Chapter 63: Draft

“Rebel prisoners, Black Knight? Ah, you must mean the fresh orc rations.”
– Dread Emperor Foul I, the Frugal

Under moonlight Ivah of the Losara sat at my side, wielding ink and parchment, and made record of oaths.

We begun with the Zoitsa, for they were the reason of my coming as well as the first attempt to make old stones into a fledgling temple. I had given this crucible of acclamation the shape of their singing-rites, and that aspect they embraced with relish. It was not merely oaths that were offered to the many waiting ears of the Zoitsa Sigil but verses crafted with deft hands and heady cadence. The first pledges were mundane, enemies that would be defeated and protections that would be ensured. One ispe then hazarded the pledge of sharing the sigil’s Night with all Zoitsa, and though the oath was met with shocked and disapproving silence, the words had broken the levee. It was not merely prudent, if well-spoken, promises that were made but instead ambitions unveiled. A jawor spoke of raising a city where no pale light would ever reach for the Zoitsa to live in, another of arming even every dzulu with coats of steel and shining blades. The rylleh, older hand and the subtler games of sigils, let others come forward to gauge the sigil’s wants before speaking their own oaths.

The same drow that’d not presumed to speak to me before now swore to swell the ranks of the Zoitsa so it would become one of the great sigils, while the ambitious one who’d invited me to pass judgement instead swore that the Night of every Zoitsa to die in the wars would be passed to a dzulu proving themselves worthy.  I felt through the Night the last oath earned the most approval, at least until the fourth rylleh, the one who had not even stood forward to lay claim to the sigil until now, spoke its own pledge-

“host of empire will we be,
servants first to right
if Zoitsa bend the knee
let it be only to Night”

The Night thrummed with approval, and not only from those drow who bore the colours of the Zoitsa. Morovoy was the name of the rylleh that had made the oath, and it had been clever in its shaping. The verses of it made it clear that for its span of nine years it would have the sigil suborn its own ambitions to the needs of the reborn Empire Ever Dark, serving as army and obeying the orders of leaders appointed by the Night. The other Firstborn had sought to earn acclaim through pretty ambitions and heady boasts, but Morovoy’s pledge instead harkened back to the old dream: a nation of drow, proud and mighty under darkened sky. It was opening the door to any who wanted to bare blade for that purpose, at least for a span of nine years, and in offering such selfless oath was making all the pledges of those that’d spoken before it seem… base. Almost petty. When tokens were set down to match oaths, Morovoy earned more than half those cast and more than double of its closest rival. I sent Ivah to bestow the Night I had shaped into a sigil, after that chosen oath was written down, and so the first crucible of the nigh was passed.

The hurdle, after that, was that those already holding sigils need take oaths of their own. It’d taken hours to gather fifty thousand drown and even longer to clear room for them all to stand, so I’d had time to do more than ponder the shape of the reformation I wanted to offer. I’d made arrangements as well, quietly reaching out to those in the Southern Expedition that were most beholden to me. It was why the Losara had not stirred, when I set them apart from the rest of the kind and charged them to never rise too high nor fall too low. It was why though many of the sigil-holders were taken by surprise by the changing tides, not all were. In the silence that followed the ascension of Morovoy, Mighty Jindrich strode forward. The same hard-headed, choleric warrior that Rumena and I had taken to using as a battering ram whenever we needed something dead or broken. It was feckless and brutal, though prone to forgiving those that amused it. Yet its faith in Sve Noc was deep and militant, and it thought nothing of making oath if it was the will of the Night. And so Mighty Jindrich stood before tens of thousands of its kind, white-toothed and red-handed, and it sang a pledge-

“to be the point of the spear
ever furthest from the rear;
to battle under veil of night
and the glare of palest light;
hear me: nine years’ spread
a hundred victories tread!”

I’d expected the Jindrich Sigil to flinch at the pledge, of fighting as the vanguard wherever fight was to be found and to forge a hundred victories in nine years, but that was not what I felt from them. Oh, far form it. They were burning with the kind of hard pride that would have any people but the Firstborn howling. In the Jindrich, their faces painted azure and white with the jagged fang-like wings of their sigil-symbol, I found boiling blood and a thirst for blood. The took after their sigil-holder, and other drow listened to such an oath with envy – oh, some would leave the sigil, but there would be twice as many petitioning for entry. One after another, the sigil-holders who had once been of my Peerage followed suit. Mighty Soln’s pledge to found a cabal with any other sigil willing to help raise another Tvarigu in the heart of the Burning Lands had the crowd rippling in approval and a few feet stomping down, but when after it finished speaking Rumena stepped up fifty thousand drow went still as statues. The old drow laughed, softly, and offered the trace of a bow at the crows on my shoulder. It spoke simply, cadenced but with an implacability that was beyond boast-

before nine years have passed,
Keter’s gates will lie broken
as trembles Death’s holdfast.

I breathed out sharply at the oath the general had just made. A heartbeat passed and the sheer wave of fervour that raged through the Night had me leaning against my staff for support. Drow raised their voices in an ululating cry, honouring the old monster who’d promised it would lead any following it to smash down the gates of the Crown of the Dead. The ancient creature closed its eyes, breathed the cool air of Procer’s winter night, and smiled the smile of one who would cast their wroth against even gods. And still Ivah wrote, ink on parchment, for the Losara would keep records so long as there were records to be kept. I only left the Firstborn two hours before dawn, having granted delay to those few sigil-holders who had no oath yet to pledge, but that number was few. Before dawn my Lord of Silent Steps would have begun transcribing its records to a book whose pages would be the one of the greatest things I had ever made.

Whether it would be a great triumph or disaster, only time would tell.

Hakram and I found our way back through the dark, passing legionaries on watch and the odd still-lit tent, but it was a surprise to find that my own was lit up with sprites and magelights. My feet slowed as I heard laughter from inside, glimpsing two silhouettes – one on a bed, the other seated by its side. A man and woman, I thought, and though the words were indistinct Indrani’s voice was a familiar drawl.

