Interlude: Concourse IV

“A victor has a hundred friends, every last born yesterday.”
– Helikean saying

Abigail of Summerholm – still a general, despite her best efforts – had finally figured it out. As the Gods despised her for reasons known only to them, her attempts at mild incompetence had instead been reward with successes that’d earned her a reputation as a ‘tactical prodigy’. Her continued protests that she was not such thing were being taken as humility instead of desperation, to the extend that Marshal Juniper had commended her for being ‘grounded’ and ‘not letting acclaim go to her head’. Abigail had never seen anything half so horrifying in her life as the Hellhound attempting an approving look, and she’d had goblin stew. Which was made by goblins and not of goblins, as she really wished someone had told her before she’d eaten a bowl out of fear of offending a whole swarm of sappers. Ah, but it’d been naïve of her to assume that simply trying to pass on her responsibilities to literally anyone else would be enough to see her demoted back to a set of responsibilities less gallows-adjacent. Indeed, from the towering heights of her fresh understanding she now grasped how guileless and green that manner of thinking had been. But she’d learned, oh yes she had. They were going to sweep her under the rug quietly, maybe even enlarge her retirement pension so she kept her mouth shut for the rest of her life, which as far as she was concerned was the ideal state of affairs. Of course, her most cunning plans still hinged on the Deadhand not getting them all killed before Morning Bell.

Which was, unfortunately, looking less likely by the moment.

“Six hundred, at least,” the Adjutant calmly said. “Personal armsmen of the Blood, by the looks of their equipment.”

The tall, broad-shouldered villain spoke in that way orcs often learned to after they’d been out of the Steppes for a few years: slower than they would in Kharsum, and careful to avoid being too loud. You could tell how long they’d been out of the homeland by the way they talked, since those fresh out of the Clans hadn’t usually yet figured out that a big orc speaking loud and harshly in a hard-to-understand accent tended to make humans a mite twitchy. Hakram Deadhand struck Abigail as the kind of person who went around spending a lot of time thinking about what other people thought before acting all cold and measured. She’d known folks like that more than once, they were the traders who’d done the best under the Praesi at Summerholm. Those who’d not choked on pride when it came to getting trade permits from the easterners, who’d not balked at serving legionaries and greasing the palms of Wasteland scribes. They usually weren’t nice people but they did tend to be able to afford nice meals, which in Abigail’s humble opinion was a lot more useful a trait.

“The Tartessos and Malaga captains were hard in a scrap,” General Abigail replied. “And they’re not even the people known for having heavy foot.”

Please, Lord Deadhand, she silently prayed, do not ask my two cohorts to take that damned hill. Four hundred legionaries, even veterans, trying to dislodge those armsmen would be like swinging a trout at a wall: amusing, except for the trout. She’d seen those bastards in Sarcella taking a run at sapper-dug positions and still make a dent, since they refused to die even when shot repeatedly and didn’t seem to have a single self-preserving bone in their bodies. It was always worse when one of their nobles was around, too, it put an unnecessary amount of additional steel to their already-steely countenance in the face of danger.

“That would be the Alava warriors, whose colours are also flying,” the Adjutant said. “I receive your point, general. An assault before reinforcements are had would be difficult.”

Huh. She’d not expected that to work. Did praying to people actually change things? She’d heard that there was talk about making the odd offering to the Crows these days, which she didn’t entirely disapprove of. The Gods Above asked for a lot, birds were probably much easier to bribe as far as deities went. Alms took hard coin, but you could get dead rats from any poorly-kept cellar.

“Haven’t been told why we set out either, sir,” Abigail said. “Er, lord? My lord?”

“Adjutant will do,” the ivory-fanged villain told her.

Ugh, he’d even done the fucking grin just like Krolem did. Someone really needed to have a sit down with all these orcs and explain to them that some big muscled bastard displaying enough sharp teeth to fill the mouths of at least three jackals wasn’t ever going to be taken as reassuring by anyone with any sense. At least the goblins were aware they were horrifying as all Hells when they did it.

“We are to serve as the escort for Her Majesty’s return to Creation,” the Adjutant said.

Abigail was well-learned in the ways of the Army of Callow, by now, so she didn’t need to have it spelled out for her. Of course it’d gotten worse, it always did it this bloody outfit.

“It’s on that hill isn’t,” she whined. “With all the warriors on it.”

And any moment now the Dominion was going to be reinforced by a battalion of demons, or a legion of angels, and still the Deadhand would say: take me that hill, General Abigail, or no general’s pension for you. And that was the thing, wasn’t it? Abigail had come too far to retire without the pension now, she refused to attend that many bloody strategic briefings and not make it out of this damned war set for life.

“Your intuition is as acute as rumoured,” Deadhand said.

The Summerholm girl didn’t squint at the villain, because that was a good way to get your eyes eaten, but she did wonder how long it’d taken the orc to perfect a tone of voice that so perfectly straddled the line between serene and sardonic.

