Chapter 59: Review

“To repudiate what lies at the heart of Praes – ambition, skill, learning – would be a mistake, yet to allow those traits to be principle rather than tool has been the mother of a great many dooms. The greatness of olden days must be put to modern purpose or see itself turn irrelevant to the lay of Creation.”
– Extract from ‘The Death of the Age of Wonders’, a treatise by Dread Empress Malicia

Afternoon soon drifted into evening, and it seemed for a moment as if I’d found the Laure beat of affairs once more: too many things to do and so little time to do them. The herbal brew Hakram had made me took the edge off the pain just enough that if I remained still while seated it didn’t throb too badly, so I took full advantage of the relief when seeing to the many duties that’d piled up while I slumbered. Still, I did not regret having a physical need to sleep once more even if it ate away at the hours I could work. It was a pleasurable sensation, sleeping, but also one I’d found grounding in some ways. It was easier to make mistakes when your thoughts ran uninterrupted for days and nights, like a hound chasing its own tail. Sleep was a wedge in between it, a way for thoughts to cool and distance to come down. I’d need another night’s sleep, I decided, before speaking of the Accords with my father again. I’d not made nearly as good an argument for the banning of ruling Named as I could have now that I’d had time to better gather my thoughts – no one touched by a Choir, for example, should be allowed anywhere near a throne – but I would not resume the back and forth without rest and preparation. Besides, we’d both have demands on out time for days to come.

Marshal Grem and the Legions-in-Exile had been parted from him for months, simply getting the bare bones reports about months of campaign in order would take at least a day. And he’d have more waiting, especially now that scrying worked properly again. No, Black would have busy days ahead and myself even more so. By the time I’d come down from the barrow-top there was a mixed honour guard of legionaries and Firstborn, dzulu from the Brezlej and Soln sigils, waiting for me along with Adjutant.  A full line of veterans from the First Legion, Marshal Grem’s personal command, was waiting for Black slightly to their side. I offered them a respectful nod and got the same in return. Legio I Invicta had fought like lions in the Red Flower Vales, I’d been told, facing down a charge of Lycaone heavy horse the White Knight himself had led. I would not forget anytime soon that the Legions-in-Exile were the same who’d fought in the defence of Callow. For those that’d remained holed up in Praes while the wolves howled at my gates I had no great fondness, but these? They’d bled for my home, even though once upon a time they had also conquered it.

I claimed a comfortable seat in the First Army’s war council tent, hiding under the broad table how carefully I had to manage my leg, and as Hakram stood by my side I sunk my teeth in the day’s first work. Casualty reports began it all on a high note. The Army of Callow and its sister-legions from Praes had taken negligible losses in last night’s battle, and though Ivah came bearing the drow losses in Rumena’s name it revealed the losses there had been relatively light as well. Less than two thousand dead, and though the Levantines had found a surprising amount of success while killing Mighty – my Lord of Silent Steps mentioned that the warriors of Tartessos in particular had made an impression – most those killed had not been sigil-holders or even rylleh but lesser Mighty. The Dominion has pulled out some sort of enchanted or blessed lantern that’d interfered with the Night, and the least of the Mighty had been struck hardest by it. Both the League and the Alliance would have gotten significantly worse off from last night, which was a damned wasted of soldiery on the eve of war to the north but also a boon to my own diplomatic position. The situation of our supplies was a great deal less promising, unfortunately.

The Hellhound had arranged baggage and foodstuffs for a long campaign, as she’d originally believed it might be necessary for the army to seize the principality of Arans to hold it against the Dead King’s advance, and the Southern Expedition of the Empire Ever Dark had been dragging around the supplies I’d bargained for with the dwarves throughout its Iserran fighting. We were not, by any measure, in danger of running out of food or necessities soon. But the Army of Callow had been campaigning for months now, and probably would have suffered from a steady trickle of desertions were it not the middle of winter in hostile foreign lands. Professional soldiers or not, my legionaries needed rest and recovery before going into another fight. That would be difficult to arrange in Procer, I suspected, and while the details of the use of the Twilight Ways remained unknown to me I doubted they’d be much more efficient at moving troops than the Arcadian paths. That meant bringing my soldiers back to Callow would take them out of the war for at least the better part of a year. I couldn’t do that. Victory or defeat against Keter might very well be decided by then.

The issues with the Firstborn were more complicated in nature, and I ignored the irritated look on Juniper’s face – and the fascinated one on Hakram’s – while Ivah expanded on them in Crepuscular. One sigil-holder, the Mighty Zoitsa, and two rylleh from other sigils had been slain in the fighting. The former Zoitsa Sigil would have begun tearing itself apart over succession had General Rumena not personally intervened and broken all the limbs of the two most prominent rylleh aiming to claim the sigil. The other two casualties had prompted power struggles as well, as the complicated weave of alignments and enmities that made up the upper levels of a stable sigil was upset by the removal of two high-placed killers. Those had, for now, been kept under control by the own sigil-holders. But my decree that drow could not have killing duels while we were on campaign was being tested sorely by the situation, and the strain was showing. Rumena had politely suggested that I come adjudicate the matters myself, which was enough to tell me it was serious. It was almost never polite to me if it could help it, and its command of the southern expedition gave it the right to settle such disputes without my involvement in principle. If my presence was being sought, then it meant neither the respect nor the fear General Rumena commanded had been enough to settle the situation.

