up a palm and compressed everything I could of the Night in a ball. My will failed, though stubbornness made that defeat slower than it should have been. The forces I was trying to wield were simply too large. But where I faltered the will of the Sisters drew me up, and with their two grips – one deft and soft, Andronike the spinner of weaves, the other imperious and coarse, Komena the breaker of spears – an orb of pure Night formed above my open palm.

“Can you hear them?” I asked. “Our people, the echoes of them in this place. The indelible mark a terrible slaughter leaves long after it has ended.”

“Like songs woven of wails,” Edward Fairfax softly agreed.

“The foe who did this I slew and made my own,” I told him. “Though that end is a pittance, to the madness that was the Doom of Liesse. But there is an enemy that stands before us, using her works for ruinous purpose and waging war on all the world. That, too, is a scale to balance.”

His eyes flicked to the orb of Night.

“One last time,” he said, “into the breach.”

“It will kill you,” I warned. “There is little kindness in that power, and it was not meant for your hands.”

“I am long dead,” the Good King replied. “And kindness is not what I would have of this day.”

Edward Fairfax had no longer been young, when he was claimed, and I suspected even if he had been few would have called him handsome even then. But to the strong cast of his face there was a manner of regality, like it had been hewn from stone and taken the noblest properties of that make. Helmetless, his crown of white hair was the sole he wore and the sword in his hand was bare. Without a sheath to return to, for there was none at his hip, it would never be allowed to rest.

“The war never ends, Queen Catherine,” he told me, tone quiet. “The faces and the borders, the foes and the friends, they are but the shallowest measure of the thing. Not all tyrants reign from the Tower, and many who have hunted the wicked partook of wickedness in the hunt.”

I inclined my head.

“One should not confuse striking at evil and doing good,” I quoted.

“Lest good become the act of striking,” the Good King completed, tone approving. “You understand, then. That when your evil is no longer necessary, Black Queen, to linger would be to stray from the narrow path you have tread.”

My fingers clenched.

“I know,” I croaked out.

Dead fingers snatched the Night from my palm, clenching into a fist and letting the darkness sink into the flesh.

“Then rise, Callowans,” King Edward called, voice like thunder. “Rise once more, for we yet have debts unsettled and House Fairfax calls on you one last time.”

There was a heartbeat of silence, a stillness like death. And they answered, as they had for centuries, for even a grave made for a petty hurdle when it was a Fairfax calling you to war.

142 thoughts on “Chapter 45: Long Prices

    1. Gunslinger

      Honestly it’s amazing how much the quality of the writing improved with just a little more time. It’s a pity EE still needs to work a day job or we could have more of this.

      Liked by 16 people

    2. Jarthon

      Indeed, though that delay does mean that Small Slights has no link to Long Prices which will be quite annoying to any future readers. I do hope that gets fixed.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Flatsc

    Talk About leaving one with goosebumps.
    The amount of point ^ counterpoint going on here is making my head spin.
    AS always erraticerrata, I can’t Wait until the next chapter 🙂

    Liked by 14 people

    1. Lord Delakar

      Naw he’s just talking like a WHF (warhammer fantasy) Dwarf aka dawi. Dammaz Kron is the dwarven name for the book of grudges. An all around badass idea and fits well with Callow lore.

      As for the cry of Kazuk. I think it maybe a mistake on “Karaz a Karak Ankor” which is the dwarven version of Camolot.

      Or possibly “Khazukan Kazakit-ha!” Which is the dwarven version of “yo betta check yo self, before yo wreck yo self.” Ie dwarves are on the warpath and not even considering the idea of POW’s or hostages who only last long enough to be used as ammo in a grudge thrower. IE an Onager.

      Liked by 5 people

  2. Andrew Mitchell

    Woah, that was A M A Z I N G. ❤ ❤ ❤

    – It seems that King Edward really gets what Catherine is trying to do. So he's sacrificing himself to give Catherine the ability to win here. He WON'T be giving his crown for the making of the highway.
    – Is King Edward or not? He's breathing but his hand is still "dead".
    – The last two paragraphs put a smile on my face and tears of my eyes.
    – So much more information about the Dead King. He does not heal, so any wound is a permanent reduction of his capability.
    – I was surprised that there wasn't discussion about the details of the guarantees for Amadeus and Masego. It seems that there is a lot of wriggle room for the Dead King to leave something behind in them.
    – Minimum 100,000 undead wraiths from Liesse. Now that's going to change the tide of this battle and the next (with the new god Larat).
    – Three months should be enough to get an new alliance agreement hammered out and the Drow and other soldiers to the battle fronts. Especially with the new highway.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. nimelennar

      – Is King Edward or not? He’s breathing but his hand is still “dead”.