“Thank you,” she said, cleared her throat. “Sir lord Adjutant.”

“As for why you in particular are serving as commanding officer for the cohorts instead of a commander or even a legate, it’s simple enough,” the one-handed orc gravelled. “You’re one of the few people Catherine has ever personally promoted. I was curious.”

Abigail looked up at the sky, casting out her despair for any god willing to hear her. How much would it cost, for people to stop getting ‘curious’ about her? She was willing to resume attending sermons, if that was what it took. Or offer, like, three dead rabbits to the Crows. She could probably get a few of those from goblins if she found a gaggle around a campfire and put up bottles to trade.

“I’m flattered,” she lied.

She was going to have to implement that plan faster than she’d earlier intended, the general thought. Gods forgive her, she might even have to accept that dinner invitation Grandmaster Brandon Talbot had sent her. Rumour was he extended that to every rising Callowan officer, but she’d thought to avoid the whole thing like the plague by claiming that a goblin had eaten the invitation. It would have held up, they ate basically anything if they got hungry enough or were dared to. Now, though, she’d have to use a nice public dinner with important people to say something horribly, absurdly racist somewhere too many high officers were seated for it to be ignored. She was still debating on what to say, that was the issue. She wasn’t going to start mouthing off about greenskins – not when she had so many of them close to her and bearing sharp things – and going after Wastelanders tended to earn retribution. Taghreb officers watched each other’s backs, and if there was a single Soninke in this damned army that couldn’t do magic or didn’t have a friend who could she’d yet to run into them.

No, it’d have to be about real foreigners. She’d been mulling over arguing that ‘all Procerans should be eaten, especially the children’. If she said that in front of enough people it’d have to be bad enough she was encouraged to retire, right?

“And now Rozala Malanza graces us with her presence,” Hakram Deadhand said. “This is going to get interesting.”

It was hard to make out much in the darkness, especially at a distance, but the Procerans were hard to miss: they’d brought their own torches, and not few. Even after the Tyrant of Helike had tumbled them down form Arcadia it looked like the princes had been able to put together a contingent of horse. Abigail had a hard time guessing numbers, given the swiftness they rode with and the movement of the torches, but there had to be at least two hundred riders there. Trailing behind at a slower pace, men-at-arms whose strength was easier to gauge were approaching in a column. Easily five hundred there, Abigail saw with dismay. This was about to turn into a bloody godsdamned mess, wasn’t it? The Dominion had six hundred foot, but it also had the hill and some of those hard warrior-priests who’d melted the Princekiller’s own plate over him. Princess Malanza of Wherever and Whatnot had that light Proceran horse and some decent fighting men for a sum of seven hundred but Abigail suspected charging up a hill at Levantine armsmen wasn’t likely to end well for Malanza, horse or not.

And then there was them, approaching with two cohorts of two hundred. One of regulars, veterans from Arcadia and the Doom, and the other a lighter force: sappers, mages, crossbowmen. The weakest force of the three, if you didn’t count that Hakram fucking Deadhand was part of it. She’d seen the orc Named thrown like a trebuchet stone at Akua’s Folly and walk it off before assaulting a rebel bastion near single-handed. The Adjutant could turn it into a fight, if not a very pleasant one.

“Our reinforcements might get there in time,” General Abigail tried.

And they might, pretty please, bring with them someone high up enough in rank this would no longer be her problem. The low hill the Dominion had taken and would allegedly be the Black Queen’s stepping stone back into Creation was roughly between the camps of Levant, Procer and Callow but the dark-haired woman would bet on the Army of Callow’s muster over anyone else’s without batting an eye. No one else drilled battle-muster save for the Legions, so if this got out of hand their own legionaries should get here quicker than either the Levantines or the Procerans. Of course, there were a lot more of those around so that’d only go so far.

“Unlikely,” the Adjutant said, eyes moving across the darkness.

He could see where she could not, Abigail knew.

“We’re mobilizing faster,” he acknowledged, “but they began earlier. This is the vanguard for all of us, and it’ll have to be by our hands it’s settled: by the time reinforcements are on the field Catherine will have returned and it will be over.”

Please don’t order me to take that hill, Lord Deadhand sir, Abigail desperately thought.

“I suppose we’ll have to take that hill,” the orc mused, and she whimpered a little inside.

He cast at her an almost knowing look before offering the barest flash of fang.

“Not alone, though,” the Adjutant said. “See the banner riding towards us? Rozala Malanza seeks audience.”

Princess Rozala rode her destrier hard, intent on snatching this disaster out of Below’s ruinous grasp before they all ended up paying for it.