“I’ll come after dusk,” I said. “Unless the general believes the situation is so dire as to require my immediate intervention?”

Ivah bowed low.

“It is not so, Losara Queen,” it said. “The general has remarked that containment will be more… arduous after the coming of Night, but under pale light all will be brought to order.”

In other words, Rumena was willing to run roughshod over the squabblers while the sun was out but would have to get pretty hard-handed to keep it all under control after Mighty started slinging Night around. Fair enough. For all that it had been appointed general and commander of the southern expedition by divine mandate, Rumena remained very much a first among equal: there were limits to the orders it could give without having to spill blood to see them enforced. Ivah left, and I marked the whole situation as a cauldron I’d need to see settled before it tipped over and burned everybody else. And Hells, this was just a single sigil-holder and a pair of rylleh. How bad would it get when we started taking real losses? Another method needed to be put into place, one that didn’t end up with Mighty turning on each other violently whenever one of them died.

“What did the drow want?” Juniper asked.

“They’re having some internal disputes,” I grunted. “It’ll be taken care of.”

The orc eyed me carefully, then accurately guessed that if I believed she needed to know more about that then she would. The conversation moved on to the debate on whether or not the old Legion tradition of ale rations being broken out after a victory should be indulged with so many other armies camped around us. I argued in favour, for not even the League would be foolish enough to think an evening of drinking would be enough to save it if it resumed hostilities now, but Juniper dug in her heels at it being an unnecessary risk regardless of the improvement to morale. A compromise over shifts that’d allow at least half the army to be on war footing at any time was being put together when Vivienne joined us, a little over an hour before sundown. Wearing a practical cloak and dress over boots and trousers, the heiress-designate to the throne of Callow strode in looking pink-cheeked and well-rested. We dismissed the general staff, after that, and she settled at the high table by Hakram’s side when he finally took a seat instead of standing by my side like some grim green gargoyle.

“Indrani?” I asked.

“Wandered off after we ate,” Vivienne replied. “You know how restless she gets after a long sleep.”

From closer up than the former thief suspected, yes, though usually having slept together beforehand made her slightly more mellow about it. Knowing Indrani she’d be having a look at the League positions or feeling out the half-there paths into the Twilight Ways. In the overwhelming majority of situations she was more likely to be the danger encountered than the one encountering danger, so I wasn’t all that worried about her safety. She’d drift back in to check on Masego before too long anyway.

“She’ll turn up,” Juniper gravelled, unmoved. “Damn hard woman, the Archer.”

Coming from the Hellhound, that was high praise. I fished out my dragonbone pipe and stuffed it, calling on the slightest touch of Night as I passed my palm above the bowl. I breathed in lightly before looking up, finding the other three gazing at me expectantly. A heartbeat passed.

“I’ve only got the one pipe on me,” I said. “And I’m not sharing, folks.”

Irritation for Juniper, resignation for Vivienne and some sort of rueful amusement for Hakram.

“Yours talks with Lord Black,” Marshal Juniper said. “How did they go?”

My brow rose and I glanced at Hakram.

“Everyone knows,” Adjutant admitted. “Even putting the matter under seal would have changed nothing. Word began to spread before you were even all the way up the barrow.”

Merciless Gods. No one who made jests about gossiping fishwives had ever served a term in an army.

“The Exile Legions haven’t withdrawn or begun to muster, so it can’t have gone too badly,” Vivienne noted.

The Jacks were still hard at work, it was heartening to see.

“I have his backing for the Liesse Accords,” I said. “He’s not committing to a stance on the Tower until he knows more of what’s happening in the Wasteland.”

I caught a look between Juniper and Vivienne, which had me suppressing a spike of irritation. From these two in particular, the impression that things were being hidden from me would remain ill-received for some time.

“The Observatory works again, though essentially crippled in capacity,” Vivienne volunteered. “Fadila Mbafeno repaired what she could, though she maintains that without Hierophant’s personally attention it is a fantasy to attain full functions.”

“But our scrying web is back,” I flatly said. “What have you learned?”

“General Sacker moved east on the Blessed Isle,” Juniper said. “Our man in Summerholm – Legate Asadel – requested that she evict the Praesi refugees before taking up positions on the shore.”

Which, considering that we were feeding General Sacker’s legion out of Callowan granaries, was a request that’d carry a great deal of weight.

“Legate Asadel,” I slowly repeated.