“I can hear what they’re saying,” Adjutant murmured, the offer implicit.

I’d be able to as well, if I drew on the Night. Instead I breathed out slowly and shook my head.

“Leave them to it,” I said.

The orc’s eyes moved to me, unreadable.

“They have their own matters to settle,” I said. “And if I’m there…”

“The war follows you,” Hakram completed, clicking his fangs.

I shrugged, affecting nonchalance, though I held out little hope so shallow a deception would not be seen through by my Adjutant.

“Hells, Hakram,” I said, “I might as well be the war, to those two. No, let them have a night without red on the horizon and talk of plans.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” he gently told me.

I thought of Vivienne, scared she would be cast out and left out in the wilds, and the way I’d used that fear to bring her a little closer to the woman I needed her to be. Not lightly, not without qualms, not for selfish reasons. But I’d still done it.

“It does,” I disagreed.

There might come a day where that was no longer the case, but until the continent no longer teetered on the brink then the queen’s needs were more important than the woman’s wants. I clapped Hakram’s shoulder, and together we went to find somewhere else for me to sleep.

I woke up with Morning Bell, still tired but knowing there was too much on my plate to be able to justify sleeping any longer. Adjutant, already awake, passed along that both Masego and Indrani were still sleeping in so instead I broke fast with Juniper and Vivienne. The Hellhound had always been – rather despicably so, in my opinion – a morning person so while cheer was no more in the cards than usual she was still noticeably more animated than either myself or Vivienne. Who, I’d noted over the years, had never really gotten used to staying awake most of the day. Neither thieving nor heroics were always work to be done under the sun, at least not in an occupied Callow. So while Vivienne and I blearily drank our morning brews and poked at porridge, Juniper sprinkled bits of jerky into hers and dug in with relish as she began expounding on this Proceran book she’d found. Some history of the First League War penned by a prince of Lyonis she’d found a Lower Miezan translation of. The title – one of those long, elaborate ones highborn Proceran scholars were so fond of – she spoke scathingly of, but apparently it was a fascinating look at the events and much less drily written than most histories. Vivienne leaned towards me as the Hellhound told us all about how Helikean kataphraktoi had actually begun as a tradition before Theodosius, contrary to popular belief.

“This is torture,” the heiress-designate to Callow murmured.

“Just don’t mention the Commentaries,” I whispered back. “It’d be like tossing meat at a wolf.”

Usually it only got this way when we drank, though, so I was somewhat surprised. By now Aisha should have… Ah, I thought, looking at the empty seat where Staff Tribune Aisha Bishara would usually be seated. There’s your trouble. The living and breathing person that served as the better part of Juniper’s social graces was missing, and so we were being subjected to the full Hellhound treatment.

“Fascinating,” I lied, just after a sentence. “Where’s Aisha, by the way?”

“Liaising with the Legions-in-Exile,” Juniper growled. “We’re taking full stock of the armies down to company size so we can adjust the doctrine for whatever battles are ahead.”

Ah, and there was no one else in the Hellhound’s general staff that’d get that done nearly as quickly or neatly as Aisha so there she went. She’d probably been absent form general staff meetings too, which would only make the Hellhound grumpier.

“I’m sure it’ll be done soon,” I said.

“It’d help if you could tell us where winter quarters will be,” the orc bluntly said.

“I’ll see if I can get that settled today,” I sighed, then sipped at my tea.

The warmth of it seeped into me, and I glanced at the other Callowan at the table. As much out of need as out of mercy, I threw Vivienne a bone.

“I’ll need you to send a messenger to Arnaud Brogloise,” I said. “Today will be convenient for the audience he requested. I’ll be expecting you at that table, Lady Dartwick.”

She nodded.

“And the Dominion?” she asked.

I glanced at Juniper.

“We’re overdue a fireside evening, the lot of us,” I said. “I expect at some point during that evening the Pilgrim will swing by for a chat, if he’s ready to talk.”

“Tonight?” the Hellhound asked. “We’ve all got-”

“Competent subordinates,” I interrupted. “We can afford a few hours by a fire, Juniper. If you believe your staff so incompetent that if you have a drink they’ll be lost-”

“I never said that,” the Hellhound bristled.

“Good,” I smiled, “then you can bring the aragh.”

I hadn’t had a taste of that since becoming mortal again and I was curious if my recollections from the old days were still accurate.

“You baited me,” Juniper growled.

“Can’t win them all, Marshal,” I grinned, and toasted her with my steaming mug.

Vivienne shot me an amused look before making her retreat, and a wise woman she was. This time, when Juniper began to talk about the logistics of the Army of Callow, the glint in her eye made it very clear the torture was entirely on purpose.

It was not until Noon Bell that I met with Arnaud Brogloise, plenipotentiary envoy for the First Prince of Procer. I’d been ready for talks earlier, but the other side had not. Apparently the Grand Alliance’s camp was like an anthill that’d been just gotten a good kick now that scrying was restored to Iserre and Hasenbach’s Order of the Red Lion could arrange talks with Salia. Not just Salia, though, likely most of the Alliance’s signatories. No doubt the Blood wanted to speak with Levante and their Holy Seljun, if only to gain a veneer of lawfulness for whatever they’d get up to regardless of what their figurehead ruler wanted. Given the number of highborn of all stripes who’d want access to scrying and what must be a highly limited amount of mages that could use such sorcery – as well as spell formulas a generation behind the Empire’s, which meant the further two-way scrying went the more relays would be required and the more prone to failure the magic would be – I wouldn’t be surprised if they were working their practitioners to the edge of burning out. Still, at least the development meant I could rely on the former Prince of Cantal having freshly spoken with Hasenbach.

This was the closest I’d get to speaking directly with the First Prince before getting to Salia, I suspected.

