Chapter 66: Silvered

“Trust given is a gift, costing only the giver. Trust earned is in balance, worth as much to earner as granter.”
– King Edward Alban of Callow, best known for annexing the Kingdom of Liesse

The urge was there to laugh in disbelief, though I didn’t. Aisha was deadly serious in her question, and she was one the better-informed officers at the highest rung of the Army of Callow. She had Juniper’s ear, working relationships or personal connections with most the Woe and the rest of my closest collaborators. She was, as it happened, one of the few people who knew of the Liesse Accords even if that knowledge was modest. If she could believe that, then others would.

“I do not,” I said.

The Staff Tribune nodded in graceful acknowledgement, lovely heart-shaped face touched by the firelight.

“Then this is a mistake,” she murmured, discretely glancing at Akua without turning.

I kept any hint of displeasure from showing on my face. Of all my old College companions I’d always had one of the more complex relationships with Aisha Bishara. Her high birth in an old Wasteland line had made it difficult to trust her, at first, and back in the days where Juniper and I had been more frequently at odds her open siding with her friend as made her one of the Hellhounds and not one of ‘mine’, so to speak. We’d gotten past that, over the months and years, but I’d never hidden my belief that quite a few Wasteland highborn belonged dangling from a rope and that’d always lain between us. Aisha was more careful not to offend, ever stepping lightly around matters she thought our very different origins would make contentious. Frowning now or thinning my lips would have her shuttering immediately, and that was the opposite of what I wanted. I gazed where the Taghreb had flicked the glance, finding Akua effortlessly drawing Masego into what had become a debate over the poetries of the east by mentioning the ‘riddling-sorcerers of the Nameless City’. The blind mage let out an amused huff and a began declaiming something in a dialect of Mtethwa I could barely make out a few words from.

“There are lines in Praes that are older than the Sahelians,” Aisha Bishara murmured. “Others who have more often climbed the Tower, or through whose veins greater gifts flow. Yet one of that shade’s kin ruled Wolof, when the Empire was first founded, and where every other great line of that days has withered and died the Sahelians still thrive.”

I rolled my cup against the flat of my palm, eyes hooded as I listened to Aisha in pensive silence.

“That woman right there is of the blood of the original murder, Catherine Foundling,” she whispered. “The first iron-sharp treachery. All under the sun have known this since the Tower was first raised, and yet again and again the Sahelians have betrayed through surprise. Because they are charming, my queen. They are beautiful and fascinating and so very useful that certainly it couldn’t hurt to bring them into the fold just the once.”

Aisha bared the fainted hint of teeth at me, almost like an orc would have.

“They are like ink, that lot,” she said. “It only takes one drop in a cup water, and no matter how much you pour from that day on it will never be entirely pure again. And now you have let one of the finest makings of that line into your hearth, Catherine.”

Her fingers clenched, her gloves crinkling.

“She’ll have half of them charmed by the end of the night,” the Staff Tribune clinically said. “The rest uncertain. I expect she could ever turn Juniper’s opinion of her around, given long enough.”

“You maker her sound like a force of nature,” I said.

We watched the laughter and warmth unfolding before us, separate from it as if a transparent wall of dread had been slammed down between us.

“She was Named,” Aisha simply said. “And she rose high during years were the iron was sharp like rarely before.”

An elegantly backhanded compliment sent my way, that. There was a reason I’d more than once mulled stealing the Staff Tribune away from the army and making her my foremost diplomat.

“She remains impressive, even as a shade,” I admitted. “And you’re not without reason to worry.”

“And yet,” Aisha said.

“And yet,” I agreed.

A heartbeat passed.

“This is indiscreet, and perhaps insolent to ask,” Aisha delicately said, “but are you-”

I waved the notion away before she could even finish.

“I am,” I said, “Callowan.”

I’d come to learn that just as the Wasteland’s worst excesses needed to be excised from its flesh, so did Callow’s own spiteful inclinations. But in the end, I was more than mind and principle, more than thought. I was flesh, too, and like so many of my people my bones were made of grudge. There were some trespasses that could not be forgiven or forgot. One hundred thousand souls. Some follies were beyond forgiveness even were it wished. Sometimes, tough, forgiveness was not the heart of a story.

“I will have long a price as I can conceive, in due time,” I murmured. “Worry not of that.”

“You have lingering eyes,” Aisha hesitantly said.

“They’ve lingered on you as well,” I amusedly replied. “Shall I make you empress instead, Lady Bishara?”

Her cheeks reddened the slightest bit, which was unexpectedly charming. Ah, if it didn’t have terrible idea written all over it… The embarrassment passed, swiftly mastered.

“Rarely has there ever been more poisoned a chalice than the Tower,” the dark-eyed woman somberly said. “I would not dare drink of that cup. Yet someone must hold it, and that person cannot be Malicia.”