Whatever it was the Blood had been up to in their closed council, in the wake of its end they’d not bothered to even acknowledge the presence of the messengers she kept sending to their camp. They’d gathered entire war parties of their finest warriors, sent for the Lanterns and marched out for the hill where Rozala’s mages said enough power was currently coalescing to burn a town to the ground. The Black Queen’s return must be imminent, her people had concluded, and its location was beyond dispute. Which meant the way the Levantines had made for it without missing a beat unlikely to be a coincidence. The riders she’d sent after the Dominion forces with orders to try anything short of baring blades to get an audience with the lords and ladies had been turned away roughly, though at least not in utter silence: they’d been informed that this was a sacred matter, and concerning only the Blood. No interference would be brooked. Heart clenching, Princess Rozala had sent forward the soldiers she’d been able to muster up until then and left Louis to assemble the second wave.

The Callowans weren’t blind, of course, so they’d sent out a force as well. Just two cohorts from the Third Army, but that force’s general had something of a reputation: the Levantines spoke of her with a measure of respect for the way she’d held on to the city of Sarcella even when taken by surprise and outnumbered. This General Abigail was also said to have slaughtered like lambs almost a quarter of the Levantine mages during the first assault on the southern palisade, which was no small thing. Rozala Malanza’s ancestors had fought binders often and known them to be dangerous foes when moved to war. Still, even led by a superb field tactician four hundred legionaries were not a major force. Not so great as the one fielded by Levant, at least, or even the hasty party the Princess of Aequitan had put together and led forth. Or so she had fought, until she’d seen the Black Queen’s own banner flying above the cohorts: silver on black, a balance bearing a sword and a crown. That the sword weighed heavier said much of the woman who’d taken that heraldry as her own, and how it was she’d come to be Queen in Callow – of Callow, Rozala corrected herself. Best not make that mistake around Foundling herself, her temper was well-known.

That the Sword and Crown flew could simply be sign that it was expected the Black Queen would return under it. Or it could mean that the Adjutant was with the cohorts, and that’d complicate things. In truth, it could be said that Hakram Deadhand was the least dangerous of Catherine Foundling’s woeful company. He lacked the terrifying great sorceries of the Hierophant, the Archer’s talent for sudden and surprising killing strokes and even the Thief’s rumoured endowment to steal anything from a fleet or river barges to some fae princess’ sorcery. The Adjutant was a lesser figure in the stories that’d made it across the mountains, as the nature of his Damnation would imply. Yet there was one thing all tales agreed on – of all the Woe, none were so implacably loyal to the Black Queen as her Adjutant. The others, Rozala felt confident she might have swayed into holding their hand. The Archer was drunken sot, for all her lethality, the Hierophant had read through then entire peace talks after the Battle of the Camps and the Thief had been cautious even before she’d been rumoured to have lost her power. The Adjutant, though? Be reputation, he was temperate and even-handed sort. Those, in Rozala’s experience, always tended to make the worst fanatics.

Few things were as troublesome as an otherwise reasonable man believing an unreasonable thing.

Escort riding close around her even as the rest of her vanguard advanced on the hill where the Levantines had taken position, the dark-haired princess veered hard to the side when she saw the Black Queen’s banner split from the rest of the legionaries. An escort of ten, the very same number she rode with, made for her direction at a sedate pace while the rest of the cohorts continued marching on the hill. Wary of too sudden an approach being taken as a charge, Rozala reduced the pace of her mount and shouted for her soldiers to do the same. Within moments they were in sight of the enemy envoys, and even before she drew her up reins and halted the Princess of Aequitan was silently cursing. There was no mistaken the burnt and darkened plate on the tall orc for anything else: the Adjutant was there, along with a young woman bearing the marks of a general and a retinue of Callowan regulars. The dark-eyed Arlesite would have called it a risk taken, bringing but a matching number of legionaries when she rode to them with horse, but knew better. The orc was Damned, and not fresh to his legend: he could likely kill them all without coming to breathe heavier for it.

“Hail, Lord Adjutant,” Princess Rozala called out in Lower Miezan.

“Your Grace,” the Adjutant replied in the same.

She flicked her eyes to the side, taking in the sight of the woman who was most likely this General Abigail of the Third Army. Black hair, tanned cheeks, watery blue eyes. More tavern girl than warrior-queen, and what was it with Callow and spawning all those wee dangerous women?

“I present you General Abigail of Summerholm, in command of the Third Army,” the Deadhand said. “You may have heard of her.”

“So I have,” Rozala replied. “Well met, general. Your deeds in Sarcella drew attention.”

“That was all Her Majesty,” the black-haired woman replied almost hurriedly. “Truly, I have done nothing worth remembering.”

Humble, the Arlesite princess wondered, or trying to remain obscure so that she would take her enemies by surprise in wars to come? Either way, she was one to watch out for.

“It appears, Princess Rozala, that the Dominion has seen fit to obstruct the return of my queen,” the Adjutant gravelled in that unsettlingly deep voice. “This seems to me a violation of the truce that was struck.”

“I am sure they merely mean to serve as an honour guard,” Rozala lied. “Though, of course, that honour should be shared between all of us. Indeed, I brought soldiers with me for this very purpose.”

The orc’s hairless brow narrowed.

“A threefold honour guard is your intention?” he asked.