This was not a formal negotiation, only a private audience, so I’d seen no need to overburden this with ceremony and entourages. On the side of the oaken table I’d claimed Hakram sat at my right and Vivienne at my left, while Arnaud Brogloise had brought with him only a pale redheaded scribe whose accessories seemed to indicate was meant to serve as both note-keeper and scholarly expert. The ink and quill made the first plain, while the veritable pile of tomes and scrolls he’d brought in with a legionary’s help implied the second. I knew from experience that someone well-learned in where the writing you were looking for tended to shave hours off of discussions such as these, so I rather appreciated the expertise the Alamans had brought with him.

“Your Majesty,” Arnaud Brogloise greeted me. “Lady Dartwick, Lord Adjutant.”

I craned my neck back.

“I’m unfamiliar with the proper address for a plenipotentiary envoy,” I admitted.

“It is ‘lord envoy’, though it is only a courtesy title,” the middle-aged replied, smiling amicably. “Yet if I may be bold?”

My brow rose and I nodded permission.

“It is my understanding that you are not partial to formalities,” Brogloise said. “We could dispense with them, if you would allow it, and you could simply call me Arnaud.”

I smiled back.

“Did you know that I could hear heartbeats, back when I was Sovereign of Moonless Nights?” I mildly said. “If I pricked my ear, I could ever hear blood flowing in someone’s veins. Smell their fear and anger.”

His face expressed only confusion. He really was, I thought, one of the finest actors I’d ever seen. The Alamans might even be better at it than Akua, which was impressive in all the worst ways.

“I’m aware I’ll find about as much genuine emotion at the heart of you than I would in door hinge, my lord envoy,” I said. “So spare us both the affability.”

The ruddy face slackened, moving towards blankness though not quite reaching it. To be entirely vacant would have been an effort as well, while this was simply the release of a pretence.

“If you’d prefer, Your Majesty,” he calmly said. “Shall we attend the matters at hand?”

“If you would,” I agreed.

“Her Most Serene Highness has, after consideration, decided to honour the Grey Pilgrim’s non-binding promise of a peace conference,” Brogloise stated.

How magnanimous of her, I drily thought. I’d grown more diplomatic in my old age, so I refrained from rolling my eyes. Hasenbach might not be happy about Tariq agreeing in her name to anything, but she needed the truce and conference badly. Refusing to honour the Pilgrim’s agreement with the Tyrant would have been cutting off her nose to spite her face, considering it’d set the League back on the warpath and mortally offend the Dominion.

“And the guarantee of truce until the conference has ended?” Vivienne asked.

“Will be honoured in full,” the Alamans agreed.

“Including the Legions-in-Exile?” Hakram asked.

“So long as the Queen of Callow formally agrees to take responsibility for their actions while they remain on Proceran soil,” Brogloise said.

Mhm. So, Cordelia had recognized that at this point she didn’t have the strength or influence to push the issue when it came to the Exile Legions. Making them my problem was a way to deal with it, since she knew by now I needed the goodwill of the Grand Alliance for the Accords and letting the Praesi loose anywhere in Procer was a good way to throw away every inch of progress I’d made there. Still, I’d take it.

“Agreed,” I said.

The redhead scribe’s quill scratched against parchment.

“However,” the former prince said, “the Highest Assembly formally requests that the escaped prisoner of war Amadeus of the Green Stretch be turned over for trial.”

“The Highest Assembly has been heard,” I mildly said. “Though I will caution that considering he never surrendered to the Principate and was tortured while in custody, by Callowan law you have no grounds for such a request.”

“Indeed, this has been acknowledged,” Arnaud Brogloise said, to my surprise.

That, I thought, had been much too easy considering how despised Black was in these parts. Was Cordelia sparing him as a favour to me so she could call that favour in elsewhere? Shit, if it came to that I might actually have to agree.

“However, as a Named military commander who carried out plans of mass murder of civilians he would be considered in egregious breach of the Liesse Accords,” the former prince said.

Ah, I thought. And there it was.

“Procer has not signed the Liesse Accords,” I said.

“It will, if you agree to apply them to the Black Knight,” Arnaud Brogloise plainly said.

The bluntness of it jolted me. He was actually serious, I realized, and he wasn’t just speaking hot air: the powers Cordelia had invested in him meant he could sign agreements in her name in a legally binding manner.

“It would be selective application of the articles, unless you also intend to pursue the trial of the Grey Pilgrim for the massacre of a port town and an entire half-legion of Praesi legionaries,” Vivienne noted. “Or of the Queen of Callow for the particulars of the Battle of the Camps.”

“Guarantees can be made that this will not be the case,” the envoy said.

“You’re missing the point,” I flatly said. “If the Accords are used from the very moment they’re signed as a tool to pursue enmities, they’ll not last the decade.”

Hakram, at my right, was looking intently at our Alamans friend. He’d noticed something, then.

“A matter to be discussed in more detail at a later date, then,” Brogloise said. “The First Prince is offering to host the conference in Salia, Your Majesty, and seeks your opinion on the matter.”

Adjutant moved a fraction, and so I stilled my tongue. I inclined my head towards him without looking.

“In the eventuality this is agreed on, where does the First Prince suggest the Army of Callow and the Legions-in-Exile march on?” Hakram asked.

“Escort would be allowed up to four thousand for every ruler attending the conference,” the envoy replied. “Four hundred into the city itself.”

“And the armies themselves?” I asked.

Arnaud Brogloise glanced at his scribe, who bowed at him then myself before rising to snatch a half-dozen scrolls from the pile. Maps, I realized, reading the letters on the seals.

“In this matter,” the former Prince of Cantal said, “Her Most Serene Highness is willing to entertain your proposals.”

I grinned. I’d been a while since I last had a good haggle, I mused, so this ought to get interesting.

88 thoughts on “Chapter 63: Draft

  1. I wonder what Hakram noticed.
    I also wonder how serious they are about wanting to hammer Amadeus for his campaign in Procer.

    I hope we get to see the fireside chat – it’s been a while since we’ve seen then released like that.