Something hard and cold passed in the cast of her face, at that, whisked away by the noblewoman’s mask but not quite quickly enough.

“Agreed,” I replied. “And Aisha, about Ratface-”

She curtly shook her head.

“I thank you, Catherine, but I will grieve Hasan in my own way,” she said.

Aisha was the only person I’d ever known to call him Hasan instead or Ratface regularly. They’d been lovers, back at the College. A strange pairing, given Ratface’s deep hatred of the nobility and Aisha’s open pride in her own heritage, but they’d both been incredibly lovely and the intensity of a passion could make up for a lot of differences. They’d parted ways before I met either of them, though Ratface had remained… inclined in the years after. I’d thought Aisha less attached, but now I wondered. Faded affections could find fresh life in other forms, and remain sweet at heart for the good times once shared. I nodded in deference to her grief, for it was greater than mine and it had older claim on the shade of the man who’d died in my service at Malicia’s order. Damn her for that, and so many other things.

“It’ll be Black, if I have my way,” I said.

A moment passed as Aisha mulled over what I’d just said.

“You usually do,” she finally said, tone faintly rueful. “It will be a bloodletting that makes the War of Thirteen Tyrants and One pale, if he rises.”

“Change will come,” I said. “If fought, it will not come gently.”

“They’ll fight,” Aisha tiredly said. “That is our nature, for good or ill.”

“It can’t be like it was before,” I told her. “You know that. Nor should it. We’ve come too far for that.”

“And her?” the lovely tribune said, glancing at Akua. “Where does she stand, in this new world of yours?”

“Nowhere gentle,” I said. “Though that will be a choice of her own making.”

“Will it?” Aisha said. “I imagine many have thought themselves her captain, in days past. I see none still drawing breath.”

“If I were trying to conquer her, I’d fail,” I softly said. “I’ve known that from the start. She has ever been my better at those games.”

“And yet,” Aisha repeated, the echo almost chiding.

“Always she’s had a knack for masks,” I said. “More than wearing them she became them, you know. It was why she wielded her Name so well.”

“Masks are shed, eventually,” Aisha warned.

“What if you didn’t want to shed it?” I said. “What if wearing that mask you got all these things that some part of you, deep down, had been craving? Because Sahelians are still humans, Aisha. There are some things you can’t train yourself out of no matter how hard you try.”

“There are things she will crave deeper still,” she said. “For that too was taught. And when the opportunity comes, the same choice that has always been made will be made.”

I smiled, and remembered a winding talk had some time ago under morning sun. You have seen the worst of us, she’d said. And through that knowing taken our measure. But there is more, Catherine. She’d seemingly been speaking of her own kind, of the High Lords and Ladies. But there’d been the slightest chink in the mask when she’d spoken of her great-uncle who’d fled to Nicae. If even a Sahelian can have the taste for peace, there is yet something left to be kindled. A little too sharp, a little too brittle. The first hint of the bile she’d vented on Kairos Theodosian the same dawn that’s seen the birth of the Ways. And I knew, of course, that she was not beyond such exquisite deception. That she might have been weaving that intricate web around me since the moment she saved my life in the Everdark. But it wouldn’t matter, I thought, watching Akua Sahelian letting out a snort of laughter at some pointed comment Indrani had made. It wouldn’t matter because she’d want it to be true.

“Be watchful, Aisha,” I said. “I will be as well. But that arrow has already been loosed, and I will not gainsay it now.”

“May the Gods avert their eyes from it all,” she murmured. “You’ve always had an uncanny way for seeing what others do not, Catherine. I will trust in it once more.”

“With open eyes,” I smiled.

“Is that not the finest manner of trust?” Aisha smiled back.

She drifted away just as easily as she’d come when there was a lull in the conversation for her to slide into, adding her thread to the weave of it with practiced grace. Sometimes I envied how easily it seemed to come to the highborn around me, the social graces I still struggled with even when I genuinely meant to use them. There was something to be said for training from one’s youth, even if the other aspects of nobility held little worth in my eyes. The hours passed smoothly, after that, eased by the wine and food and warmth. Twice more Robber tried to needle Akua into anger and struck only at smoke, until even Pickler looked discomfited on his behalf. He did not try a third time. With the greenskins swiftly moving for second portions of meat and the cask of ale being opened conversation bloomed in every direction, sometimes coming together for virulent debates but just as often staying a chaotic multitude. A warmth had seeped in me that had little to do with the fire or the drink, though I’d partaken of both generously. Still I sensed it immediately when two people passed through the outer wards surrounding the tumulus maybe half a bell before midnight. I wove Night to have a look, and to my surprise found two familiar faces walking up the hill.

Marshal Grem One-Eye, the grizzled old orc who was still thought by many the finest general alive, was carrying two bottles of aragh and from the sounds of it complaining that my father hadn’t even offered to carry one – to which Black piously informed him that as a recovering hostage he could not trust himself to carry out such strenuous labour. A few of my people heard the steps before the two came in sight, but there was a beat of surprise when they were fully seen in the firelight.