      It’s a revenant of King Edward. It’s not alive, as true resurrection is something that Below can’t achieve. Apparently, though, it’s close enough to “alive” that it needs to breathe.

      Liked by 8 people

    2. Dainpdf

      The deal will be enforced by Story and strife. The DK needs to be able to strike deals in situations like this, so he won’t throw that away so easily.

      And breaking his word, while not as bad as for Fae, is likely to have Narrative Consequences. Or, well, Cat is likely to make sure it does.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. I mean ‘soul never crossed over’ is also what happened with Catherine and Akua, didn’t make them any less undead. “Soul never crossed over” is kind of the definition of soul-ed undead, “soul was brought back” is full on resurrection and comes with the whole ‘the body is alive too’ package.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. IDKWhoitis

    I would point out, that “I do not hold much respect for recklessness,” is roughly the Dead King’s equilivant of saying “You little shit.”

    Cat just struck at the core of what he is, and probably did more in this one attempt than most Named have done in hundreds of Years.

    Liked by 25 people

    1. And also shows growth in going for the long Con instead of just injuring him here, she could have decided not to bargain and taken the immediate Victory of Wounding him here, but no, she gave him back his fragment of soul for the chance to complete her actual goals

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Actually Cat kind of traded a long-term gain for the living of Calernia, for a short-term gain for just her and her contemporaries.

        Though, the Lycaonese could have been in enough danger it’d be a long term problem too…

        Like

    1. The agreement means (re: Hierophant specifically) Dead King won’t just hand him over, but also won’t break his neck on the way out if they can give him the boot. So Archer/Pilgrim are both still free to act and very much needed.

      Liked by 8 people

    1. talenel

      It also feels like a sort of purification for Liesse. These Callowan souls were killed and put to unholy purpose by The Enemy. Now they may go to their rest having righted a wrong and fought for their Kingdom. Having reclaimed Liesse for the Kingdom.

      Liked by 14 people

  4. WuseMajor

    Honestly? If he actually WANTS her as a peer after this, I think he must be mad. I have to agree with Bard that “she’s the type who burns herself out” I just think she’ll manage to kick over the game board before she goes out. If she does end up falling though, and, say, ending up the immortal priest-queen, ruler of the Drow, and so on….the schemes she would weave to keep the Drow and the Hidden Horror from wreaking havoc would be mighty, twisted, and mighty twisted.

    I doubt she would ever quite lose that propensity to gamble everything on a single roll of the dice though. I mean, if she hasn’t by now, then that’s a part of her to stay.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Well that’s the thing… heroes get to survive brinksmanship way more than villains do!

        Which is Cat… are you sure? 😉

        Also:
        > I have to agree with Bard that “she’s the type who burns herself out”

        Except she’s done that three times so far. That’s not “burning the candle at both ends” anymore… that’s the everlovin’ Phoenix! (Even if it’s painted black 😉 .) The Phoenix is a powerful archetype in its own right, which specifically is known to travel from the heavens to the realms of the dead. And it represents immortality beyond even that of the gods…

        Liked by 3 people

          1. The Shining Prince wasn’t engaged in brinkmanship.
            That was sheer stupidity. Albeit possibly helped along by the Wandering Bard.
            If he’d (a) worn his helmet, and/or (b) been under a truce banner when issuing his challenge, things would have turned out differently.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Dainpdf

              Taking deadly risks. The only difference is he got no benefit if his risk taking didn’t get him killed.

              It’s still a lesson in “take risks and someone will exploit them” still applies even if Above is tipping the scales.

              Liked by 2 people

      1. I am actually sorry for DK here. Not only did he killed all his friends to become an immortal abomination, but because of that, he can’t make new ones 😦

        Not to mention that the only people he can even remotely consider to be friends are WB and his one true love, lately Triumphant.

        Liked by 3 people

  5. Dainpdf

    Is this the… second? Third? time that Cat twists the arm of some major figure since she came back.