    Nice going with the Oaths, Cat.
    It seems like a lot of the Oaths most approved of are about building a better future for the Drow and building them a new homeland.
    Rumena is awesome. That’s one hell of an Oath.

    Liked by 21 people

    1. Someguy

      Rumena is at least sane enough not to swear to take Dead King’s soul to sacrifice to Sve Noct. Also Rumena did not make an Oath, he simply stated a Certainty sure as old age.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        A Certainty? Probably. An Oath, for sure. After that Oath, Ivah continued to write.

        > The ancient creature closed its eyes, breathed the cool air of Procer’s winter night, and smiled the smile of one who would cast their wroth against even gods. And still Ivah wrote, ink on parchment, for the Losara would keep records so long as there were records to be kept.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. MagnaMalusLupus

          >There’s really no word to articulate what I mean. A threat with a measure of inevitability to it. A promise? Too feeble. People break promises too often. A curse? A malediction? Too… magical. An oath? The connotations are wrong. When I say I’ll do something, I make it happen.

          Liked by 3 people

              1. Andrew Mitchell

                Thanks. I tried Worm but didn’t get very far. It was all a bit grim and it didn’t grab me like PGtE has. I know I’m in the minority on that one. Lots of people I know loved it.

                Like

                1. Shveiran

                  I liked it, personally, but for all the good stuff that IS there, I always got the feeling that WIldbow didn’t have an arching plan like EE has, you know what I mean? Most of what happened was thrilling, and it was coherent with itself, it was just I felt like… it didn’t build up to what came next? The endings never quite felt… rewarding enough. That isn’t to say they came out of nowhere, they just didn’t quite turn everything whole.
                  It is purely speculation here, but I think it’s simply that Wildobow is a (very good) discovery writer, or a Gardener; a writer that finds out where his story goes as he writes it.
                  And there is nothing wrong with it, in fact it is a practice that has a lot of strong points… but on their first draft, endings tend to be the weakest link. It’s not a problem after they are done with teh second draft, but considering here you read the novel during the first draft…
                  De gustibus disputandum non est. There’s a lot of skill involved in what he does, but I read through both Pact and Worm, and remember them like an amazing ride on the edge of my seat that still left me wholly unsatisfied and in a bad mood. I think it’s just not for everyone.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Andrew Mitchell

                    Thanks for sharing your experience with it, and explaining it well. If I do try to give it another go that will be very useful to know.

                    Like

    2. Make EED Great Again!

      That said, she’s now made an actual political system for the Drow.
      There is no equal representation in her system, as Sigils will have different sizes, but they’ll be the closest they’ll get as the rylleh will go join other Sigils to better represent their wants and needs.
      Each Sigil will be democratically voted upon, and how the Mighty use this system, whether they form distinct communities where the Mighty is the leader like before, or if they form a council or government like how Cat forced them into, will affect how the race will be like moving forwards.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Morovoy’s pledge instead harkened back to the old dream: a nation of Drow, proud and mighty under darkened sky.

        I laughed a bit that Morovoy basically went “Make Zoitsa Great Again” and got elected. Also, the communist ispe that wanted to share Zoitsa’s Night among all the Sigil got booed by silent disapproval, poor drow.

        Liked by 10 people

        1. stevenneiman

          Honestly, this all seems kind of out of character for the drow. They always pay lip service to the glory of Sve Noc, but they’ve learned from birth that that’s just a justification for self-service. Now here they are passing up opportunities to claim Night from any Mighty who die in battle because the alternative is patriotism.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Here’s the thing: the strength of the sigil is the strength of its STRONGEST Mighty. That’s how drow society works. 1000 slightly stronger dzulu will STILL be scythed through by a sigil holder Mighty who has killed their leader because they did not claim the previous holder’s Night and instead distributed it.

            And don’t underestimate the strength of a dream and passion. Self-service is, simply put, BORING. Especially for a fired up crowd.

            Liked by 5 people

          2. also,

            >pay lip service to the glory of Sve Noc, but they’ve learned from birth that that’s just a justification for self-service

            this is not how psychology works. This kind of justification becomes one’s breath and blood, and people genuinely die for religion even when there’s not an actual living goddess right fucking there, which in this case there is.

            Liked by 7 people

            1. Shveiran

              I think stevenneiman is right in this being a big, sudden change. However, I believe you are right in countering that this is not out of character, merely an evolution.
              For the first time in living memory, their goddess is walking and speaking to them.
              In our world, many deny the existance of deities, but the drow know the Sisters are real; in our world, many believers have luke-warm faith because their day-to-day necessities challenge and/or distract them from their faith’s tenets, but Sve Noc is manifest and is making its will and its miracles known.
              It’s hard not to be moved by this, if you are a drow.

              Liked by 4 people

        2. Sparsebeard

          I like that you can find most of those oaths in the two previous chapters’ comments…

          Then the Drow voted on them, some met approval, some met ridicule.

          Liked by 3 people

    3. IDKWhoitis

      I would hazard they are very serious. He did cause a hell of a headache. However, it might also be on the table. It doesn’t detract from how seriously they want his head on a platter, but they will need to be convinced and bartered for. It’s like selling a fragment of Cordelia’s legitimacy, or Cat’s for that matter, to simply let this pass without comment would still inspire rebellion. I suspect The Auger has already told Cordelia that Cat negotiates in good faith. What’s left is to get the rest of Procer to accept that without getting their trusty pitchforks lit on fire.

      I wonder if Tariq is going to be a help in this regard, or he might tell the absolute truth of Amadeus, which might be damning in its own right.

      Liked by 9 people

        1. IDKWhoitis

          Nah, much more efficient to douse the pitchfork in flammable tar or resin then light it. Have you ever brought a pitchfork to a proper riot? Those fuckers are heavy, and then bring torch in the other hand on top of that? Screw that noise…

          Liked by 2 people

    4. stevenneiman

      I suspect that Cordelia will pursue the matter of Amadeus exactly as far as she considers politically expedient, while allowing Cat to be the one who has to spend political capital if she wants to protect him. She might despise him for what he did to her people, but she’s a pragmatist to the bone and she won’t throw good lives after bad if she thinks that letting him off lightly would be best for Procer overall.
      And yes, Rumena is awesome.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. This. It’s something Cordelia cannot go back lightly on, so she will not. It’s the closest thing to legitimate leverage she has on Catherine, too, considering the factual disparity in power.