“Black, Marshal Grem,” I greeted them. “Have a seat, it’s not like we’re lacking room.”

The orc Marshal – Black’s, not mine – sniffed the air with a bemused look on his craggy face.

“Is that horse I’m smelling?” Grem One-Eye said. “Haven’t had a skewer of that in decades. Last time was…”

“Fleeing after that raid on the Wall,” Black said, lips twitching. “When those Iarsmai riders went after us.”

“Wait, I think I had a Name dream about that back in the day,” I said. “When you lot went after the Commander of the Watch?”

“Oh man, I heard about that,” Archer enthused. “I mean, no lie, the Lady is terrible at telling stories-”

“No lie indeed,” Black said, lips quirking outright.

“- but this one she actually made pretty entertaining,” Indrani finished.

“Did she mention the part where the Commander beat Black like a rented mule?” I said. “It was almost embarrassing to see.”

“That detail certainly never made it to Court,” Akua slyly added.

“A grave exaggeration,” Black said, eyeing me from the side. “I was maneuvering her into a killing blow.”

“While she was manoeuvring you down a set of stairs, head first,” I drily replied.

He slid into a seat not far from me while Grem passed the bottles to a – oh Gods, that was just wrong – blushing Juniper. I’d forgotten she had this uh, intense sort of admiration for Black. She half-glared at me for having the gall to mention that the legendary Carrion Lord had once been thrown down a set of stairs. Gods, I should find a way to pass along that one dream I had where he and Ranger were getting all… bright-eyed at each other. That ought to cure her from this right quick.

“We must have been fleeing on foot for half a day before they caught up,” the Marshal of Praes said. “Flat grounds, maybe a bell from the marches proper. Twenty of them, with this big man in mail the ranking officer.”

“The cousin to Duchess Kegan’s husband, we later learned,” Black said.

The old orc grinned.

“The Watch is coming, he said,” Marshal Grem recounted. “Soon you will be in longbow range. You cannot escape our sight. Surrender now, or-”

Indrani made a whistling sound, like an arrow loosed, then a fleshy hit.

“So Hye shot him, naturally,” Black said. “Right in the throat.”

“And Wekesa, still drenched in sweat from the running and looking like a rumpled cat, he leans forward and he says all cool as ice,” Grem One-Eye began.

“Guess he didn’t see that coming,” the two old killers guffawed together.

They chuckled with the ease of two old friends sharing a worn and beloved joke, now thrown around as much for the fondness of the tale as for whatever waning humour it might have once held. I shared a look of secondhand embarrassment with Masego and Indrani. Calamities, huh. They were a great deal less dignified once you’d had a close look at them. Those left, anyway, I thought with a grimace. Sabah I’d mourn for she was worth mourning, but the Warlock I grieved more for how his death had pained and would pain Masego more than anything else. Little about the man had endeared him to me.

“Here, Marshal,” Juniper said, passing him a skewer of juicy horse meat.

“Thank you, Marshal,” Grem replied, openly amused.

“Sisters take me, let’s be done with the titles for the night,” I grunted.

“Your Majestic Highreachingness, I must protest,” Indrani gravely said. “It would be most improper of your loyal subjects to behave in such a manner. And also us.”

“Reaching high shelves is her only weakness, as it happens,” Robber drawled.

“Really,” I flatly said. “The goblin is going to make height jokes.”

“I am a veritable titan, by my people’s standards,” the Special Tribune shamelessly lied.

“I’ve seen piles of apples taller than you,” I scathingly replied.

“Ah,” Robber replied without missing a beat, “but did you see over them?”

That cut a little too close to home so I replied with a gesture more than mildly obscene and a few curses in Taghrebi that had Aisha tittering in amusement before her face suddenly went blank. Ah, I sadly thought, my own memory prompted by the sight. It’d been the same man who’d taught them to the both of us, then.

“I have a question, Marshal Grem, about your assault on the Wall during the Conquest,” Pickler said. “If you don’t mind.”

“Grem will do, around a fire,” the old orc gravelled. “You’re Old Wither’s daughter, I hear?”

Pickler’s face tightened with discomfort as the mention of her mother, the Matron of the High Ridge tribe.

“I am,” she said.

“She tried to have my liver ripped out, once,” Grem said. “Not even because she disliked me, mind you, she was just trying to insult Ranker by eating an ally’s flesh.”

“I am,” Pickler slowly said, “sorry?”

The grizzled orc quietly laughed.

“Not much like that old horror, are you?” he said, baring teeth. “Ask your question, girl.”

Even as Pickler began a long question about the order of battle for siege when attacking the fortresses of the Wall I tuned out the taking and leaned closer to Black.

“You actually here for the company, or the other thing?” I quietly asked.