“Fifteenth,” Juniper said. “Taghreb, originally one of General Hune’s at the War College. He’s loyal, Catherine. No reason to doubt that.”

There was always a reason to doubt that, I thought, though if you did not learn where to draw the line such worries could only drive you mad.

“I take it the refugees declined to follow the orders,” I said.

“They also called on Governess Abreha’s protection, which was granted,” the orc continued. “Household troops were sent to discourage Sacker, but she picked out their positions and broken them in night raids. Then she set the refugee camps on fire and ordered shot any who fled west instead of east.”

I let out a hissing breath.

“Shit,” I said. “Tell me the announcement was enough, Juniper. Tell me one of our own fucking legates didn’t have a role in the slaughter of terrified civilians.”

“One caravan was butchered,” the Marshal of Callow said. “Two hundred dead, we think. Children were spared. It was enough to get everyone else running.”

I closed my eyes. Breathed in, breathed out. Why was it that the moment I took my eyes off anywhere it all went to shit? No, I thought, that wasn’t fair. If Legate Asadel was a contemporary of Hune’s and so the rest of is back at the College, then he was no older than twenty-five. His rank was high, for one his age, and while part of that might have been talent it was also undeniably because we were running out of College-taught officers and most the veterans of the old legions we had left had loyalties too complex to be entrusted dangerous postings. I could not put men and women still green around the edges and then become furious when they made mistakes.

“Recall Legate Asadel,” I said, opening my eyes. “Move him to a garrison where he can’t do any damage and replace him with someone more seasoned.”

“No one in Praes will raise a ruckus of the civilians, Catherine,” Juniper said. “By going into Callow they were abandoning Tower law.”

I saw Vivienne wince from the corner of my eye.

“Aye,” I said. “That’s true. And also the finest argument I’ve heard for Black’s old dream of putting every highborn in the Wasteland to the sword. Recall Asadel, Juniper. That’s an order.”

She nodded.

“That won’t be all,” I said. “Get on with it.”

“Governess Abreha deemed the attack on her household troops to be treason, given her Tower-granted rank,” Juniper said. “General Sacker replied that she was following orders from the Black Knight, supreme commander of the Legions of Terror, and so therefore it was Abreha’s own interference with her operations that was treason. She lodged an official protest with the Tower.”

“The Empress won’t knife High Lady Abreha in the back so soon,” Hakram said. “Not to Sacker, of all people, who has ties to the Matrons and remains a close associate of the Carrion Lord. Malicia might need Abreha either dead or disgraced, but if she throws her under the wheels now then she might as well abdicate to the Black Knight.”

If a general’s mere claim to be working at Black’s behest when he was on the other side of the continent was enough to make the Dread Empress back down, then Adjutant was absolutely correct: she’d have effectively stated herself to be less influential than one of her own right hand’s servants, and so by Wasteland standards she’d be meat on the plate. On the other hand, could she really afford to throw to the side the Legions-in-Exile? Given that she’d lost Foramen to the Confederation of the Grey Eyries and her coastlands were a bloody wound, I’d argue not.

“The Empress is considering the petition,” Juniper said. “But has yet to act on it. General Sacker seized the western shore of the Wasiliti and dug in. It’s been a standoff with Governess Abreha ever since.”

I grimaced.

“We need to find out who General Sacker answers to,” I said. “It best be Black, because if it’s the Matrons we have trouble on our hands.”

The fledgling goblin nation south of the Hungering Sands could only benefit from enmity between Praes and Callow deepening, since history had made it clear that the Tribes could only fail if they attempted to stand against the Dread Empire on their own. An embittered Callow, on the other hand, would have a vested interested in keeping the Confederation standing as a thorn in the Wasteland’s side. And considering my kingdom had largely adopted the war doctrines introduced by the Reforms, we’d keep needing goblin steel and munitions only they could produce. They’d have good we wanted, and we’d share a common enemy – alliances had been built on less. Unfortunately for the Matrons, they were planning their schemes blind. They had no real idea of what went on this far west, and they would not be aware of anything related to the Accords. They were fighting last century’s war, not this one, playing a game of Good Queens and Dread Empresses when that was the very manner of existence I want to strike a match over. If they were brought into the talks, I suspected they’d sign. If nothing else, the clause establishing that a signatory nation attacked by a non-signatory one could call on the aid of all other signatories would get them interested. Either as a deterrent for a non-signatory Praes, or because Praes had signed and they could not afford to be on the other side of that rule.

Yet they were blind, at the moment, at a lot of damage could be done by an assembly of vicious old goblins matrons pursuing what they saw as their own interests.

“Vivienne,” I finally said. “Anything to add?”

She bit her lip.

“There are rumours,” she said, “that Malicia is calling near every highborn in Praes to the Tower.”

My brow rose.

“Why?” I asked.