        She doesn’t want Catherine to actually agree to this. But she wants Catherine to make ALL of the concessions in return.

        Liked by 5 people

    5. werafdsaew

      I also wonder how serious they are about wanting to hammer Amadeus for his campaign in Procer.

      I doubt it’s all that serious, since they have shit negotiating positions due to them really needing the war to end so that they can concentrate on the DK. Remember that a few chapters ago Amadeus thought that the no Name ruler part of the Accord was DOA, but still doesn’t counsel Cat to take it out because that’s something to concede during the negotiations? I think this is the same thing.

      Liked by 10 people

    6. Ebert of Alamans, scholar errant

      Building a future and, through the scholarship of the Losara, ensuring that future connection to the past. That’s how you make a rabble into a nation.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. You know, Rumena’s pledge reminded me that they’re moving to kill the metaphorical representation of Death for their continent. Considering how they’ve failed for the last thousand years…

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

        They sometimes poetically refer to his military gains as Death acquiring this or that. He is not only the Dead King but the King of Death. You’re not wrong, but I’m not sure you’re right either.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. stevenneiman

          If you two are right, it just means that it’s all the more vital for the Empire Ever Dark to outgrow its old ways and the stories which have grown on the people they were. Fortunately, Cat’s getting pretty good at that sort of thing, seeing how she’s already done it twice.

          Liked by 2 people

            1. Andrew Mitchell

              Great idea! There may be an opportunity for them to enjoy “working” (slaughtering) together. I can’t wait to see them in action against the undead.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. IDKWhoitis

    If I was a betting man, I would hazard that Cat is confident enough to send the majority of her army back home. If she just approaches Salia with the Woe and about 400 Mighty, she is absolutely not in danger. Rather Salia would be…

    I wonder if she would disguise Amadeus in a wig and clever use of coconuts to drag him into the city. It would result in a very entertaining moment to throw Cordelia off her game from the get go to let Amadeus and Scribe make their case for why he is only a monstrous general, but not a war criminal. He would be too useful to simply punish for petty revenge.\

    Although in such a scenario, I wonder if both Juniper and Viv would head back to Callow. Callow cannot go without a ruler for too long, and Praes still needs to be checked until Malica’s play comes to light. I think Viv has enough confidence from Cat that she could go back to ruling Callow de facto without going crazy.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Cat isn’t going to have a force consisting exclusively of drow. Remember, they get hit real hard at dawn, and are far less useful in daylight.
      She’ll probably have an escort consisting mostly of Army of Callow forces – regulars, sappers, mages, knights – plus a number of drow, probably fewer than a hundred in total.
      The real question is if she’ll have any of the House Insurgent with her.

      Liked by 6 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      > The First Prince needs Cat to fail.

      I don’t think so. Cordelia needs Procer NOT to fail and Cat with her armies, is Cordelia’s best bet to ensure that. I think Cat’s going to get most of what she wants and Cordelia is going to get most of what she wants as well.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. Trebar

      “The Bard needs Cat to fail”

      Eh… not sure that’s the case. There’s still a quite reasonable chance that the Liesse Accords or something akin to them has been part of Bard’s end game all along.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. caoimhinh

    I wonder if the “escort of four thousand for every ruler” means that every one of the Blood will get an escort of four thousand, considering they are all likely to be on that table for the negotiations (we saw back when the Grand Alliance for the Crusade was formed that Cordelia sat with the entirety of the Majilis in Salia).

    Still, I can’t help but frown on Catherine’s eagerness for going to Salia for the peace conference. No peace conference is ever held in the capital of the enemy country, it’s not done for security, logistical, political and even reputational reasons. You do not sign peace in the enemy’s capital, unless you are taking it by force or surrendering to them. Otherwise, peace is always negotiated in the most neutral ground possible.

    Catherine going to Salia makes little sense except for granting Cordelia the advantage of home ground and making Cordelia look like she has the upper hand. Even if they are bound for going North, they should not hold the conference inside the city. It was one thing for the Crusade conference to be held there, as Procer had been the one to call for it and would be the leader, besides all the members were not at war at the moment.

    The peace conference between Callow and the Grand Alliance, and also the one involving the League (though they might be one and the same), should be held in a more neutral or open ground. Like, sure, they are in Procer already, but there’s a HUGE difference between having talks on a tent held in open field and doing so inside a Proceran fortress surrounded by Proceran soldiers and priests (maybe even Heroes).
    Taking only four hundred soldiers as escorts into the city is asking the others to put a lot of trust in Cordelia, it is not an equal position to negotiate, and Catherine has been adamant in not negotiating from a weaker position.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. On one hand, you have a very good point. “Field outside of Salia” is a much more reasonable location than inside the city, and that might just be it.

      On the other hand, I have to note that Catherine can afford a lot of slack in ‘weaker/stronger position’ mind games here. It might be technically inaccurate to say she has the bigger army, but only if you count Procer and Levant together, which at this point I’m not sure you should.

      Procer is in the weakest negotiating position here, and everyone knows it. “Unless you are taking it by force” indeed.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. > “Unless you are taking it by force” indeed.