    To get the Pilgrim to ally, to get the DK to give concessions, (implied) to get Black’s sould back from the Pilgrim…

    Oh, wait, there were also the two times she threatened Laurence’s life (to get Black’s body back, and to get Pilgrim’s crown).

    So fourth or fifth time?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. shveiran

      Admittedly, it is kind of her thing, these days.

      Considering in the beginning her thing was to wreck whatever stood in her path, I find this is a sharp turn toward the Good side of the “narrow path”.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. The Doomed rise again. 100,000 souls risen at the call of an equally dead Fairfax.

    Patience, Age and Experience vs Recklessness, Savagery and Cunning. A collection of Named taken by force vs a group of Named collected by trust and family. Revenants vs Woe. Dead King vs Black Queen.
    A dance surely to watch.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. IDKWhoitis

    I’m unclear if Catherine is going to use Ed’s Crown, but that may not have the necessary weight…
    He is dead afterall.

    I think Cat is almost certainly going to use her own, and let Viv fully take the Crown, but in doing so, may break her forming name of Black Queen…

    Unless Cat uses the Skein’s, but that would run into the same problem that using Ed’s Crown.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Caerulea

      I suspect Tariq’s crown will be used, given how she traded letting the Saint of Swords be for his crown, when the time comes (Chapter 40). In addition, the crown of a helping hand is probably better than a crown of gambles and long prices for the realm.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. Cat’s like: Surprise DK, you missed a big point, ’cause Eddie isn’t just another random crown: He was a former king over this city. And fondly remembered by most of the 100K people who recently died here….

      Skein still isn’t marked as a crown, and Cat is showing no signs of getting back on the Name bandwagon. AFAICT the last remaining known crown that could conceivably get involved is Hierarch, but he was last reported playing psi-screen from an undisclosed location (probably in creation), and surrounded by Atalante (sp?) priests.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. shveiran

        Yes… and no.

        She had a forming name then, and it meant “vassal sovereign under the Tower, playing the system for the sake of Callow and reforming it as a true piece of Praes – if under its Empress”.

        That name broke at Second Liesse. Cat will never ally with Malicia now, or at least never agree to be her enforcer / vassal. She cannot trust her to that extent.

        But Black Queen was a forming name. It doesn’t really have a shape, because it never really formed enough to come into existance.

        What Black Queen still is, is Cat’s lower case name.
        It is how the most important players of this era, whether Named or not, whether ALIVE or not, refer to her.
        And she is STILL the pivot of any major event that’s going down.

        She will never be THAT Black Queen. That path has been erased before it was completed.

        But names are shaped by culture, and major events shape both history and Story. Calernia and Callow both will walk new paths before this is over, and at the center of it all is still the Black Queen.
        Scheming, nudging and bludgeoning the continent into a shape she can live with.
        All that while being Nameless, and yet convinctiona nd will are at the core of what Names are.

        Am I the only one that fully believes Black Queen will BECOME a Name still? One with a different meaning than the one that was forming in Book 3?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          I don’t know if you’re the only one, probably not. But I’m willing to admit that what you’re suggesting is possible, I just don’t think it’s very likely. IMO there’s less than 10% chance. The main reason I’m assigning it such a low probability is the total lack of foreshadowing in the text. Given how sensitive Cat and the other villains and heroes are to forming names, I would expect one of them would have noticed and that we’d get a hint.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Oh, it will surely become a Name… for the future! Cat doesn’t get to tap into it as a Name, because it doesn’t exist yet. But some future ruler — presumably one of Cat’s successors — will turn to frantic creativity in the defense of the realm, achieve the name of Black Queen (or perhaps Black King), and discover that their opponents can also become resources….

            Likewise, Hakram couldn’t have been the first “hypercompetent orc assistant”. Black’s reforms probably put a lot of particularly competent orcs in such roles early on, and then lasted long enough for that to become a tradition.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. Daedelus' Muse

    “One should not confuse striking at evil and doing good,” “Lest good become the act of striking.” “Many who have hunted the wicked partook of wickedness in the hunt.”
    Hmm, is the Good King’s middle name Nietzsche? “He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

    Liked by 9 people

  9. Nice.
    And this, people, is why Callowans are the most spiteful of all.

    Laurence has definitely, and maybe Tariq (if to a lesser extent), have failed the charge that Edward and Cat talked about – blurring the lines of striking at evil and doing good. Laurence has completely lost track of the difference, but for Tariq the lines have gotten quite blurry.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Rook

      Catherine isn’t so different from Laurence in that sense, or at least she’s far more similar to the Laurence than she is to Tariq. She’s always been someone who strikes down rather than building up, while Tariq is more about preventing the need to strike down in the first place. Chemotherapy vs a vaccination.