“I don’t believe anyone knows aside from her,” Vivienne admitted. “The usual rumours are there – the edict making it treason to claim the Name of Chancellor is to be ended, she seeks another Black Knight or a spouse – but there’s nothing certain. Whatever she’s planning, though there’s a lot of expectation.”

“Given the recent string of disasters, such a great assembly of highborn would either see her deposed or her reign secured for many years by a great victory,” Hakram opined. “She’s rolling the dice on her reign.”

Malicia doesn’t roll dice, I thought. She only ever plays when she believes she’ll win for sure. Sometimes she was disastrously wrong about that, as she had been at Second Liesse, but no one was without blind spots and I suspected in some ways Black was hers.  This, though? This was Wasteland politics and she’d danced around these well-dressed killers without missing a step for decades. If she was acting now it was because she had something in the works that’d secure her hold on Praes. She would not expose herself to the wolves of the Imperial Court for anything less, in my eyes. I breathed out.

“Send an official messenger to the Carrion Lord, then,” I drily said. “Requesting a sharing of intelligence concerning Praes tomorrow. Odds are he’ll know more than us.”

Vivienne nodded, I noted, instead of Juniper. Interesting, that the Hellhound would recognize her as the higher authority in diplomatic matters even when those matters involved Black and the Legions. It was the implicit mark of a respect I’d been well aware did not exist when I left for the Everdark.

“We need to determine where the army’s headed,” Juniper bluntly said. “We’re wearing thing, Catherine. Your return and a win did wonders for morale, but it’s been a long winter and we fought through most of it. Even if it’s up north we’re headed, I want winter quarters raised and a rotation of leave for soldiers. The edge will grow ragged otherwise.”

“I can’t give you an answer to that before the diplomacy’s been worked through, Juniper,” I replied just as bluntly. “And for that I need to sit with the Pilgrim, and likely Arnaud Brogloise – if not the First Prince herself through scrying link.”

Whatever the Hellhound would have answered to that I was not fated to know, for before she could speak the Advisor Kivule was introduced. My eyes moved in surprise to Akua’s veiled silhouette even as she entered the tent and bowed.

“The Hierophant is awake, Your Majesty,” the shade said.

I rose to my feet, ignoring the throb of pain from my leg.

“Meeting adjourned,” I said, and they all knew better than to gainsay me on that.

82 thoughts on “Chapter 59: Review

    1. Sparsebeard

      I think they’d want them both to sign, considering that the accord are mostly about restraining the power of named and nations.

      I mean, agreeing not to use angels, other weapons of mass destruction and restraining their named methods only makes sense if the opposition also agrees.

      If no evil nations sign, there is no point to the accords…

      Liked by 8 people

      1. It’s not a matter of just getting evil nations to sign, it’s legitimizing a goblin nation in the first place. Heisenbach already had a drastic time just calling Catherine Queen of Callow instead of Queen in Callow. What kind of legal, moral, and religious rigmarole would they have to go through to even see goblins as a sapient species that are not automatically classified as monsters?

        Or maybe my Innverse is bleeding into my thoughts here idk

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Queen in Callow vs Queen of Callow is a matter of legitimacy of a Crusade against her. Cordelia has no justification attacking a Queen of Callow, while a Queen in Callow leaves her with room to claim she is totally restoring Callow’s rightful government. Meanwhile a goblin nation explicitly weakens Praes, although it does also lend the east and additional seat in the council. Still, anti-greenskin racism is not a popular look in Good nations (see: Dorian, and see: Rozala’s surprise that horses are in fact afraid of orcs).

          Alignment with the matrons or against them is a matter of realpolitik, and right now I think nobody will have motivation enough to gainsay Catherine on this.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Shveiran

            We saw that greenskin racism is not the standard everywhere, but I think It mostly steems from the fact that racism is mostly enmity spawned by sharing a border with Praes, the Eyres or the Steppes for a long time.
            Callowans are greenskin-racist, and though it doesn’t seem most Procerans and Free City folks are, I think that might not be the case for the Dominion?

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Darkening

              Going by that one Deoraithe character we saw a perspective of with the Lone Swordsman, even the Deoraithe see them as more worthy opponents than subhumans. So it’s mostly just Callow proper. I imagine there’s plenty of individuals around in the rest of the world that dislike orcs/goblins, but I expect it’s not to the same personal extent.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s mostly just William/Lone Swordsman who saw greenskins as subhuman monsters.
                The other Callowans we’ve seen tended to harbor inherited dislike, hate, and/or fear of greenskins, but not to the extent that Willy did. And even that often got muted by actual sustained day to day interactions.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Shveiran

                  I don’t disagree, but I think there is a wide margin between “not quite Willy” and “not racist”.
                  Being afraid, disliking and hating a culture because it’s that culture is pretty much the textbook definition of prejudice, isn’t it?