“I expect the Pilgrim will arrive come midnight,” he replied just as quietly. “And if you are to speak of the Wandering Bard, as I expect you will, one whose veracity might be ascertained might be of some use to you.”

I felt a sliver of gratefulness at that, though I knew he would bring as many complications as he did uses by being there. Tariq could no longer see through me unless Sve Noc let him, these days, and even if they did let him it would be considered suspect. Black, on the other hands, was no longer even Named. The Peregrine should be able to use his trick without any complications, though I doubted someone like the Grey Pilgrim would find much to approve of in my father. My brow raised, when I caught a detail. I’d never actually told him that the Sisters could ward of the attentions of the Choir of Mercy – and likely an aspect, as I doubted angels would so frequently lend a helping hand even to their apparent favourite.

“Come now,” Black smiled, before I could say anything. “Pacts with lesser gods are not so rare as to be unheard of. Wekesa spent many a year trying to mimic through ritual the benefits one gains through such patronage without the drawbacks, though to only middling success.”

“It’s not quite as clear-cut as that,” I said. “We have give and take.”

“No doubt,” the green-eyed man said. “Besides, considering the trials you’ve put your soul through over the last few years I doubt there are many takers left.”

I gasped.

“Are you making fun of the state of my immortal soul, you perfidious heretic?” I said.

“I suppose I must be a heretic indeed, if the Arch-heretic of the East deems me so,” he mused.

Gods but I’d missed insulting the man. There were still so many things left unsaid between us, recriminations still simmering and hard arguments yet to be had, but what had been so deeply wounded in the aftermath of Akua’s Folly felt… lighter tonight. Not healed, and perhaps it never would be, but not quite so raw. It helped, I thought, that I had been allowed to feel for my own path so far from him that it was impossible for any part of it to have been his notion. Whatever the reasons the two older men had come, they certainly kept the conversation going. Black eventually went to sit by Masego’s side, the two of them conversing quietly, and that I did not approach. The grief they shared went back to long before I’d entered either’s life, and I would be an unwelcome interloper if I attempted to be part of it. Vivienne had yet to come, which had me frowning. She would not snub an evening like this out of anger at Akua being here, so it likely meant the Jacks were finding something of us. I’d like for her to be there, regardless, but I couldn’t deny that finally getting even a bare bones report about whatever it was the First Prince was dredging out of Lake Artoise would be a relief.  As it turned out, though, like so often Black was right.

Mere heartbeats before midnight, the wards shivered as the Grey Pilgrim passed through.

69 thoughts on “Chapter 66: Silvered

  1. Cat’s planning on stabbing Akua after Akua’s redemption.
    Hopefully, this will put to rest the nonsense about Dread Empress Akua.

    Heh, Juniper hasn’t outgrown her crush on Amadeus.

    Ah, Tariq is arriving. This will be interesting. Especially with Akua around.
    But … I wonder how he’ll take the Wandering Bard revelations.

    Liked by 13 people

      1. Mmmm, point. A stabbing is quick (usually).
        On the other hand … a straight up stabbing probably isn’t actually going to kill Akua at this point. Since, y’know, she’s no longer amongst the living, and exists as a materialized soul.

        I suspect the death of Akua is more likely to involve feeding her soul to Sve Noc. Or maybe turning her over to one or more Heroes or Named capable of finishing her off without a chance of her coming back.

        Liked by 4 people

          1. Sparsebeard

            Of course, you can’t stab a ghost!

            Still, my point was that Cat’s mention of “long price” had me thinking she probably wouldn’t straight up murder her but rather use her for something long term (no idea what though).

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Eh, Viv had Sovereign of Moonless Nights!Cat swear a binding oath to utterly destroy Akua when her usefulness had ended.
              After the Everdark, Cat thought that she wasn’t magically compelled by that oath anymore but she still intended to keep it.

              So, yeah, murder might not necessarily be the right term, but it’s probably reasonably close. After all … if you torture someone to death, you’ve still murdered them, no matter how long it took you to get there.
              Although … murder probably isn’t the right term anyways, because is it really murder if the “victim” isn’t alive?

              Liked by 3 people

            2. caoimhinh

              Oh, ye of little faith! Of course you can stab a ghost! Raphaella, the Valiant Champion, is proof of that XD

              All that talk about Cat going “I’m not gonna kill her now, but I’ll have long price, I want her to suffer” just has me thinking that she is just stalling for time.
              When the time comes for Akua to be completely destroyed, Catherine is likely to be the one to cry, not Akua.

              Liked by 4 people

        1. Ιούλιος Καίσαρας

          I believe her redemption will be more in the line of becoming some kind of guardian or sentinel, be it passive or active, bounded to the post.
          She might even be in a position analogous (but not same) to Bard* in the post-Accord order.

          * If we accept the theory that Bard is some kind of narrative enforcer, That she’s bound to her post is beyond doubt.