“Of course,” the Princess of Aequitan said. “Is it not yours? Surely the Army of Callow would not seek to break the truce your very queen arranged.”

The Damned let out a noise that was either amused or contemptuous, Rozala knew too little of his kind to tell.

“I’ve no intention of sharing the honour,” Hakram Deadhand calmly said. “We’ll be clearing out the Dominion by force of arms.”

General Abigail let out a mocking bark of laughter, though her voice made it sound like strangely terrified trill.

“There is no need for such a thing,” Princess Rozala insisted. “I can accompany you to treat with the Blood and this can all be achieved without breaking truce.”

The orc studied her for a long moment, and then slowly bared his fearsome great fangs.

“The First Prince ordered you to keep Catherine alive and amenable,” the Adjutant serenely said. “You’d have tried threats otherwise. Well now, that’s a fascinating turn. How far are you allowed to go to assure that?”

“You assume much,” Rozala flatly replied.

“I suppose it doesn’t matter,” the orc said, snorting. “Send your people in a flanking position for the hill, on the eastern side. We’ll take the other flank. You and I can speak with those Levant lordlings from a position of strength.”

“You overestimate your position,” the Princess of Aequitan said, tone glacial.

Hakram Deadhand studied her, then laughed.

“No,” he said. “I don’t. Glad to have you on our side, Princess Rozala. I’ve great esteem for your campaigning in Cleves.”

And just like that, he turned and began to walk again. Though anger boiled in her stomach, the Princess of Aequitan found she had no means to deal it out. What could she do, strike out at the Black Queen’s own aide or let him lead his cohorts into a fight that could not be won? She’d been ordered to avoid provoking Catherine Foundling, and letting the Adjutant die would be very much the opposite of that. The Princess of Aequitan found that General Abigail was looking at her still, a strange expression on the Callowan’s face. She reached for something within her armour and Rozala tensed, half-expecting a knife, but instead it was a dull bronze flask. The general tossed it to her and patted her horse’s neck with what seemed to be genuine sympathy.

“I’d tell you it gets better,” General Abigail said, “but it would be a lie.”

133 thoughts on “Interlude: Concourse IV

    1. Jonnnney

      No I ain’t voting again until the Author stops twidling their thumbs and gets Catherine back into creation. This has been the wordiest nonaction series of chapters in the whole damn serial.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Argentorum

        I think I agree with that. Catherine needed to show up with the Pilgrim like, a chapter ago. Or *this* chapter at the very least.

        If we didn’t know she brought him back to life, this sort of dramatic tension would be appreciated. But we already know that he’s going to be there to make the Levantines eat Crow (ha!) so it’s just a bunch of…things happening because of stuff.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Dan

          I mean, all of the other interludes have been about how canny operators maneuver around Cat’s plans and how the gods are setting up the chess board.

          I kind of like the reversal on this one, where all of the powers that normally control the story are laying their plans and thinking they’re clever and subtle and all that, not realizing they’re about to be screwed by a wrench Cat tossed into the gears of the divine plan CHAPTERS ago. It’s sort of a measuring stick on Cat’s character development, she’s gone from barely holding on by the skin of her fingertips while the world Named her and otherwise told her how badass and in control she was… to legitimately being able to break the narrative itself in a way that the setting’s literal laws of physics themselves can’t deal with.

          Admittedly in terms of physical things happening it’s obviously just getting all the people into place that need to be together for the drama to unspool more efficiently in the next real chapter, but thematically this is probably my favorite of the interludes so far.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Shveiran

            I agree it is a nice reversal, and I’m very glad we got it.
            On the other hand, I do think 4 interludes are a bit too long for this. I would have preferred we wrapped this up in maybe 3, and even that much only because this has been a wild ride ever since the battle begun.
            It is a welcome break, just… a bit long, for my tastes.

            Like

          1. DD

            People remarking negatively on the verbose handful of delaying interludes of late…I agree.

            But one should never disparage a look into the mind of ABIGAIL OF SUMMERHOLM…HERO OF THE IMPERI…I mean, OF CALLOW!

            Liked by 11 people

    1. amc

      oh yes. especially how everyone keeps mis-interpretting her.

      “General Abigail let out a mocking bark of laughter, though her voice made it sound like strangely terrified trill.”

      Liked by 1 person

  1. First update of the month, and so extra chapter’s up. As usual, it’s in the eponymous tab.
    This one is the first of the two-parter, titled Seed and set in the days before the Conquest. The POV is a younger Black’s.

    Liked by 15 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Here you go~
        I don’t know who made it, but they uploaded it to Catherine’s page on the Practical Guide to Evil wikia, credit to them.
        It’s pretty cool in my opinion; I wish there were more fan arts (I have seen only a couple others depicting Catherine).

        Liked by 4 people

      2. caoimhinh

        Alternatively, you can have this one.
        I edited the text because I’m sure the actual words of the House of Foundling are ‘Justifications matter only to the just’, not ‘Justification only matters to the just’, but they are pretty much the same (I also edited a bit the Us and Os, because those two letters looked weird to me in that text format).