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. There’s a difference.
                    For most Callowans, they have an inherited grudge, dislike, fear, and hatred related to greenskins because of all the times it’s been greenskins invading Callow in the old (pre-Amadean Reforms) Legions of Terror.
                    Now, while that’s easily enough called racist, there’s a difference in degree to the point that it’s effectively a difference in kind as well, between the standard Callowan position and Willy’s position.
                    And, for that matter … the standard Callowan position isn’t entirely unjustifiable, again, going back to all those times greenskins were in the van of invading Praesi hordes.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Shveiran

                      As I said, there is a difference between William’s views and the average Callowan’s. A meaningful one, even, like you argued.
                      But the world is not divided between Williams and Non-racist-people, and thus I’d argue that being uncomfortable with William’s view does not mean one is not also south of the “non-racist” line.

                      Personally, I’m uncomfortable defining as “justifiable-adjacent” any attitude that judges people in light of the category the fit in, rather than judging on their own merit.
                      I don’t mean to be a pain nor to take it out on you: I’m just arguing the point because, where I live, in the current times, it’s common for people to justify hate crimes with “I was angry because one of their kind had molested my friend a week ago”.
                      It is understadable for Callowans to have a prejudice against greenskins; it is an understandable instinct.
                      To allow that instinct to guide one’s actions is not, however, justified.

                      Much like is not one’s fault for feeling jealousy, but it very much is for them to beat their spouse out of jealousy, it’s understandable for a Callowan to feel suspicious of a greenskin, but the right thing for them to do is still to look beyond the fangs and judge the individuals on their own merits.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. You’re right. There’s a difference between “they’re not subhuman monsters” and not necessarily being racist.

                      On the other hand, we’ve also seen that the inherited grudge and prejudices that is typical for Callowans to have regarding greenskins has tended to go away or at least be substantially muted after they have actual sustained interactions.
                      This is in large part due to Black’s policies with the Legions being seen as protecting average Callowans against the Praesi High Lord Governors during the Occupation, and the actions of greenskins in the 15th, the fight against Akua, and more recently, fighting the Proceran invaders. Hakram doing most of Cat’s work and being in charge of the recovery and refugee efforts has helped too.
                      There’s also a (sometimes reluctant) recognition of the fact that it was Praesi High Lords, Dread Emperors/Empresses, and Black Knights in charge, and the greenskins were expendable sword fodder, not the people in charge (except when the clans were independently raiding the Deoraithe).

                      Liked by 1 person

        2. Sparsebeard

          If anyone is considered as monsters on Calernia the closest would probably be ratmen or even to some degree drows before Cat’s foray into the Gloom.

          I don’t think we’ve seen anyone dismiss goblins as a people… In fact, despite oppression and rebellions, they where part of Preas for a long time (pretty much a nation within a nation).

          We are pretty far from having bounties paid to adventurers for goblin ears…

          Liked by 4 people

      2. The Goblins would be all over that because 1) they officially have no Names, 2) they of course use no weapons of mad destruction, and 3) have no angels.

        That goblin fire Matt be made by demons is true, but how would you go in and prove it?

        The goblins have everything to gain and nothing to lose by signing, and getting everyone else to sign.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. Not made by.
          Goblin munitions allegedly use “powdered devil” as an ingredient. Akua implies that goblinfire most likely employs powdered demon or demon juices as an ingredient (or otherwise employs demons or demon components as an ingredient).

          I think goblin munition and goblinfire production is likely going to slide through a loophole in the Accords, probably on purpose.
          From what we know about the Accords, summoning extraplanar entities such as Angels, Devils, and Demons, is not okay as a direct weapon/attack, but Angels and Devils are okay within certain bounds, IIRC, the phrase was something along the lines of “angels and devils can be summoned to provide advice”. Ie, remember after second Summerholm, Warlock summoned a devil for a bloodline ritual – that kind of thing would still be okay.

          Liked by 9 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      Her unseemly demise could potentially follow, because that is a ripe moment for her Aspect to fail or weaken. If Malica is struggling to hold on to power, I would think the psychological stress could be enough to thin her Name’s power. Just as Viv’s did. Also, I would think there’s a non-zero chance that Highborn in Praes (at least the really powerful ones) would gain some sort of resistance or know some spell to lessen the effects of Emperor-tier named. Otherwise, Dread Emperors would be unbeatable…

      I find it likely that Malica may be forced to either: (potentially multiple of the following)
      1.) Accept a Chancellor
      2.) Disavow Amadeus
      3.) Massacre as many Highborn as she can before a Civil war starts
      4.) Summon a demon or activate a ritual array
      5.) Enact some degree of reforms (either rolling back previous ones or instituting favorable ones for the Highborn)
      5B.) Enact highly favorable reforms for the Clans, to secure her Northern border and cement her own seat of power.
      6.) Set a deadman’s switch on herself, that tie the fate of Praes to her staying alive and in power (which she arguably did with the Dead King pact, but she may tie in other horrifying insurance policies)

      Liked by 7 people

          1. Well, tbf, also all the consultants Hakram has brought onboard, which might be enough of a leak for Malicia to hear word of it.