          Liked by 4 people

    1. ninegardens

      Pretty sure Cat isn’t planning to do anything to Akua.

      She’s playing a Redemption Arc (much the same as she tried to escape when the Perrigrine offered earlier).
      She isn’t planning to harm Akua, she’s expecting Akua to destroy herself, in some suitably grandious manner.
      She’s planning for Akua’s voluntary sacrifice to earn them all a reprieve at some critical juncture vs DK.

      Liked by 11 people

      1. Did you not just read what Cat was saying and thinking?

        I could perhaps see that Akua sacrificing herself against the Dead King’s force as part of a redemption story makes sense.
        But that’s not what Cat has planned for Akua – remember, Cat’s been planning for Akua and her fate since well before the Dead King came out – since before the Crusade was even declared.
        Viv had Sovereign of Moonless Nights!Cat swear a binding oath that Akua and her soul would be utterly destroyed when her usefulness had ended. And we had information in an earlier chapter that while Cat thought she wasn’t magically bound by that path anymore, she intended to fulfill it, and Cat has more or less said as much again here.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. ninegardens

          Yes Javvies. I read:

          >“And her?” the lovely tribune said, glancing at Akua. “Where does she stand, in this new world of yours?”
          >“Nowhere gentle,” I said. “Though that will be a choice of her own making.”

          I came to a different interpretation to you. That’s fine- I’m sure we’ll both see how it pans out in the end.. Please do not assume that people who read things in a different way to you are blind.

          Was there any particular passage in the last few chapters that makes you so sure that Cat plans to kill and/or harm Akua directly…. as opposed to setting her on a collision course with a story that ends with her destruction?

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Depending on how you’re defining “the last few chapters”, I suppose.

            After getting out of the Everdark (or, rather, after giving up Winter), Cat had a section of thought about how she believed she was no longer magically compelled to follow the oaths she swore as Sovereign of Moonless Nights, including specifically one that she had sworn at Viv’s insistence – to utterly destroy Akua (once her necessary usefulness had ended) – and that while Cat fully intended to keep that oath anyways, she wasn’t going to talk about her new lack of magical compulsion to follow it to Viv. That is a paraphrase/summary, but I believe that covers the relevant highlights.
            The point is – Cat had to figure out a plan to end Akua back when she first swore that oath, which would have been before the Crusade invaded. Before the prologue of Book 4, during the time skip immediately following Second Liesse. Probably after it was first realized that Cat could make Akua come out of her cloak’s collar and talk to her.
            In other words, way before Cat would have been thinking about the Dead King.

            Also, in this Chapter, Cat thinks:
            “I was flesh, too, and like so many of my people my bones were made of grudge. There were some trespasses that could not be forgiven or forgot. One hundred thousand souls. Some follies were beyond forgiveness even were it wished. Sometimes, tough, forgiveness was not the heart of a story.”

            Cat is crafting a story for Akua, sure. But it’s not about Forgiveness … and dying as part of a redemption story usually results in some measure of posthumous forgiveness.

            Cat may or may not be planning to end Akua via a story instead of a prepared strike. However, Cat knows full well that while stories can set you up, non story elements can sidestep and overcome the narrative boosts, so l think that even if Cat intends to kill Akua via story, Cat’s also going to follow through with means capable of ending Akua without the story backing them or even despite the opposition of the story.

            And Cat would have first worked out her plan for Akua likely at least a year before the Dead King was on the horizon.
            It’s more likely, IMO, that any story Cat wields against Akua will involve purely Callowan and/or Praesi elements.
            Cat may intend to use Akua to take out Malicia and otherwise help clear the way for Amadeus.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. ninegardens

              … okay, fair. That’s a pretty explicit quote, and it looks like I glazed over it slightly on my previous read, and focused on the quotes about future choices.

              I don’t necessarily believe that Cat had an explicit plan in mind Pre-battle of the camps (merely a vague “I will end her”), and even if she did, I believe that Cat is perfectly capable of changing her plans as the situation changes.

              Liked by 3 people

            2. talenel

              Actually, you’re objectively incorrect. Forgiveness is not necessary for a story about Redemption. It’s the whole conceit of the Choir of Contrition.

              You will not be forgiven. You will never be forgiven. And you will always be full of remorse and penitent for your acts, but it will never ever be enough.

              Liked by 5 people

              1. ninegardens

                I’ld say calling someone “objectively incorrect” when we’re all trying to interpret a story is maybe a little far. Pretty sure none of us are perfect arbiters of objectively reality here, and given that we be chatting about a story even less so.

                I think that Javvies point that “Forgiveness is not part of this story”, leans our expected future significantly further from “redemption arc” is a valid one. I don’t think it proves that such future developments are impossible, but it does appear to make that storyline LESS probable, in much the same way that the line I quoted earlier probably suggests redemption story slightly more probable.