        Liked by 3 people

        1. If you zoom in on the original, you’ll see it’s some weird-ass font with smileys in the O’s. Ptui! 😉

          Really, I’d rather see it done in a form that could plausibly be an actual banner, rather than that over-shiny metal. Yes, it’s supposed to be “silver on black”, but even metallic cloth doesn’t look like that! WP indicates that heraldic “silver” is commonly represented by pale gray or white (actual silver being prone to corrosion).

          Liked by 2 people

          1. caoimhinh

            Something like this or how?
            I wish someone with actual artistic talent (and true image edition programs, not just Window’s Paint like me) would pick it up and make a good fan art with it.
            Imagine a legionary holding up the standard, would be really cool, but that’s beyond the scope of my skills to draw/edit. (T_T)

            Liked by 6 people

              1. caoimhinh

                Putting black wings on a black background is hellishly annoying, let me tell you, even with different shades of black and by using grey-white borders to highlight the contrast.

                That legionnaire must be a real artist if he actually painted double wings on each side, and made them visible and recognizable.
                Check this out, what do you think?

                Liked by 2 people

  2. Abigail is awesome.

    Fucking idiot Levantines. Assuming that they’re actually there for Tariq’s corpse as was part of their original plan, before the aborted honour duel, not talking is a terrible idea. Especially when everybody knows that’s where Cat is going to return to Creation.
    It’s like they’re asking for a misunderstanding and fight.
    Oh, shit. Bard is in play again, she could have thrown a wrench into the meeting of the Captains.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      Yes, Bard may be in play but I don’t think the meeting of the Captains has occurred yet. They (the four in the tent) agreed that getting the body was the first step.

      I agree that NOT communicating is a stupid move by the Levantines. I wonder what’s going through their heads that that seemed like a good approach?

      Liked by 7 people

      1. But I am also amazed that Adjutant completely refuses to talk to the Levantines. Seems unusual for him to do something so reckless and possibly harmful in the long run as breaking this truce by taking the hill.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Shveiran

          But he didn’t refuse to talk.
          He merely moved the Proceran host and his own into a flanking position before, to deal from a position of strength.
          It is not a praticualrly diplomatic approach, no, but it isn’t quite as dramatic.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Nairne .01

            On the contrary. It is the most diplomatic approach here.

            They don’t really have anything to offer the Levantines so they need leverage, i.e. an advantageous position to make the Levantines even want to speak with them.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. Shveiran

              It is a page from the early Book of Foundling Diplomacy.

              Namely, the one about cheap wine and a sword being brought to the table.

              It is not a strange approach, but it isn’t teh only way to do diplomacy and it isn’t how Cat wishes to do things now. Still, I guess one doesn’t come between Adjutant and his warlord and then act surprised he doesn’t take it well.

              What I can’t understand is what the Levantines are up to. Occupying the hill really feels like an overly provokative move for no sensible gain, as is.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. RoflCat

                I’m guessing it’s a mix of the same ol ‘we don’t deal with the Enemy’ and preparing for 2 situations that might happen.

                1. Cat bring back the body, but refuse to give it to them. Because it’s a bargaining chip, much in the same way the Pilgrim used Black’s to bargain with her. Then they want to be in stronger position to ‘negotiate’

                2. Cat did not bring back the body, leaving it in Twilight. In which case the Levantines will have to venture in there to recover it, and since they don’t know the changes that happened inside and only seen the snippets of the journey that should show the devils and such, they’ll go in expecting enemies waiting.

                Liked by 4 people

    2. > Abigail is awesome.

      SO TRUE. I’m not saying this is necessarily you, but to everyone who ships Robber and Abigail, a) SHAME ON YOU and b), what should be the ship name tho.

      > not talking is a terrible idea

      Very much agreed! My theory: I think any of the actual Blood would have enough political savvy to spot that as a fact, even those who are not exactly specced into diplomacy. At a guess, they told their captains “don’t bother us with anything that isn’t important” and their captains, having no diplomatic savvy to speak of, are venting their cultural biases by going “Proceran bitches leave” without properly understanding the foreseeable consequences of that. Could be wrong, but as dumb as the Levantine leadership has been in some respects I still give them enough credit to let them have the benefit of the doubt here.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          That is a poor read of Abigail. For all her frustration, she’s clearly giving a fuck and thinking things through. If she wasn’t thinking things through, she’d insult EVERYBODY at the party she’s considering committing political suicide at. Instead, she’s measuring out exactly what will get her in career trouble without getting her in REAL trouble.

          The problem is she’s making her natural talents apparent in all of this, and as a result nobody actually wants to get rid of her as they might with the sort of incompetent she doesn’t realize she isn’t.

          Liked by 10 people

          1. Yeah, I love her “well, I have to say something seriously racist, but all our races are folks I don’t want to piss off… foreigners, maybe?” And then comes around to a “modest proposal” that’s so out-there even the Praesi wouldn’t buy it.

            Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, tossing that flask to Rozala is likely to lead to unexpected dividends. Cat: “Congratulations on defusing another tricky situation!” Abigail: “Shoulda poisoned it. And maybe drank it myself.”

      Liked by 4 people

      1. maximillian999

        Wait, I know Caiaphas Cain as the Flashman takeoff set in WH40K, did they find some way of fitting him into the March To The Sea as well?

        Like

  3. Andrew Mitchell

    She reached for something within her armour and Rozala tensed, half-expecting a knife, but instead it was a dull bronze flask. The general tossed it to her and patted her horse’s neck with what seemed to be genuine sympathy.

    “I’d tell you it gets better,” General Abigail said, “but it would be a lie.”

    Abigail is a joy to behold.

    Liked by 13 people

          1. Okay but those would legit be *amazing* aspects.

            Deceive might even function as some sort of meta-aspect. We know that Named gain some degree of power/providence from their notoriety and legend, so an aspect which reinforces that would be an amazing power boost (albeit probably not a runaway loop).

            Delegate is one of the most genuinely excellent aspects I can image for a commander. Like, Black’s Lead is useful, but Delegate? Ohhhhhh, damn that would be an aspect. Can you imagine what you could do with supernatural intuition for what people are best suited for what task, who should be deployed against which enemies, and the ability to give some aspect juice to those you give authority to?

            And Despair would just be such an in-character finisher. Spreading Abigail’s own morbid fatalism and fears over the enemy to break their resolve would be perfect.

            Like

      1. MagnaMalusLupus

        Fuck that, she totally does. She wants that general’s pension Gods damn it, and she’ll do what she must to get it. She didn’t ask for the promotion, and now can’t figure out how to get out of it. The reluctant protagonist is the one of the first steps on the hero’s journey, after all.

        Liked by 11 people

  4. Raved Thrad

    “The Kingdom of Callow of the Wee Dangerous Women.” The way this story’s going, pretty soon each and every tavern wench in Callow will secretly be either Named or some secret warrior prodigy on the order of the Queen of Blades.

    And I can’t get how, no matter what Abigail does, everybody takes it as a sign of her secretly terrifying competence as a tactician and strategist.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. erebus42

      Not just Callow. Malicia was a waitress at an inn and Amadeus was a farm boy. Named (including Heroes, Villains, and all the in-between) can come from anywhere. I think that’s the part that scares Rozala shitless. Having been born to power, the idea that someone she could casually overlook could one day have the power to lay her low or bind her into service under them must truly be terrifying.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. IDKWhoitis

      They are used to Cat looking normal, even laughingly over her head, and she kicks their ass every time.

      So here comes this nobody, who providence and Cat have taken an interest to, so obviously there must be a deeper ploy or layer that isn’t innately obvious.

      And truth be told, Abby is more competent than she gives herself credit for, and has mostly stayed outside of politics and factionism to avoid attention and responsibilities. So therefore she is actually one of the better candidates, even if she didn’t particularly want it.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Shveiran

        She is doubtlessly competent, which is why Cat took an interest in her in Sarcella: her defense plan was improvised but also solid.

        The fact remain that her legend is owed to a lot of fortuitous happenstances – surviving the slaughter in Sarcella by not being there when the Lanterns attacked, requesting acavalry from Juniper hoping to be rejected as an excuse, than finding herself needing that very contingency after it was granted and passing for a mastermind – and that means she is really, really in over her head.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Ah, but she’s not commended for ‘surviving the slaughter in Sarcella’, she’s commended for her actions in holding it AFTER it happened and she found herself in charge. AKA a genuine achievement legitimately fully attributable to her. The ‘get the rioters drunk’ stratagem that had her catch Juniper’s and Cat’s eye is also most definitely her, since it seems very much her style: Abigail is strongly in favor of deescalation always, and that’s exactly what the wine did.

          Liked by 4 people

            1. Cat said as much, the response was “she got them so drunk they couldn’t fight”.

              As an aside, It’s occurred to me before that nobody in this setting waters their wine, which IRL was nearly universal before the modern age. (Herodotus had a comment to the effect of “the Egyptians drink their wine neat, that’s why they’re all crazy”. Of course, in our history, that was how Europeans made usually-contaminated water safe to drink; the Asian cultures went for tea instead, probably because a significant fraction of their population can’t process alcohol. In the Guideverse, they presumably have magic and miracles to purify water.

              Liked by 2 people

            2. It’s more dangerous, but less organized. As I understand Abigail managed a manner of presentation that defused the emotional tension and distracted people from the train of thought that would have led to rioting.

              Liked by 3 people

  5. erebus42

    It’s always heartwarming to see one royally fucked individual console another.