        “Four thousand troops, four hundred into the city”… but that’s assuming humans. Okay, Cat’s force will be mostly human, with some greenskins… and just how many Drow? And more to the point, which Drow? I doubt she’d bring all the sigil-holders, but she could certainly bring a few, and a bunch of lesser Mighty. Along with some of the Woe…

        Liked by 6 people

    2. I think we already had this discussion at some length back when you were arguing that there was no way they’d go to Salia and I was saying yes they will (VINDICATION). To briefly recap what I remember as my main points:

      a), They’re not negotiating a peace, they’re negotiating an alliance. That’s a different kettle of fish entirely. Negotiating a peace comes from an implicit foundation of distrust, because, y’know, war. Negotiating an alliance has to come from an implicit foundation of at least potential trust, because if there isn’t even a potential for trust then any alliance would be DOA regardless. It is true that the negotiating parties were literally just at war which muddies the picture of which this is, but the fact is that the peace is a fait accompli at this point. The Eastern armies can nope on out back home easily now that the whole “gates don’t work because a chunk of Arcadia is falling from the sky” situation is resolved, and Procer doesn’t have the means or the will to pursue and in fact desperately needs to not be at war on two fronts and everybody knows it. That swings the dynamics firmly into the “negotiating an alliance” side of things even without any other factors.

      b), Also, if Cordelia somehow suffered a massive fit of retardation and attacked the prospective ally that she needs to save her bacon and is also personally responsible for the Dead King backing off (which, never gonna happen anyway) then Cat can still nope out of there pretty easily through a fae gate; it’s not like those don’t work inside cities or something.

      c), And now Procer would be unfixably screwed since the Army of Callow, the Legions-in-Exile, the drow expedition, and probably also the League armies are now loose in Procer with the exact opposite of an incentive to play nice. At the same time as the Dead King immediately goes back on the march. Goodbye, Procer!

      d), Not to mention the Levantine allies Cordelia also desperately needs will be mortally offended since they pledged on their sacred honor (which it has been thoroughly established they take VERY seriously) to support Cat’s bid to join the Grand Alliance and trying to murder her at the conference for that is rather more than a minor breach.

      e), Oh, and Cat making a show out of not trusting Cordelia to pointlessly, self-destructively, nation-damningly try to murder her for no particular reason at a diplomatic conference in flagrant breach of every diplomatic norm in existence is what would weaken her negotiating position. It would be tantamount to accusing her primary interlocutor (since the Levantines already swore to back her, so while they might not be quite in the bag as far as particulars go they’re more on her side than not I’d say) of acting in the worst bad faith possible before even opening the talks, which makes you look like a paranoid asshole instead of like somebody genuinely looking to form a real alliance. That’s a real bad note to open on, and Cat wouldn’t even gain anything at all from it even if Cordelia caved (which she probably would) since as I hope I’ve made plain there is a zero percent chance Cordelia would actually try anything and Cat could exfiltrate easily even if she did so Catherine gains literally nothing as far as security goes.

      f), Whereas if Cat agrees to hold the conference in Salia she can make a show out of “look how open I am to trusting my prospective allies, I’ll stroll into your capital city for these talks like it ain’t no thang” while not actually sacrificing or risking anything, as I have explained at length. Which is good diplomatic sense since it actually does strengthen her position; never underestimate the power of good optics in politics.

      Okay, maybe “briefly” wasn’t quite accurate. But seriously, Salia makes sense here.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. Walrus

    The Accords need to specifically not be retroactive, that spells doom for everyone.
    The next best thing would be pledging on one’s Name to abide by the restrictions.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. I wonder how long the Night will last before withering and puttering out like a fire without fuel. Night as it was explained is a blood sacrifice in which the drow slaughter each other for power. With Cat putting a stop to this, and her plans effectively forbidding the killing of drow by the hands of drow robs Night of its fuel. And I am sure that she intends to have her voting system spread to the main host of drow.
    So Sve Noc and Cat have to think how counter this.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Morgenstern

      Winter was the fuel for the actual apotheosis. Which equals enough of a sacrifice to allow for that. They are now goddesses (if lesser ones) in their own right. No more power puttering out due to not meeting the quota, because quota HAS been met already. 😉

      Liked by 6 people

    2. Sylwoos

      This was the main issue with the old Night, and why Sve Noc wished to eat Winter so they could trick death in truth. Now a fragment of the garden fuel Night and the power won’t fade until Sve Noc is unmade.

      Liked by 5 people

  7. superkeaton

    Arnaud’s such a fucking odd duck, I feel like there’s got to be something worse to him. Serial killing? Torture? Rape? There has to be something else to him beside just general sociopathy. It sets my teeth on edge wondering.

    I cannot wait to see Cat haggle again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The only “specific” about Arnaud is from one of the Interludes whilst the Crusaders were on Callow.
      Rozala thought to herself something to the effect of “she was no Lycaonese prude, but it’d be a good thing if somebody castrated Arnaud”. Think the wording was more “take a knife to his privates”.

      The implications that I got leaned my suspicions towards Arnaud potentially either being a pedophile or some other kind of unpleasant and probably illegal in most places sexual deviancy, likely lacking a consensual partner.
      Because considering the kind of cultural state and his position in it … whatever Rozala thinks his sexual practices are, they have to be singularly outside acceptability.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Morgenstern

        I can’t point to the exact paragraph, but as far as I remember, he was openly *called* a “rapist” in one of the interludes (by Rozala?), something about feeling VERY uncomfortable to have someone like that in their own lines, but needing him for his skill…

        Although his acting capability calls into question if those were not just rumors, after all, that he had strewn around himself to support his false identity of Arnaud, the buffoon, with something more sinister under that facade – leading anyone looking deeper into that exact same thinking. That he was simply hiding a much worse character underneath the “buffoon face” – and not being the plenipotentiary envoy of the First Prince.