                Liked by 5 people

                1. The Choir of Contrition isn’t about redemption. It’s about Atonement without Redemption – they are admittedly similar and often intertwined concepts, but they aren’t always the same thing. And in this case the difference matters.

                  It certainly suggests that a “successful redemption” isn’t the plan.

                  My point there is that if somebody who is on a redemption arc or playing the allied lesser evil type, goes and does a quasi-heroic sacrifice against an overwhelming greater evil, that will often buy them a measure of posthumous forgiveness. You can gain (some) forgiveness in death for (some) things that you couldn’t in life … with the right kind of death. Sometimes, anyways.
                  It’s a clean and neat ending for a story and redemption. It also doesn’t fit with Cat wanting the longest price she can get out of Akua.

                  In light of the comment about Akua being so good at wearing masks that she becomes them … I think those who suggest that Cat might shape Akua into some sort of long term guardian/teacher have a point. On the other hand, I think it’s more likely that Cat is going to shape Akua into someone who genuinely seeks redemption – and perhaps volunteers to become an eternal guardian/teacher type without thinking about it being good for her redemption efforts but because it’s the Right Thing to Do, but instead of letting Akua actually take that step, Cat kills her to deny her successful redemption.
                  That is, I suspect Cat is going to kill Akua before Akua can redeem herself, but when Akua can see the light at the end of the redemption tunnel.

                  To use an analogy … I think Cat has something more in mind along the lines of giving Akua a hand at the top of a climb only to deny her the summit.
                  Like … in ASOIAF/GoT, Bran slips climbing the tower, Jaime catches him and pulls him up to safety, only to turn around and shove him back off into open space.
                  Something a bit like that, only decidedly more metaphorical and far less literal.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. ninegardens

                    I just… don’t see this happening.
                    Like… setting her up as a treacherous lieutenant and then punishing her inevitably betrayal? Sure- she’d play that Gag.

                    And sacrificing her for the greater good.
                    Sure, maybe.

                    But going to the effort of redeeming someone, and then murdering a intelligent competent person who you actually trust now, JUST for the spite?
                    That doesn’t seem like Cat’s modus operandi. In the past she has been all about “Break what you can not use and use what you can not break.”

                    Hell, even dragging her up before a court case seems more likely.

                    Liked by 3 people

                  2. talenel

                    I don’t know if we’re reading the same characters here. While Cat is hard and at times ruthlessly practical, she is honestly not that Callowan. Plus, why the hell should she give in to the baser nature of the Callowan stereotype?

                    She’s been very obviously trying to use people’s cultures as impetus for change and make them better. If she can’t do the same for her own, she’s basically dooming Callow to regressive failure. Because that’s what Callow is at the heart of it all. A country steeped in tradition, in the way things are done. It’s ironic with the way Cat is, but they have always seemed the most conservative and insular culture on Calernia. And I can’t see Cat giving them the example of leaning back into this regressive and foolish mindset.

                    Liked by 3 people

                  3. magesbe

                    No, that is not Cat. Forget spite, what you suggest is cold, hard cruelty in a way that Cat simply isn’t.

                    You don’t kill someone when they’re on the verge of becoming a better person. That’s just stupid unless you’re evil and actually don’t want them to be a better person. And while arguments can be made that Cat is the former, she’s not so petty as to deny Akua the chance to be better than she currently is. In fact, that’s what this entire thing is about.

                    I suspect Akua will not live to the end of the story, but I don’t think her end will be by Cat’s hand unless it is a step willingly taken by Akua on her path to redemption.

                    Liked by 4 people

        2. caoimhinh

          Catherine initially said she would only use Akua as a tool, consulting her when dealing with Cordelia, then Cat kept using her more and more until on the way to Keter she let her out permanently.
          Initially, Cat said she was going to destroy Akua right when she stopped being useful, then she changed it to “I will destroy Akua when she is a good person, so it hurts her more”, but right now? Right now, it seems like Cat has to constantly remind herself that she has to kill Akua, but has already admitted she does not want to. Yet she keeps pushing towards the story of redemption that Akua trapped herself into and making her a good person.
          I think Cat will be pained when Akua is finally destroyed; if it happens by Cat’s hand, then it will be because the situation forced them, like having to kill Akua to save others.

          Note what it says in today’s chapter:
          “I knew, of course, that she was not beyond such exquisite deception. That she might have been weaving that intricate web around me since the moment she saved my life in the Everdark. But it wouldn’t matter, I thought, watching Akua Sahelian letting out a snort of laughter at some pointed comment Indrani had made. It wouldn’t matter because she’d want it to be true.”

          Catherine is putting faith on Akua wanting to be good and becoming good, she is trusting Akua to welcome her destruction as redemption.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. There’s also the point that Akua is now properly a creature of Night, so Sve Noc may have something to say about her fate. On the other hand, they don’t seem to have much concern (less than Cat, anyhow) about their creatures killing each other.