            But there hasn’t been an official announcement or anything. Even if Malicia is planning with the Accords in mind, she’ll only be taking pre-preparatory steps now.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Shveiran

              I think Malicia’s network could have allowed her to suspect a lot (after all, to one such as her and knowing Catherine like she does, it is not too hard to put together something roughly accurate when you know a diplomatic document is being prepared.

              Then, I’d argue that the more she knows the LESS dangerous it seems. I mean, if not for the very unlikely developments of the last week, which Malicia doesn’t know about yet and certainly didn’t when she started recallling the highborn to the Tower… the Accords were a myth, a fantasy, a maybe someday.
              They are not the reason she is acting. Consolidation of power must be the objective, no “red wedding” the highborn to change allegiances here.

              Liked by 4 people

            2. Insanenoodlyguy

              To put this into that one theory I know you’d hate above all: (sry kinda sry? :P)
              She’s going to purge them all so that her transition to chancellor is relatively peaceful, what with her giving such a wonderful gift to the incoming new Emperor. And so she becomes the first ruler since irritant to step down voluntarily, and the first one period who stays that way with no intention of ever taking back the throne.

              It is her who crowns him “Dread Emperor Benevolent” as he walks in the door, because she’s not that saintly and so she uses the story to brand his name in a way she knows he’ll fucking hate.

              Liked by 5 people

              1. If only people dropped the fucking stupid name idea. I stg I wish I could participate in these convo without being distracted by the sheer fucking stupidity of that

                Like

                1. Insanenoodlyguy

                  Okay separate from the part you hate, is that kind of name branding impossible? If and (I’ll choose another name here) she started saying “all hail emperor butt face” and got everyone else saying it to, I feel like that could work as branding.

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. Insanenoodlyguy

                      Rule of funny. By trying to suppress it he ensures that it keeps coming up. “Don’t call me x” insures he keeps running into people who believe they are supposed to call him that.

                      Like

            3. Shikkarasu

              Let us not forget that Black, Malicia, and Akua regularly planted spies in the Fifteenth. Nothing is guaranteed to be secret, to the point that when people heard about the Dominion attacking at night the whole AoC did a doubletake. “You mean we’re fighting an enemy that -doesn’t- have a complete dossier of everything we can do?”

              Malicia could easily have gotten a copy of the rough draft that the Regals were reading two books ago, or just lifted a copy straight from the source with one of her own spies.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. The Regals weren’t reading a draft of the Accords. They were reading a (fake) draft copy of a plan to grant freehold land stakes to Legionaires and other in Southern Callow.

                Malicia cannot have gotten one of her spies to steal or make a copy of an earlier draft of the Accords, because the Accords had never previously been written down – in part to prevent exactly that from happening.

                Malicia may suspect that Cat was working on some major diplomatic accomplishment, but Malicia would at best have individual pieces that were blurry. She would not have anything like a complete picture of what Cat was working on, far less a full and detailed one.

                Liked by 3 people

      1. konstantinvoncarstein

        Other Emperors probably tried this on the past, and the highborns are not completely stupid. I am sure they will put contingency in place to ensure a bloody civil war if they are killed, so Malicia would have her hands full.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. On the other hand, Malicia has radically weakened their influence over her 40 years of rule, and even Akua did not realize how close the Empress’s hold on absolutely everything going on was. True, the military supermacy was Amadeus’s, but his certainity that Akua could not have possibly gotten her hands on components she needed without the Empress tacitly allowing it? That’s all her.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. konstantinvoncarstein

            Yes, her hold on Praes is very strong. But a slaughter of the majority of the highborns would provoke a general revolt in Praes, even from her supporters. And without them, she is Empress only in name. Andher foremost military commander is abroad.

            Liked by 5 people

                    1. Cordelia I’m borderline 100% you’re correct on. She started on her current course as a direct result of the Bard nudging Saint to push Cordelia, and I strongly suspect that Cordelia’s reaction was the actual point. In which: BAD THINGS.

                      Liked by 3 people

      1. Eh, I doubt it. Malicia knows full well that part of being Chancellor is betraying the Dread Emperor/Empress and taking the Tower over their corpse.

        Malicia is more likely to say she’s considering bringing it back, so as to induce the High Lords to murder each other, and then have the leading candidates removed.