      To her credit she’s always readily admitted it – both in the conversation with the Good King and previously when she described herself as someone who fights the monsters so that the real work can be done in her wake – but she’s always been a character that cuts out the cancer than one that heals the wound.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Cat *hasn’t* lost track of the difference between striking at evil and doing good. That’s a key part of her conversation with Edward. And part of why he agreed to help her and to summon the Callowan dead.

        Laurence has completely lost track of that difference.
        Tariq has not completely lost track (I think), but the lines differentiating between the two have been incredibly blurred for him.

        And both Laurence and Tariq have partaken of wickedness of their own in the hunt of the wicked of others.

        Liked by 5 people

          1. Have you forgotten about Laurence’s “plan” to burn down everything and get the Dead King to pull a Triumphant?

            Laurence has completely lost track of the difference between doing good and striking at evil.
            Admittedly, according to Tariq, striking at evil has been almost the only thing that she has done as a Hero. But she’s still lost track of the difference.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. Rook

              Have you forgotten that she isn’t following ‘her plan’, but instead Catherine’s plan on Tariq’s recommendation?

              Have you forgotten that the series would’ve ended at book 4 if the Saint hadn’t backed down in the face of Rozala’s decision to negotiate? End of book 4 chapter 17 if you want a refresher.

              If you want to claim that the Saint doesn’t understand the difference between striking at evil and doing good, then why has she repeatedly chosen to let others do good over striking at evil herself, when the chips are down? It’s certainly not because of any lack of faith that she’d win that fight in the end, considering that she outright states they can win when they were arguing about it.

              Laurence being able to back down even while disagreeing to that large of an extent, while furious, and while believing to the end that it’ll end badly, proves she that she not only understands the difference but she acts on that understanding better than 9/10 characters in the series.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Laurence has actually been learning from her experiences, while Cat has been proving herself to all the heroes. And for whatever reason(*), the Wandering Bard isn’t around to mess with her head.

                (*) Probably because at least Cat or Archer would chase her away posthaste, and they know how to do that now. Possible involvement with the “must flee what she desires” thing.

                Liked by 2 people

            2. Laurence’s plan was based on the idea that allying with Cat will not save Procer but only lead to further destruction because of course Cat wil betray them / because her narrative is that of revenge against Good. With that prior, trying to ally with her looks like a humiliating attempt to weasel out of only-too-deserved trouble.

              Liked by 1 person

            3. > Have you forgotten about Laurence’s “plan” to burn down everything and get the Dead King to pull a Triumphant?

              You know, I’ve been factoring that into my analysis of Laurence’s character pretty hard for a while now. But lately I’ve been getting more and more uneasy about relying on that, especially the longer that Bard is absent from view and that Saint appears (very relatively) willing to be “reasonable” by her unique definition of the word. It was heavily, heavily hinted at (to the point I consider it basically confirmed) in the chapter where the plan was laid out to Cordelia that Bard was involved. Specifically, extra chapter Fatalism III (https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2018/10/01/nihilism-iii/) had the passages:

              “Through the wood [door] she heard a spatter of female laughter and the sound of cup being dropped, [Cordelia’s] brow rising in response.”

              and

              ““Good evening, Your Highness,” the Saint of Swords nonchalantly call out.

              Her mind spun. She’d set out aiming to find out which of the Chosen had demanded the conclave, and already she had her answer. She absent-mindedly noted a handful of details in quick succession – there were two cups, not one, and one had been toppled. It’d spilled liquor all over the table. The other goblet was in the hands of the heroine, inclined at an angle that allowed her to recognize water within. They were alone in the room, the only other door behind the Saint, and the chandeliers casting light allowed moving shadows to be cast into the corners.”

              Those aren’t signs the First Prince would pick up on because she doesn’t have the background information necessary, but as a reader I consider it a lock that Bard was there.

              So. Is this really the Saint’s plan, as I initially believed? Or is it the Bard’s plan, and Saint agreed to serve as the mouthpiece when relaying it to the First Prince? If it is Saint’s plan then it’s easy enough to believe it really is that uncomplicated and brutal since “uncomplicated and brutal” is basically Saint’s meditational mantra. But if this is really the Bard’s play… well, it might easily still be just as brutal but uncomplicated isn’t a word I’d ever pick for Bard.