            Liked by 3 people

          2. Shveiran

            My take is that Cat aims to destroy the Diabolist, not Aqua.

            By shaping Aqua Sahelina into what she believes is a full person, she will take her vengeance on the Diabolist and punish her the only meaningful way for her actions: by making her feel genuine remorse for what she did.
            After being defeated, Aqua’s remorse for her actions is… abstract; she was not brought up in a culture that considers life sacred, and thus she cannot feel it was wrong. At best she can… understand it from an intellectual point of view.

            So Cat aims to change that, because she believes that snuffing her out is insufficient and meaningless.

            The story likely ends with a Aqua making an extreme attempt at atonemnet, which will be direst act she can conceive… and therefore, far worse than any torture the Queen of Callow could decree on her.

            I don’t believe this ends with Aqua being forgiven, but rathe rwith her destroying herself of her own free will. Long price, indeed.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. Decius

              One ending is with Akua reforming and genuinely wanting to seek forgiveness, being sent to the demiplane where most of her victims are and told to seek forgiveness from each of them, and then doing so one by one.

              Then, after all of Liesse has forgiven her, show her what the house of Sahelian has become, and give her the chance to redeem them as well. Once she convinces her entire family to reform enough, sterilize all of them. When the last Sahelian dies, then destroy Akua’s soul.

              Long prices are for small slights. For larger offenses, you have to actually go big.

              Liked by 2 people

  2. Andrew Mitchell

    1. Good to have confirmation of Cat’s intentions for Akua as well as the acknowledgement there is still risk there.
    2. Amadeus is as insightful as ever it seems.
    3. It’s so, so good to have Cat talking with Amadeus again.

    “It’s not quite as clear-cut as that,” I said. “We have give and take.”

    “No doubt,” the green-eyed man said. “Besides, considering the trials you’ve put your soul through over the last few years I doubt there are many takers left.”

    I gasped.

    “Are you making fun of the state of my immortal soul, you perfidious heretic?” I said.

    “I suppose I must be a heretic indeed, if the Arch-heretic of the East deems me so,” he mused.

    Gods but I’d missed insulting the man.

    3. I’m looking forward to the chat with the Grey Pilgrim.

    Liked by 9 people

        1. caoimhinh

          It is so nice to see I Shall Seal The Heavens’ references without it involving fights between shippers of Chu Yuyan and shippers of Xu Qing.

          So refreshing~

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Robber slaughtering the fuck out of Cat with short jokes is so glorious. At least THIS person he does know how to get a reaction out of ;u;

      And god ‘i’d missed insulting the man’ is just. so perfect

      Liked by 6 people

  3. Raved Thrad

    And in the next installment, we discover that Tariq is a terrible drunk.

    “Come here, you beautiful green thing,” the PIlgrim said, to everyone’s consternation. “Come here and let ol’ Tariq show you why we call ourselves ‘The Dominion.'”

    Liked by 14 people

  4. caoimhinh

    This was a really fun chapter, I expect the tone of the conversations is going to become much serious one Pilgrim joins them, though they might go back to drinking happily after the Hero leaves.

    I wonder if Tariq sneaked past the Army of Callow to reach the campfire (we have seen that he is capable of that, back in the Peregrine Extra Chapters), since no messenger came up the hill to announce the Pilgrim’s arrival to Callow’s camp, but rather Cat sensed him crossing the wards on the hill.

    Also, he should have brought Roland, every Hero needs to hear what Cat is going to say. It’s gonna be interesting to see Tariq defending the Wandering Bard like “but she has always been only supporting Above! She is always around the Heroes!”.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. >I expect the tone of the conversations is going to become much serious one Pilgrim joins them, though they might go back to drinking happily after the Hero leaves.

      Oh it’ll go back to drinking with jokes BEFORE he leaves, I’m pretty sure. Did you see how well he got on with Indrani? ;u;

      (To the point of thinking it was the Black Queen’s cunning scheme to send them together so that he’d grow to like her. FUCKING AMAZING THAT ONE, STILL)

      Liked by 9 people

      1. caoimhinh

        To be honest, I expect Tariq’s mood to be soured quite a bit at the news of the Bard also working for Below (and possibly her own agenda unrelated to the Gods). He doesn’t think of her as an Intercessor of both sides of Gods to the mortals, but rather as a Heroine, an agent exclusive to Above.

        I think he will argue first on her Role being Good overall, but then be surprised and leave the scene to reflect on the new info in privacy (or maybe consulting the Ophanim). So I don’t think he will stay and drink with Cat’s group until dawn, though he will definitely join the drinking as he arrives, probably there will be some jokes before they get to Intercessor business.