        I half suspect that she’s going to bring the Dead King into play somehow.
        Or otherwise do something so stupid that Amadeus thinks he doesn’t have a choice but to end Alaya’s reign as Dread Empress by whatever means prove necessary.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Morgenstern

          Judging by her interludes, my impression was more that she was all about preparing over a looooong time for the exact moment where the Lords and Ladies will no longer have any defences against her. Remember the fall of that one High Lady in one of the interludes? She had “allied” with her for YEARS until the inevitable betrayal. The High Lady lost, because Malicia had been preparing for MUCH longer. The second the Highborn finally believed she needed them too much or was too weak – she struck. Thus, I’m leaning a little bit more to the side of “all those seemingly good-for-Highborn rumors” will come to naught and they’ll be caught by exactly that. Thinking her weak. While she isn’t. One of her interludes also said she was posting that one High Lady mentioned here that is now in conflict with Callow for exactly that reason – to get rid of her, as she was accumulating too much influence. While seemingly giving in to her. She was waiting and waiting all these years. She never said “no” to Maddie’s idea in general, she just said it wasn’t the time, far as I remember. That they first needed other institutions etc. If there is a right time for that – then it should be now, when they actually threaten her rule, perceiving her as weak at the moment, and she has had decades to prepare for that.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Shveiran

            You bring up good points, yet I’d argue that Malicia cannot afford to butcher them all right now. Getting rid of the high lords in time of peace to remake praes is great… doing it during a crusade, where she needs them to keep the empire from collapsing? Not as much.
            Praes is weak, right now. The Crusades is not steamrolling over it only because of the DK threat, and that does nothing to hinder the matrons.
            She… kind of needs them. Sort of.
            My bet is on control, not extermination.

            Liked by 4 people

  1. IDKWhoitis

    I find it likely that Cordelia will have to attend the meeting with Cat, because there are some heavy deals to be made in the coming days. I think this will be some horrible teeth pulling, because no one really wants to leave the bargaining table at this point. There’s too much at stake.

    I’m wondering what Cordelia is hiding in that Lake, because if it’s **just** an angel, this will be funny. But something tells me its going to be something so much more horrifying. Something beyond just being called, “an angel”. Hell, for all we know, it could be an old crashed Praes flying fortress or god forbid the remnants of a Gnomish one.

    Also, I wonder how discussions in the Lev tent are going. Is it storytime for Tariq?

    Liked by 6 people

    1. It’s not an Angel-corpse Cordelia is digging out.

      It’s said to be “far worse” than what the Ashurans drew upon at Thalassina.

      In addition, it can’t be an Angel-corpse because an Angel-corpse would presumably end up in a situation similar to the one that was at Liesse – out of phase with the rest of Creation and therefore not accessible via mundane measures such as dredging.

      I have gotten the impression that Cordelia is digging for something with the intent to fight fire with fire. I suspect that she’s looking for some ancient evil to throw at Keter. Possibly one dating to Triumphant’s day, if not an even older one. I think the Lycaonese are descended from the culture that the Dead King’s people were fighting before he became the Dead King. And, based on the impressions in Arcadia, they included devil summoners in their number. It’s entirely possible that there’s something from them that was buried and mostly forgotten in the lake.

      Liked by 8 people

        1. The Dead King is invading. And they’re losing.
          Cordelia is less concerned about revolt than she is with the Dead King.

          Sure, she’s no Dread Empress or Tyrant. However, she does have a lock on the Assembly now.
          And regular people can and will do horrible things in the name of their own survival.

          For that matter, she doesn’t need to sell it to everyone. She just needs to sell it to the people who have to know what’s going on.
          And it’s not like she particularly cares about what the Heroes think, between Laurence and Bard manipulating the Conclave into declaring Cat the Arch-Heretic of the East, and then Tariq, Laurence, and company using a plague on a Proceran village to get to Amadeus, and then holding onto Amadeus instead of either immediately killing him or bringing him to Salia.

          Remember, one of Cordelia’s main goals is to reunify Procer …

          Also, there’s the distinct possibility that she ran whatever she’s doing past her cousin, the Augur, in some way, so I’d say that it’s a fair bet that Cordelia thinks what she’s doing is a better result than not doing it. Admittedly, she might not have asked Augur the right questions or interpreted Augur’s replies properly, but still.

          Cordelia’s going to do whatever she thinks she needs to do … even if it’s an otherwise terrible idea.

          Liked by 3 people

  2. werafdsaew

    The usual rumours are there – the edict making it treason to claim the Name of Chancellor is to be ended, she seeks another Black Knight

    I bet both possibilities are true. At least Malicia will use the possibility of both to set off another round of infighting.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I love Catherine referencing Amadeus’s stance on the Praesi highborn as an argument for removing the guy who ordered the killing of refugees ❤ ❤ ❤

    In general, I love this chapter period.

    AND HYPE FOR THE NEXT ONE 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ben

    Cat hurt herself with that little speech she gave Viv and Juniper.
    To elaborate: She got them to question her less, and here we’re seeing the results.