              In other words, if this is the Bard’s play then to assume we know the intent of this plan is to assume we know the Bard’s mind here. And the folly of reaching that assumption too easily has been writ before us in the fate of Sabah, among others. So. When Saint gave her horrifying little speech about letting it all burn because it’ll work out for the best in the end that way, was this the plan? Or was this just what Bard wanted the First Prince to hear?

              The second one, honestly, might be scarier.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. shveiran

                I believe you are right about Bard’s involvement, but I’m not sure it matters.
                The plan involved creating a divide that could not be reasonably crossed between Callow and the world, through religious grounds, to ensure total war.
                Whether or not Laurence was the architect or the mouthpiece, isn’t there evidence enough she was ON BOARD with those goals and ends?

                Liked by 3 people

                1. Well, that divide seems to be being crossed *right now* in the story so “could not be crossed” doesn’t seem to be accurate. The idea that the Conclave’s action would ensure total war was part of Laurence’s description to Cordelia; if the sincerity of her description is questionable and the accuracy of the prediction is being shown to be false in practice, is the fact that she described those as being her goals and ends to the First Prince as part of a plan designed by Bard actually sufficient evidence that Laurence is in reality on board with those goals and ends?

                  I don’t know! That’s the point I was trying to make; not that Laurence is 100% definitely not that crazy (maybe she is, it wouldn’t exactly be wildly inconsistent), but that I don’t feel safe in taking that chapter as a 100% indication that she actually is that crazy.

                  Also, let’s not forget that Saint has leveraged her Regicide-y reputation in Procer as part of a calculated bad-cop routine in concert with another, subtler hero before. Prior to the Battle of the Camps Tariq gave the assembled princes a nice “I’m a reasonable wise old man, I hope you will listen to my advice when the time comes” speech, left the tent, and then Laurence gave her trademark “THAT’S NICE BUT I’M FUCKING CRAZY SO DON’T FUCK UP OR IT’S REGICIDE TIME” speech before leaving the tent herself. Then we got a scene between Tariq and Laurence where they’re basically both going “we sold that routine to them pretty nicely, they should be primed to listen to the Grey Pilgrim now” to each other. So there’s precedent for her deliberately playing up the scariness of her reputation as part of a calculated plan rather than as a 100% sincere position of her own.

                  Liked by 2 people

        1. Rook

          I have to completely disagree about both Laurence and Tariq.

          Laurence knows full well what her role is and follows it. That’s why whenever she and Tariq butt heads about a big decision, she’s the one who backs down and follows his lead even though she has the bigger sword by far. It’s why she was willing to even concede to Rozala’s decision to negotiate at the end of the battle of camps, even though at the time she had no reason to believe Catherine was any different from the rest.

          Given a choice between letting other people do Good or striking at Evil anyway, the text SHOWS that she more often than not chooses to back down in favor of letting other people do Good. She followed those decisions even though she completely disagreed with them and 100% believed they would end badly.

          In fact the only groups she’s shown to be completely hostile to in the text are the Proceran Princes (who everyone is hostile to, even the other princes), literal hellspawn, and Villains, against which her attitude would be correct 99/100 times.

          The Saint is a massive dick to be sure, but in general she’s not ignorant or wholly unjustified. Being not likable doesn’t make someone evil, ignorant, or stupid. It just means they’re not likable.

          Tariq on the other hand, probably understands the difference better than anyone, even Cat and the Good King Fairfax. His entire character (and Mercy’s) revolves around committing a lesser evil for a greater good, even when he understands that it’s an evil and that the ends don’t justify or absolve the crimes of the means.

          If you accused him of being a large extent knowingly immoral I’d actually agree with you – there’s a good reason why pure utilitarianism is a stance most people only argue to play devil’s advocate – but you can’t accuse him of being ignorant about either the moral issues with his actions or the consequences.

          If you were to look at the classic trolley dillema, he’s not the character that would divert the trolley to kill one person and think his action is pardoned because he saved five people. He’s the character who’d admit that doing so makes him an irreconcilable murderer, but would do it anyway. Because he’s a hardliner whose values are all about the least suffering.