        P.S: It would be awesome if the Bard suddenly appeared sitting in the campfire next to them as Catherine finishes her explanation. That would certainly spice up the debate.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Oh and Tariq mentioned his Role + his skills lending him a lot of sneakiness in his backstorychapters. Showing up somewhere that he absolutely isn’t supposed to be is like half his shtick, we just haven’t seen much of it in the present yet.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Yep. I know he is capable of that, I’m just wondering if he used that trick, as apparently no legionary came up to announce the arrival of the Peregine, he just showed up crossing the wards.
        Though it’s interesting that Catherine and Black could predict his arrival so accurately, I mean, Cat simply told Tariq like 3 days ago that they needed to talk, without any date settled, yet they are capable of using Narrative to predict when and where he will arrive to meet them.

        That, or Cat sent an invitation to Tariq for the campfire out of screen XD

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Decius

    Does the Pligrim’s insight work on Akua’s shade?

    Would the Pilgrim’s insight work on the rest of the Wasteland Nobility?

    Black wants to kill off the entire nobility because much of it is corrupt and backstabbing; the Empress wants to not kill off the nobility because it’s a stabilizing influence. Neither of them could find a balance of deciding who to kill for being disloyal and who to leave in charge.

    Grey Pilgrim for Chancellor?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Shveiran

      I don’t think the problem can be solved by removing lies, honestly.
      It’s more about judging character, an unwillingness to seek the best for Praes at the expense of one’s betterment… or even, the belief that strife and backstabbing ARE what’s best for Praes.

      I suppose you could put them all in a line and ask “are you going to try and backstab your ruler at some point in the future?” or something along those lines, and execute them based on the answer. It woudl be a better system than full-on genocyde.
      That doesn’t make it a good system, though, IMO: we would be judging them based on ideas, and ideas change: you may be sapring future agitator, and executing those whose mind could be changed. It has no guarantee of success, and a good deal of collateral damage.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. Ebert of Alamans, scholar errant

    The Nameless City, far from not having a name (as that name is “The Nameless City”), rather refers to the local legal and social proscription against Named residing or operating within the bounds of its influence. Mobs have been known to spontaneously form and lynch individuals so much as suspected of being Named.

    Of course, the fact is that few if any of these poor condemned souls have ever been confirmed as bestowed with such power; the death of Named is rarely of such little note.

    For further information on this topic, please seek my treatise, “Cities of the East on Two Denarii a Day: A Traveler’s Guide”.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. WuseMajor

    One of the things I find interesting about Cat is that, despite the complaints about being short, when she was Fae and her body was mostly a thing of ice and snow and magic, she learned to make herself grow spikes, regrow limbs, turn to mist…but never did she consider making herself taller or more beautiful.

    I wonder if she just didn’t think of it or if that would have signaled that she was going full on Fae Queen.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You forgetting how Names change your opinions to how you think you look like. Cat is short because she wants to be short, even thinks she should be short. Who knows, maybe if it wasn’t for her Name interfering, she would’ve even grown…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Shveiran

        Names reflect self-perception, not desires: Squire!Cat was short because she had always been so and therefore believed she was.
        Fae!Cat could have changed her appearance, but didn’t want to: she didn’t like being short or flat, but she was also clinging to her former self as an anchor against Winter: forgoing her appearance was terrifying, not empowering. But she always felt her leg wound was precisely that – a wound, not a part of what she was. Therefore, that she opted to fix.
        Priestess!Cat has no easy way to alter her appearance on a whim, and thus appears as she always had.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. caoimhinh

            Actually, there’s no consistency on Catherine’s leg wound.
            Nothing says her leg wound was healed by the Hashmalim during her resurrection, and in fact she is shown limping right afterward when she emerges with Akua from the lake. But then the wound is never mentioned again, despite Cat still drinking herbs for the pain and then developing a love for smoking, she is even shown occasionally walking and running without mentioning her leg wound or pain.
            Then when Catherine breaks the seal of Winter in her heart during her last fight against Akua, she says the Hashmalim had healed her leg, but that turning full Winter had returned her leg wound and she is shown limping again in that chapter. Yet later on afterward the leg wound is forgotten and never mentioned again.

            Then we got to her giving Winter to Sve Noc, where she claims she no longer had any leg wound, but becoming mortal again returned her wound, and that’s current arc Catherine who still limps because she wants to live with that pain “as a reminder”.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Oh wow.

              Yeah, I’m deciphering that as “Catherine got healed back to full by the Hashmallim, Winter returned the wound when it remade her body from her soul’s template anew but the wound went away as soon as Catherine stopped thinking about it for the same reason her heart didn’t beat when she slept at the time”

              Liked by 1 person

        1. “she had always been so”

          She was fifteen at the moment, I believe.

          “Priestess!Cat has no easy way to alter her appearance on a whim”

          Really should’ve prayed about right things. Something like – hey, I did not grow for the last (insert time) years, but I now I would’ve if I could, can you, maybe, help?


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