        After that reveal, he might just be what Hakram is. Unsettlingly lacking emotions, but not, actually, such a bad person after all. Simply lacking those does not instantly make you act out on anything you can think of simply because of lack of conscience. People like that CAN still opt to follow societal rules / mores, e.g. NOT raping or killing people (unless it’s general doctrine during war times to do so *then* – even then they might not see the need; but if they saw it, they might well be capable of doing so without ANY remorse at all). They can still understand *rationally*. They simply lack “empathy” in the sense of “feeling with others” (not in the sense of being capable of understanding what’s going on on the other side, internally, in a logical way). The chilling thing to most people is simply the part of the lack of any conscience, because they COULD act without remorse. They don’t necessarily need to do so to put the chills into people, it’s the … potential for such acts.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. Morgenstern

          The idea that anyone could understand, in fullness, what is going on inside your head and figurative ‘heart’, emotionally, all the implications of what action x might cause for you – and simply NOT CARE. That they are perfectly capable of, knowingly, putting all of that aside, if that outcome would fit something they want, if their logic tells them they’d get away with it without negative consequences that would impinge on *them themselves*. Because it simply would not matter to them – as they are, in a sense, “purely logical beasts”, ‘unencumbered’ by any emotion (/emotional attachment; besides wanting, for others reasons, people directly around them to like them, because they will then be more inclined to treat them well or even better than just well). That anyone might be able to understand emotions and their consequences, logically, but not follow down that line, emotionally, by default. That they can CHOOSE to NOT follow down that line that seems to be instinctive for “normal” people.

          (Which, btw, does not necessarily mean that they are intelligently logical in all points, they might very well make mistakes of logic, misjudge rules/people. It’s all just about the empathy/conscience-part.
          Also, people who ARE very emotional can still be sadists in the pathological sense and ENJOY pain and torture of others in emotional ways… or do worse things due to feeling a “need” for revenge. People like to shade this in pure, opposite colors. But that is not necessarily the reality, when it comes to “emotion” vs. “lack of emotion”.
          I applaud the author who is doing such a great job of showing those not-commonly-thought-of shades of reality that such a lack can lead to, in the examples of Black (Named, succeeding for the most part in suppressing all those emotions / not being refrained by them) and Hakram instead of just the usual crime series picture of socio-/psychopaths. Black, btw, would be more of a sociopath, where the lack of emotion has been *learned*, while Hakram would probably be the typical psychopath actually *born* with that lack.)

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Morgenstern

            I guess the difference between Arnaud and Hakram for the reader is, at this point, more or less that we already got the inside picture for Hakram and “saw” that he “only” lacked emotion, but was not a bad person for it. While we only get the outside picture of Arnaud, *assumptions* from other people, rumors, that bad feeling people get when the other person is lacking emotions.

            A picture which we only got circumferentially for Hakram, via other characters’ reactions and description of some parts of their emotional reaction to his … emptiness / unreadability – while we get those directly from the first person view here for Arnaud, the reactions are those directly evoked in *us* as readers and reverberate more than they do with the example of Hakram, where we know much more than only the INdirect vibes we only get from outside characters reacting to him. We are simply lacking the inside view and thus the understanding of his character for Arnaud, while we think “we got him” for Hakram by the inside views we got. Also, bad rumors (the rapist stuff) about Arnaud, which might or might actually NOT be true, as we were never shown any direct scene and from the inside view, but only what another character thinks they saw / heard about Arnaud that *seems* to be true at that point, during the other character’s scene, but might only be “true” from the point of view of the other character at that point of time, due to lack of full information. It is possible to make the case that Arnaud might even have *staged* a scene, with an actually willing second actor, to make people think they “revealed” his “secret”, make people think a rape happened – while none actually did and he just hid his *actual* secret under that constructed, false “black spot”. Or might be entirely true. We’ll only know if we get an actual inside view from Arnaud (and then one which we can / think we can *trust* ^^).

            Liked by 6 people

            1. caoimhinh

              To be fair, what we have seen of Hakram doesn’t exactly paint him as a sociopath, but rather as a nihilist.
              It wasn’t that he lacked the capability for emotions, just that he hadn’t found anything that gave him any thrill, that’s an important difference.

              Of course, then he met Catherine and felt his blood burn.

              Liked by 6 people

              1. Not even that… “coldblood” has to mean something different for orcs versus humans, because the story made it clear that Hakram’s difference is specifically that he lacks the “undercurrent of rage” which is normal for orcs.

                Liked by 3 people

              2. This. This. This. And more this. HAKRAM IS NOT A SOCIOPATH, PEOPLE. Juniper mistakenly assessed him as such in the back-when because he didn’t have the burning rage/war-lust expected of an orc and as shown elsewhere Juniper is in her own Hellhound-y way something of a social conservative within orcish culture (see also when she judged Nauk for being openly emotional over his closest friend dying because “orcs don’t do that”, for example).

                Notice how in this very chapter Cat called attention to how as Sovereign of Moonless Nights she could read people for emotion through listening to their blood and smelling the fear/whatever coming off them (creepy, but hey that’s Winter for you)? And so she could perceive the absence at the heart of Arnaud from that? Now everybody, please remember how SHE LITERALLY NEVER MADE ANY NOTE OF THAT KIND OF ABSENCE COMING FROM HAKRAM. And it’s not like she wasn’t in the best position possible to notice that.

                tl;dr: Hakram isn’t a sociopath and I am legitimately nerd-mad that people keep saying he is. If anybody has follow-up questions/concerns rest assured I am more than happy to yell my opinions about this some more.

                Liked by 4 people

                1. Andrew Mitchell

                  > If anybody has follow-up questions/concerns rest assured I am more than happy to yell my opinions about this some more.

                  Loving your passion!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

                  Liked by 1 person

            2. The problem with Arnaud is the sheer unlikelihood of there being fake knowledge about him being a rapist. If he decided it was necessary to add that to his buffoonery, the easiest way to do so is… =x =x =x

              Liked by 6 people

              1. Shveiran

                We remain in disagreement on this one… I don’t find it that unlikely that he decided he needed a dark secret for anyone investigating his facade to find and stop, convinced they had the measure of him, without revealing his true colors.
                Complicated? Sure, but have you met the guy?

                Still. It is just speculation, but to be honest the “psycopath is actually a rapist slash child molester” seems like too much of a cliche for the guide.