          Liked by 8 people

      2. werafdsaew

        The difference is that Laurence will never stop striking at Evil–even when there’s no worthy Evil to strike, and striking is not the best solution to the problem. Cat always planned on abdicating after she stabilizes Callow.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. shveiran

          Also, Laurence has been using her “I am a sword and a sword cuts so that’s my solution to all things Evil” approach for a long time.
          I don’t absolve Cat of her actions, but she IS young at this, and she HAS realized that approach doesn’t work long term, and she HAS been fighting against the tide to find more peaceful solutions. It is usually bullying through story-fu, but that is great progress over what, four years since becoming Named? Three?

          Liked by 2 people

  10. Alegio

    I just noticed how callowans would make great necromancers. The whole never leave a debt unpaid thing probably makes rising angry callowan spirits pretty damn easy.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Raivshard

      “We rode on the winds of the rising storm,

      We ran to the sounds of the thunder.

      We danced among the lightning bolts,

      and tore the world asunder.”

      So many great lines in that series.

      Liked by 3 people

  11. Amazing. I legitimately teared up and got chills.

    Whatever other outcomes lead from this moment, Cat was just judged and found worthy by her culture’s equivalent of King Arthur in a setting where the tale of King Arthur would literally give superpowers to anyone acting it out. Whether or not any of her companions ever see or know it, that’s going to have weight both narrative and emotional.

    Liked by 10 people

  12. Silverking

    The conversation between Catherine and King Fairfax is so bittersweet. On the one hand, Catherine is hearing something that she has been desperate to hear for a long time: that the “narrow path she has tread” has merit, that her desire to do right by Callow is not a flimsy pretense for the suffering she has both given and recieved. The Woe is has always been a bit…compromised for Cat to see them as objective observers, and Procer’s self-righteous condemnation wasn’t doing her any favors. But to hear at least one Good person whose opinion she values say that he’s proud of her…oh, that was so good to hear.

    On the other hand, I’m reminded of the original Fallout, with the Overseer’s speech at the end of the game. “You saved us, but you’ll kill us. I’m sorry. You’re a hero… and you have to leave.”

    Liked by 12 people

    1. Mhm.

      I don’t think he’s asking of her to die at the end, only to leave, and Catherine does already have dreams for what to do when she gets that, shared with Indrani.

      God, the moment of his approval is so powerful here though.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. shveiran

        I wonder, is that a difference?
        I really, really want an happy ending, but… Cat isn’t Indrani. She doesn’t need to die, no, but she needs to end her story, permanently. I wonder if she’d be able to without dying.
        To surrender the ability to step up for Callow if need be, to trust that peace will last, to renounce the possibility to ride to the rescue with the rising dawn (or the rising night, as the case may be).
        I think she understands it is a necessity, but I’m not sure she can ever bring herself to do that AND watch helplessly the nect catastrophe be born without her, or even worse leaving and wondering at all times. Callow is, in the end, the core of her being.

        Sad as it is, I fear she’d rather take her life.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Why can’t she become a wandering miracle worker whose always there are the right moment to prevent greater evils with the help of lessers? Why can’t she be a shadowy version of the grey pilgrim? He gets to live centuries guiding but she can’t? And considering that means she can weave in and out of a story, as long as she doesn’t take an apprentice or a liking to anyone in said story, and then hang out with her bae after she’s done… I’d say it’d be a pretty good happy ending.

          Particularly if she ends up as a semi-balance factor to the crow goddesses, always giving them perspective on how ‘greater evil’ usually means ‘you lose’, with only one exception thus far.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. The Grey pilgrim is as mortal as anyone else, he is likely in his late 60s or early 70s, living hundreds of years is not how Hero’s operate, not unless they are already immortal before being Named.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. lennymaster

            Pilgrim is old, but he is most definitly not older than a century. Remember, Heroes age. And Indrani is more of a friends with benefits, and that quite possibly only due to the fact that she and Masego never aknowledged their feelings for each other.

            Liked by 2 people

          3. shveiran

            I don’t KNOW that she doesn’t, but I SUSPECT she has so much weight behind her that she can’t NOT be the protagonist fo her own story.

            Pilgrim gets to do that because her story is built taht way, slow and steady. He’s teh fireplace you rest your weary feet beside.

            Cat’s is a supernova, but being the brightest star means you can’t stand in the background.