    The Drow are ABSOLUTELY a factor Juniper should know about. If they’re having internal disputes; if there are potential chain of command problems, your general needs to know. These factors and their potential damage can be mitigated by certain logistic steps (mitigated, not prevented, mind) that Juniper would know and Cat can’t even imagine. Not only that, it’s pretty damn disrespectful to withhold operational information of an entire army of your own troops to its lead general. In fact, in terms of “need to know,” Juniper might legitimately be the ONLY person non-drow on Cat’s side(aside from Hakram, but that’s a little less certain) with an obligation to this specific intel. Juniper should be speaking up about this because Cat is making a bad decision. But she isn’t.

    Her suspicions that Juniper and Viv are meeting and chatting should be no surprise. Goodness. I should not have to tell you that there may yet be a bit of a problem with having put all of the official power in their hands, having removed herself from the official line before the Liesse Accords. I mean, the promised-new Queen, the spymaster, the lead general… any kind of strife arising between Cat and them will be a devastating blow to Callow.

    Example: I sure hope they don’t hold their tongue about trouble until it explodes at the most inopportune moment into rebellion, giving a Hero a momentary opening/distraction.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. ciara

      It does seem like a “Levant mustering their forces without saying why they’re moving to occupy the Arcadian landing zone”-tier mistake not to tell Juniper at least something…

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Shveiran

      I’m not sure where you are coming from with this statement.

      Cat is not witholding informations, she is just not telling Juniper of the practicalities of handling the drow on a day-to-day basis because handling those practicalities is not Juniper’s job.
      The casualties and the resulting issues were related to Juniper: Ivah shared them with Cat in the very same briefing Juniper heard about them, the Marshal and Vivienne are not even hearing it from Cat – they are being briefed together with her by her very sources.

      I’m pretty sure the details – such as, how are we gonna handle this in the future now that it has been established as an issue – will be shared with the Inner Circle as soon as they have been properly analyzed by the ones that have to handle them. AKA, the drows and the FUN.

      Cat has never kept her people in the dark before, not from this kind of stuff, and I see no evidence that is going to do it here.

      Am I missing something?

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Shveiran

          Fair enough. I didn’t notice that.

          Even so, it’s not like the “concealed information” extends beyond the details of the current disciplinary issues which we are not yet sure how we’ll address.
          I stand convinced that the details will be shared as soon as Cat has a firm grasp of what will happen going forth. Which is to say, as soon as that information becomes actually useful to them.

          The point remains that Cat has not stopped sharing information or trusting either Vivienne or Juniper… her moves at the battle at the end of arch 1 shows as much. She has entrusted them the outcome of the battle despite the caliber of the opposition, and given them all the necessary information to achive their duties.

          Liked by 2 people

    3. I think you’re seeing problems where there are none.

      Catherine didn’t tell Juniper more about the drow situation because it had nothing to do with her. It’s a purely internal issue within the Southern Expedition, which is commanded by General Rumena who reports to Cat, who answers to Sve Noc. It isn’t in Juniper’s area of responsibility.

      If it becomes an issue large enough to affect events outside the drow then Juniper will need to know, but right now there’s no reason to believe that it won’t be solved by a single day’s work from Catherine.

      Catherine isn’t surprised by Juniper and Vivienne consulting each other without her, if anything she’s pleased that the Marshal of Callow and its heiress are no longer at each other’s throats. She’s just slightly sensitive about any appearance of them keeping secrets from her given their recent fuck-ups.

      If you seriously think there’s any chance of Juniper and Vivienne turning on Cat then you and I must be reading different stories.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. SAME ^^^ on all of this.

        Catherine even recognizes that her hypersensitivity to Juniper and Vivienne seeming to conspire is silly and suppresses it. She is happy that Juniper recognizes Vivienne as the diplomatic authority now!

        And sharing disciplinary issues of the drow with the general of the other army would be overstepping and oversharing =x

        Like

    4. >If they’re having internal disputes; if there are potential chain of command problems, your general needs to know.

      Ah, but they’re not under Juniper’s command though.

      They’re an allied army. It would actually be overstepping Cat’s privileges as the… go-between? between the drow and everyone else, to share their internal problems.

      >These factors and their potential damage can be mitigated by certain logistic steps (mitigated, not prevented, mind) that Juniper would know and Cat can’t even imagine.

      You… do remember Rumena exists, right? They’re the drow general versed in logistics and whatnot.

      Like

  5. Daniel E

    Gods Below, I hope Masego recovers somehow. His internal dialogues about appropriate social interactions, and actual social interactions, are pure comedy gold. I don’t recall the chapter, but the one I remember best is when he seconded their ‘battle cry’ of “Lies and murder!”, thinking that was legit.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. If Praes and Callow forewent Named rulers it would do a lot to help them, both preventing personal good/evil conflicts from eacalating into frwquent and inevitable war, and in making people more willing to negotiate with Praes, as that would no longer mean having to trust a villain.
    The problem is that I’m not sure it’s achievable, to stop ruling names from being assumed to have authority you need to somehow turn the story of the nation against them.

    Like

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