                Liked by 4 people

                1. My problem is that the easiest way to set that up is to actually rape people, making the disguise foolproof as it actually does refer to real events and I have not seen anything of him that would make me believe he wouldn’t

                  Liked by 5 people

                  1. Shveiran

                    The reason why I think he wouldn’t is that it would be easier to do it that way, but not if he wanted it to be a dark SECRET; if it was something only people digging would find, as a “reward” that would make them stop, you could argue it is easier to make it up from scratch to control teh flow of information better.

                    I’m not saying he didn’t, and I’m definitely not saying he wouldn’t, just that there is possible reasons to justify him going a different route that do not spawn from morality.

                    Like

                    1. I think it’s more of an “everyone at a certain level knows”.
                      Ie, it is relatively common knowledge amongst the nobles, and probably the top tiers of non-nobles who need to be aware of and informed about nobles.

                      It probably is not common knowledge in the “some random guy on the street knows”, though the level of awareness/knowledge will likely be greater the closer one gets to Arnaud’s home.

                      Liked by 1 person

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      Yes, lots of stories and lots of progress towards worthwhile goals too. Like a BILLION times better outcomes than what was going on before Cat ventured underground.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Yep! Plus what she’s doing for Callow, plus she’s about to save Procer’s bacon, plus all the continent-wide benefits of the Liesse Accords… watching the Arch-Heretic of the East establish herself as the Savior of Calernia is satisfying as HECK.

        Liked by 4 people

  8. Daniel E

    So when the Drow are finally settled down and rebuilding, how long will it be until their vows amount to “In nine years time, I pledge to fix the broken water pipe on main street.”?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’ll probably be a while, if ever. That’s a rather underwhelming sort of Oath and it’s not going to be that difficult for an alternative candidate to come up with a more Worthy Oath that remains practical to accomplish.

      I can’t see the Drow considering “I’ll fix this leaky pipe” a particularly Worthy or inspiring Oath.

      In time, I could perhaps see Oaths oriented around developing major infrastructure projects, but such projects would have to be massive and inspiring. And they’d also have to have significant, clearly recognizable benefits, but not have been started by the previous Sigil holder.

      So, actually … I’m not sure they would ever get to that point. If there’s an infrastructure project that can get you enough support to earn you a Sigil, it’s something that the previous Sigil holder should have recognized as important enough to start working on.

      Maybe if the Sigils eventually evolve, and there becomes one or more Sigils that specialize in the arts and sciences of building things. Then you could have competing visions about what to build.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Shveiran

    Completely unrelated to this chapter in particular, but still.

    Last night I was Dming a D&D campaign for my friends, who ended up having to save a dragon to slay a princess. Don’t ask.

    The poor dragon was captured by a Fey Lord, and they decided to hit a library to research fey before hitting the nest. I was disinclined to just throw them a few boring vulnerabilities or combat tricks, so I added to that the first thing that came to mind and made canon a few ideas from PGtE: Fey come froma different plane, warping it with their presence, and are more story than matter. So you can beat them into submission, but crushing their bodies doesn’t harm the core of them: the title survives, and comes back. So if they wanted to permanently kill them, they needed to use a story rather than a blade.

    The bard was intrigued, so I threw her the basics of Story-Fu 101.
    I thought “they’ll toy with this for a half hour and if anything good comes out, they’ll get an edge in the coming fight. Or viceversa.”

    Cut to three hours later.
    The party has managed to form a Band of Five out fo themselves plus an orphan storm sorcerer they recruited a while ago. Who the ranger mentored for completely selfish reasons.
    They spent the travel there drawing the young boy attention to the way Fey warped the forests to make it closer to their home plane, then cast the Ranger into the Mentor role and drew on his connection to nature to craft the story they wanted. One heart to heart later, and the mentor has revealed the boy He Is The Chosen One, as his power overlap with those of the Fey Storm Lord of Eagles and he may or may not be actually his lost son, and that his Mentor Could Not Change The World But He Can Fix it, as There Is No One Else.
    One Cutscene later, the party finds everything conspires to have the boy slay the Fey Lord BUT also for the Fey Lord to slay the Mentor (I mean really, guys, that one was on you). So the Bard fixes it by shaping things so that the Young Apprentice And His Mentor Must Do It Together, ensuring the Ranger lived to see the Apprentice deal the killing blow.

    Now the preteen sorcerer left with tearful parting words with his mentor, with a call back to the Ranger father issues, and the declaration that he (the boy) could never ready the world to take the place of the Fey, and so it is the Ranger’s calling to preach the word to bring mortals back into nature’s fold.
    Then he ascended in the storms and will declare war against all the Lords of the Fey on the mortal plane in the background of the party’s adventure.

    Thank you, PGtE, for showing me how to handle Fey Lords right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      OMG I want to be part of your campaign so, so much right now.

      > Last night I was Dming a D&D campaign for my friends, who ended up having to save a dragon to slay a princess. Don’t ask.

      Firstly, I love the idea of reversing that trope. Secondly, I’m asking… Please tell us how that came about.

      Like

  10. Shveiran

    To be honest, I can’t take too much credit for it.
    We are running a published module, and while I have edited both the setting and the plot, this particular set-up is from the original author.

    Since it is a very good series, I’d rather try not to spoil too much in case someone else is running it too, but the jist of it is (SPOILER WARNING FOR WAY OF THE WICKED VOLUME 5)

    at a certain point in their “wicked adventures”, the party of villains needs to lure a king into a trap. So their dark master decides the best bait is to endanger his daughter with a legendary threat, something the king (a big hero in his own right) won’t be able to sit out.
    The choice falls on an old dragon, but it being a proud and powerful being there is a need for a bribe of some sort; as it happens, the dragon’s son bit off more than he could chew and ended up on the receiving end of a Fey Lord’s wroth, so the party effectively needs to rescue a dragon to (convince his father to) slay a princess.

    I really like these modules; they play with tropes and let you scratch that villanous itch without messing with what makes a normal game fun.
    The only downside is, we play in a different edition so I have to adapt the ruleset entirely, but it is well worth the work.

    Liked by 1 person

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