            Liked by 2 people

        2. I think Cat’s going to go for a Queen Under The Mountain story, rather than surrendering her right to help. She wants to be a guardian, not a ruler, and it’s specifically the ruling role that she needs to step down from at the end. And she already wants to.

          Cat’s evil is in ruling, not in protecting. Protect, I’m fairly certain she’s allowed to.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. shveiran

            There are a lot of traps with that.

            Protect from what, external threats?
            If she steps in to handle domestic ones, like an usurper or a rebellion, she is basically enforcing the current ruler’s right of domain OR deciding when a ruler is allowed to keep ruling.
            That is pretty much “rule through proxy”, because you get to select and remove kings.

            So let’s say just external threats, like a silent sentinel on the wall witha very cool cloak billowing in the wind.
            Cat repels bad procerans coming to conquer her land, Cat steps in and crushes her, cheers and beer for everyone.
            But what happens if there are reasons for that invasion? What happens if a Callowan ruler is doing something bad a la Aqua, or maybe invaded beforehand?
            Cat then becomes an asset in their arsenal as the monster gaurding their “lair” (aka kingdom) or makes a judgment call and steps aside. But if she gets to pick and choose, with the power she has, she is de facto still ruling: her decision has so much weight she is still the key factor no matter where the crown lies.

            There are too many nuanced complications for a “warden” role to be taken cleanly, especially with her single-handedly reforming the country.
            If she stays, she won’t be able to be neutral. She will rule in practice, if only because everyone will want to try and curry her favor and so she’ll have a say in anything that’s decided.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. I don’t think Cat’s going to do that.

              I think Cat’s going to stay away and come out ONLY when the threat is actually definitely dire.

              Maybe only when called on by heroes, that seems like a good heuristic.

              Liked by 1 person

  13. Kissaten

    Finally joining crusade to finish off Malicia? Who is there that is ‘she’ who wages war on all the world? And 3 month long truce on top of that to let Cat see that war to completion. There’s also Black in here, and Malicia did say that “Praes is no stranger to walking dead armies”, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Deviant Loader

    I’m surprised the Dead king, given how cautious person with no opening as he is, had actually given Cat such a typical opening to strike or strong arm him in the first place.

    I hope that in the story is not going down the path that made the capable characters start holding the idiot ball for just for some other characters to win though.

    Also, I interested to know, given how there’s talk of small gods being taken down by heroes.
    I am now curious if the Dead king himself also have a few demi gods in his possession or not, given his power.

    I’m also curious that given how common it is that the dead king controls his minions outside. Why didn’t some hero tried that stunt or sudden got inspired to do it on him yet like what cat did yet.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The Dead King doesn’t know Cat’s capabilities as First Under the Night.

      Remember, while he knows everything Masego knows (or so it should be assumed), Masego last saw Cat when she was still Sovereign of Moonless Nights.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. Deviant Loader

        For one, DK had a chat with Cat before showing that he knows about Cat having support from the goddesses.

        And so it seemed reckless to me that he even acted on the lack of information and put himself in harm’s way and anywhere close to Cat in the first place.
        That he knew had the support of the unknown power of goddesses. Which in itself seemed to defy his character.

        So as I said, it’s surprising for me that DK even had such an opening to begin with.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Neshamah was working with the Masego/Liesse plot before Cat came back and actually before she made the agreement with Sve Noc.

          His pieces were already in place and he was already in a weak position.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Andrew Mitchell

      I don’t think anyone’s holding the idiot ball yet. And I’ll be very surprised if EE ever does that.

      One of the reasons I love PGtE so much is the way EE frequently surprises me with unexpected plots and character developments which surprise me, and yet are entirely satisfying with the way they fit early into the ongoing story.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. DK ain’t holding any balls here, other than audience overhyping him. He misstepped and did not have full information to act on, that’s all. Cat’s debuting her new capabilities, and this round is hers fair and square. She probably won’t get another opening like this.

      Liked by 4 people

    4. werafdsaew

      Because controlling the undead isn’t something that the Heroes typically do? Cat is rare in that she’s using villainous powers for heroic ends.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. shveiran

        Not just that. The DK was outmaneuvered because Cat had Goddesses to call on when she started the Tug of Revenant War. He couldn’t see that coming, and was risking a loss.
        I don’t think it would have been a MAJOR loss, but it is one he could not recover froma dn so he is willing to concede a far greater advantage than its worth, to buy Cat off into not inflicting that loss. It is a good bargain for both of them, in the end.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Deviant Loader

          I felt that DK should already know that Cat had the power of goddesses to call on. He even had a chat with Cat about it.