    Also I wonder if both Hakram and Cat know about Abigail and just keep her around because she’s still successful and because it’s amusing. Maybe they can see a story forming around her? It would be hilarious in an Anaxares-esque kind a way if she ends up with a name that ensures she’s stuck in her situation indefinitely.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      > Also I wonder if both Hakram and Cat know about Abigail and just keep her around because she’s still successful and because it’s amusing.

      I’ve taken this as a given, but I think the’re more to it than the two reasons you shared.

      Abigail doesn’t really want to be where she is, but she not only produces results by thinking for herself (remember the riots she averted), she also learns (remember Catherine was tutoring her). Plus having a general that’s actually from Callow will have gone down well with the native Callowans. And will be even more important once Cat abdicates and puts Vivienne on the throne.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. > It would be hilarious in an Anaxares-esque kind a way if she ends up with a name that ensures she’s stuck in her situation indefinitely.

      Yeah, poor Abigail… it’s not that she can’t catch a break, more like she can’t avoid them!

      Anaxeres’s Naming was surely manipulated by Kairos, trickster-fashion. If Abigail does get a name, it’ll surely be one of the Trickster types, probably the Bumbling subtype. I find myself wondering what the Wandering Bard would think of her.

      Also: Note that all three of the forces are there to receive one of their own. Two of them are expecting corpses, and one of those is about to get a big surprise. Happens it’s the force who are currently holding that hill….

      Liked by 1 person

      1. > If Abigail does get a name, it’ll surely be one of the Trickster types, probably the Bumbling subtype.

        The Bumbling General, but everybody else hears Brilliant whenever she tries to tell them.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I can buy a Trickster type Name for Abigail.

        However, I don’t buy a Bumbling X type Name.
        Remember, Names are, at least in part, about what other people see/think. Abigail might think she’s getting (un)lucky, but to almost everyone else, she is tricksy and cunning. And, let’s be honest here, when she does get (un)lucky it isn’t in an obvious fashion (ie, it’s not apparent to most observers that she’s making things up as she goes and getting lucky). Nor is it the slapstick/physical comedy we saw from the Bumbling Conjurer.
        Unlike the Bumbling Conjurer, who everybody knows just gets lucky and does so in a blatant and comedic fashion – and slapstick/physical comedy, at that, which isn’t what we see from Abigail.

        I could see Names along the lines of “Cunning X”, “Deceptive X”.
        Or, perhaps more likely, given that the story seems to be moving away from Names and Named, Abigail could just end up with an epitaph like “The Cunning”, “The Tricky”, etc.

        Liked by 3 people

  6. Soma

    A interlude from Abigail, now that’s a gift. I do so adore her tropes.

    If she got a name my guess would be something like General of Terror, and for the aspects I’d guess Fear, Flee, and Frenzy. The name being ironic of course, referring to her terror. Fear originating from her fear, flee from her desire to flee and frenzy for a desperate push so flight becomes yet again an option. It is unfortunate that such a configuration would ensure that Abigail would make the best sort of general for fighting behind enemy lines against hopeless odds, again and again and again.

    That said, I suspect with the way the story is going Abigail won’t get a name. She’ll wind up with something worse for her plans to shirk authority instead. Well that’s my BSing out of the way.

    Nice chapter!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. > She’ll wind up with something worse for her plans to shirk authority instead.

      A noble title, paving her road to becoming Queen Abigail!

      Hmm… It occurs to me that the prospective Liesse Accords are now well enough known that by now Providence might be actively avoiding giving a Name to anyone that they’re considering for a crown.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. > Providence might be actively avoiding giving a Name to anyone that they’re considering for a crown.

        I think Black’s gamesmanship with the principle is pretty strong evidence that Providence is a blind force rather than one that makes plans; it also seems pretty plainly tied to Heroes with the capital H. Catherine got a dose of it bc she had Heroes in her 5-man band, but otherwise that’s a straight nah fam. And as has been observed by many the Lycaonese have been demonstrating heroic tropes (most notably of the self-sacrificial variety) left and right; given the way the war has been going for them, I don’t think I would ever accuse them of benefiting from Providence.

        All of which is my somewhat long-winded way of saying I don’t think so, because I don’t think Providence actually considers/plans anything (or even can), or ever applies except to Named and only a specific subset at that.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. By Providence I’m referring to “the system”. It doesn’t need to be intelligent, but it does react to the stories that people are actually telling. And right now, what people are increasingly saying is that the most powerful living Villain is operating without a Name… and is pitching an entirely-plausible international agreement that Named folks shouldn’t be running countries.

          Like

          1. > By Providence I’m referring to “the system”.

            Mm, I see. That’s sort of confusing since in this setting AFAIK Providence is used as a very specific term d’art meaning the so-called “golden luck of heroes” that points them to where they need to be and hands them helpful coincidences. That can certainly be taken as a function of the system overall but equally certainly isn’t the totality of it so I’m uncomfortable with treating the terms as interchangeable.