          So I’m actually surprised DK even put himself in that reach to Cat to begin with, when knowing about this.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. In the recent chapter where he brought up the hundred year truce thing he commented that he wondered how she got the sisters to give her the army.

              And Cat was like ‘wait he doesnt KNOW???’

              Liked by 1 person

  15. Juniper: “Ok Cat let me get this straight. You formed a heroic band with the Tyrant, the Rogue Sorcerer, the Pilgrim, and the Saint of Swords and took a jaunt through not-Arcadia into the ruins of Liesse where the Dead King hijacked brainwashed Hierophant using his grief for his father. You then thwarted the Tyrant’s sudden but inevitable betrayal, then used him and the rest of your band to fight an army of hundreds if not thousands of demons just so that you could get close to an undead revenant of one of the greatest Callowan kings, steal his soul from the Dead King using Gods who I’m sure are the reason why I keep hearing cackling laughter int he back of my head, and had the king raise a bunch of undead Callowans to fight back the demon army, all while brokering a few months of a ceasefire with the Dead King?!”

    Cat: “More or less. Hakram pass me my pipe, it’s been a long day.”

    Vivian: *faints*

    Abigail: ‘Don’t make a sound. Maybe they won’t notice I’m still here and have me executed for knowing all this.’

    Liked by 16 people

  16. shveiran

    So good a chapter.

    The discussion with Edward gave me chills, and there was so much insight on how and why the Dead King thinks and acts…

    Priceless. EE has me more hooked with every single chapter, no matter how much I feel that the hype could not possibly grow more.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Raved Thrad

    Aragorn shaming dead oathbreakers into fighting for him has absolutely nothing on Dead King Edward calling on dead Callowans to rise from the grave and fight for hate and spite.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. SO FUCKING GOOD BOTH OF THEM

      I love the point where at the end he just takes the Night from Catherine. Like she was reluctant to give it to him because it’ll kill him (even if that’s her own plan) so he grills her for a bit and then just takes it.

      Badass ❤ ❤ ❤

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Oshi

      It’s not spite. It’s to even the scales. It’s fine line but Callow is all about balancing the scales at it’s best. Of course the scales always balance towards them when they are done but that’s fair right?

      Liked by 2 people

  18. Gamer7956

    This chapter gave some interesting insight into the Dead King… and I’m honest to say I’m also curious as to his motivations. As such I went and reread the epilogue of book 3 – where the dead king decided to march (I believe). Note what happens in the chapter just before it – the Hierarch accused the Wandering Bard of a crime, and declared that should the heavens intervene they would be put to trial (and implied this also applied to Below). The Wandering Bard was then dispelled – mid conversation.
    This raises questions. What made the DK’s gem glow? Could it be a dispelling of the Bard not by a physical assault but an assault on her role – that comes from the madness that is the Hierarch? How often do the madmen that shake the very foundations of creation come about? Triumphant being the last is very believable…
    We know for a fact that the Tyrant wants to put the Gods on trial and have them found guilty – what if that isn’t dissimilar to the DK’s goal. What more could the Dead King want than freedom? And how else would he get it than by removing providence entirely?
    Of course, I’m likely WAY off the mark, this is the Guide we’re talking about. But I think it bears… well… thinking about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      For quite some time I’ve been saying that the Bard’s role is to keep the game going on behalf of Above and Below.

      Your new theory fits desire that neatly. And if it’s true then the Dead King and Catherine have more in common than I thought. Catherine wants to break the game and improve the lives of everyone across Calernia.

      Like

    2. As far as DK’s gem, I suspect that was much simpler: “Hey boss, someone important showed up in Keter looking for a treaty”. Or, possibly “one of Triumphant’s successors has triggered the hotline I left with her”.

      Liked by 3 people

  19. aran

    > “You appear to have incensed the Abomination, Queen Catherine,” King Edward said.

    I’m a bit confused here – did Catherine break the bargain by freeing Edward anyway, or did she only agree to let Neshamah safely escape the revenant? (And if the former, why did she bother bargaining?)

    Like

  20. aran

    > In the distance, as if in an entirely different world, the Tyrant of Helike was still speaking.

    Man, when this guy monologues, he fucking MONOLOGUES.

    Like

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