            Also, while Creation (particularly the Name-related functions thereof) certainly can react to changes in the stories people tell, given that AFAIK Catherine hasn’t actually pitched any specifics of the Liesse Accords to anyone outside of her inner circle I’d hardly say that could be an element of any popular stories at the moment. For Creation to be taking that into account would require forecasting rather than reaction, which to me is something that implicitly requires intelligence/sapience of some kind; you can react unconsciously, but to forecast you have to be able to think ahead. Key word there being think, ofc.

            Liked by 2 people

  7. caoimhinh

    Ah, suspense, suspense. Doesn’t seem like the Interludes will end next chapter yet, probably will end in our Mandatory Friday Cliffhanger.

    Always fun to read Abigail’s POV and her complaints about Fate deciding that she must be successful and famous. Plus other people’s misunderstanding that she is an extremely cunning hidden badass scheming to hide her skills, that’s always hilarious.

    So every mage can feel the energy gathering in the hill where Cat and Tariq will appear, that’s interesting, I wonder why the Dominion’s Nobles decided to hold their gathering and vote there when they could simply do it in the center of their camp (the hill was stated to be somewhere in the middle of the three camps). It’s not as if they are holding some rites, they are going to give speeches and have the captains decide what option is the best.

    Typos found:
    down form Arcadia / down from Arcadia
    read through then entire peace talks / read through the entire peace talks

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      > I wonder why the Dominion’s Nobles decided to hold their gathering and vote there when they could simply do it in the center of their camp

      I don’t think the Levantine’s are here for the Captain’s assembly. I think they are here for to claim the Grey Pilgrim’s body. IIRC the four nobles in the tent agreed that they’d see to the body first and then have the Captain’s assembly.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. caoimhinh

        So they want to first bring back Pilgrim’s body and then hold their assembly…
        That would make a lot of sense, yep. Seems like a sensible plan, even. Given that the result of the assembly could possibly make them fall out of the Grand Alliance, they better be able to march out of there as fast as possible after the result.
        Thanks.

        I imagine Pilgrim will abstain of speaking during the assembly, given how he already gave up his “crown” and probably would want to see Levant’s current leaders taking a step forward in a more righteous decision-making progress.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Yeah. Though it’s a bit weird that the incoming gate is felt with such anticipation.

        Hakram is going there because he felt it with his Name that Catherine would come back there.
        I’m thinking it would make more sense if what the Proceran mages are feeling is the Levantine mages’ ritual to form a Gate, rather that it being a naturally formed gate (as the realm is already estable) or something summoned by Sve Noc as those gates form right away. But for Narrative force that place where they open the Gate is exactly the place where Catherine’s party appears through their own Gate. Because, you know, “coincidences”.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. AceOfSpade

    I have to say. When I read Abigaïl’s plan get into forced retirement I misread the thing she was going to say. So I’m going to bet that when she puts it into action she’ll misspeak or be misheard and accidentally spark waves of food donations for the poor hungry proceran children.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. zenanii

    “The First Prince ordered you to keep Catherine alive and amenable,” the Adjutant serenely said. “You’d have tried threats otherwise.”

    Guess Rosalia will have to re-evaluate the Adjuntant being “the least dangerous” of the woe.

    Liked by 5 people

            1. WHY ARE YOU GIVING SUGGESTIONS ON HOW THIS COULD HAPPEN

              OH GOD DO THE FAE LANDS HAVE FLYING ELEPHANTS AS WELL AS FLYING HORSES

              See, this is how we get exploding-goat MAD on Calernia. Then fast-forward 100 years. Civilization is destroyed. Survivors are few. All the inhabitants of the goat-blasted wasteland are mutated by the powerful goat radiation into terrible, tin-can-eating new forms. But war… war never changes.

              Cue Book VI: Fallout: New Callow.

              Liked by 4 people

  10. Ah, Hakram you truly are a prince among men.

    I doubt Abigail will ever get a Name but if she does I would hope for Reluctant General. Can’t wait for her to go to the party and turn out to be a stellar socialite while accidentally pacifying whatever radical nobles are left.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. > Can’t wait for her to go to the party and turn out to be a stellar socialite while accidentally pacifying whatever radical nobles are left.

      A mirror to Cat’s jug-and-sword diplomacy: “Abigail may be gauche, but she’s not terrifying like Catherine!”

      Liked by 3 people

      1. And she keeps trying to abdicate, but everyone in the Wasteland assumes it’s a fiendishly cunning Traitorous-type scheme and it actually prevents any of them from overthrowing her since they don’t want to act until they understand what she’s planning.

        Liked by 5 people

  11. “Humble, the Arlesite princess wondered, or trying to remain obscure so that she would take her enemies by surprise in wars to come? Either way, she was one to watch out for.”

    Foolish Abigail! Doth thou tryeth to deceive me?

    Liked by 5 people

  12. Enjou

    > Alms took hard coin, but you could get dead rats from any poorly-kept cellar.

    The true irony is that this pretty much describes the drow before Cat found them. Dying rats in a poorly-kept cellar. Truly it’s the traditional offering for Sve Noc.

    Liked by 4 people

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