Interlude: Iron

“There are only two sorts of freedom to be found in Praes: the tyrant’s freedom, and the freedom to do as the tyrant said.”
– Extract from the memoirs of Hiram Banu, the Ninety-Year Chancellor

Her Most Serene Highness Cordelia Hasenbach, First Prince of Procer, Princess of Salia, Prince of Rhenia and Warden of the West found that her patience ran thin, these days. Not for a freshly developed failure of character, she’d decided, but rather because there was simply so much to do and so little time to see it done. Petty temporizing from others had once been something to tolerate out of courtesy, to maintain the ties of etiquette binding all to civility and so providing a common tongue, yet now ever instance was measurable loss. And never a frivolous one, either, for all the decisions of middling import she could pass on to subordinates she already had weeks ago. Therefore, when the First Prince of Procer entered her solar at a brisk pace she was quietly irked by the absence of one of the three men she’d sent for. The Principate of Procer could be said to have three great assemblies of spies, when counting those attached to the sole office of the First Prince and not the particular of who sat on the throne. The first and foremost was the Circle of Thorns, whose webs of informants abroad had been the eyes and ears of the rulers of Procer for centuries now: its current highest patron, the skeletal and balding Louis of Sartrons, rose smoothly as she entered. A noticeable moment later the other man in the room, Balthazar Serigny, followed suit.

That hirsute bear of a man, his face a bold battlefield between ferocious eyebrows and an uncompromising beard, was the head of the Silver Letters. A pack of thieves and assassins grown so successful some centuries past they were given official sanction and from then on used as the spies of the First Princes within the boundaries of the Principate itself. Balthazar the Bastard, as his subordinates called him without speaking of the circumstances of his birth, had opposed Cordelia’s rise to power during the Great War and remained in place after her crowning largely because he was too difficult to swiftly replace and the successor she’d handpicked for him was not yet ready. There should have been a third on his feet there, Simon of Gorgeault, standing in the name of the Holy Society. That one was as much a diplomat as a spy, for the Holy Society and its assembly of highborn lay brothers and sisters was at times more an informal channel of communication with the House of Light than shadowy obtainers of secrets. Gorgeault’s lateness grated on her more than it should have, Cordelia knew, for knowing the man it would not be without reason. Yet his close ties with the House and in particular the Holies – that informal assembly of the influential within the House whose equally informal decisions ever became formal policy – were doing him no favour in her eyes of late.

“A good morn to you both,” the First Prince of Procer calmly said.

She paused long enough to allow the two spymasters to return the courtesy.

“Be seated,” Cordelia Hasenbach ordered. “We will begin without Brother Simon.”

The blonde Lycaonese pressed her skirts against her legs to more elegantly sit her chair, dismissing the attending servants with a polite shake of the head when inquiries were made by silent look. She had no intention of entertaining these men long enough for refreshments to be required, much less a meal. Besides, should she offer either etiquette would require small talk be made over them before serious matters were spoken of and she had absolutely no intention of wasting half an hour on inanities when Procer was rarely more than one calamitous day away from annihilation.

“We will attend to the Iserran situation first,” Cordelia stated. “Gentlemen, am I to understand that disaster was truly averted?”

The men shared a silent glance, the rapacious-faced head of the Circle and the half-wild former fantassin who’d killed and blackmailed his way to supreme prominence in the Silver Letters. It was the latter that spoke first, first clearing his throat in a surprisingly dainty manner for a man of his looks and conduct.

“We have confirmed that the foreign forces have all begun to evacuate the plains,” Balthazar the Bastard said. “It was made known to the rank and file of both the Army of Callow and the Legions of Terror that winter quarters will be raised in Arans before they went through the gate, so I believe it likely the Black Queen intends to keep her word.”

Of that there had been little doubt in the First Prince’s mind: she’d read a transcript of these Liesse Accords, passed along by hasty scrying. It was becoming increasingly evident they’d all severely underestimated Catherine Foundling, and that her game was a long one indeed. Cordelia’s cold blue eyes moved to the other man sitting across from her, inviting elaboration.

“The League of Free Cities has agreed to begin marching south, and to the offered sale of supplies as the costs you offered,” Louis said. “The Hierarch himself is said to have granted full authority to his advisory council over the matter, though the Tyrant of Helike remains the dominant force among it.”

Though not by so large a margin as he would have been before what her people had taken to calling the Princes’ Graveyard. An ornate affectation, given only a single royal had died instead of abdicated, yet the Alamans fondness for grand appellations was not do be denied. The League’s audacious – foolish, some would call it – march through the Waning Woods to take the Principate by surprise had meant it would need to live off the land after the supplies it brought began to run out, given the lack of supply train. The situation for them was not yet dire, yet the Circle of Thorns had learned that they had perhaps two months left before their grain ran out. Which was something of an issue for the invaders, given that the Carrion Lord had already stolen or torched every granary in the heartlands of the Principate: there was nothing left for them to steal in turn. Offering just enough supplies to fend off starvation in exchange for a retreat south had been a gamble, but a necessary one. She could not let more than a hundred thousand foreigners camp in Iserre while talks took place here in Salia. For one, it was much too close to the capital. More importantly, if the League’s armies stayed in Iserre so much enough of a force to check it even if truce was currently being had.

Oh, Kairos Theodosian would no doubt turn on her as soon as the conference came at an end and he’d secured whatever prize he now sought. Yet by that time the armies of the League would be much further south, perhaps as far as Tenerife, and the military situation would have changed. The Black Queen had, after all, admitted to making bargain with the Kingdom Under concerning sale of armaments and implied to Arnaud that arrangement could be had there between herself and the Principate. That meant delaying resumption of hostilities with the League a valid tactic, for by the time the blades came out again the massed levies Cordelia had ordered in all southern and western principalities would be furnished with fresh dwarven weaponry and be ready to hold the line against the League’s treachery. It would have ruinous costs in both lives and gold, but it was either that or allowing the Tyrant of Helike to dictate the course of the war on Keter however he wished. The Prince of Rhenia had sent her own people to die and abandoned her kinsmen to the Dead – she could and would stomach Arlesite conscripts bleeding to defend their own lands. Louis of Satrons’ pause was smoothly filled by the other spymaster a heartbeat later.

“My people in Iserre had a look at the delegations when the Black Queen opened the fairy gate for them,” Balthazar said. “Getting too close was judged risky – the Jacks are sharp-eyed and there’s goblins skulking around everywhere – but we believe the agreements were honoured when it comes to soldier strength.”

Cordelia’s brow did not rise, for she was better bred than that, yet she politely expressed surprise.

“Even the Carrion Lord?” she asked.

The offer extended had been an escort of four thousand for every representative attending the conference, which Cordelia had intended to mean the Hierarch and the Queen of Callow. Now instead there was a certain ‘General Rumena’ representing the interests of the Empire Ever Dark and requiring their own escort, which was unfortunate confirmation the drow were on the move once more. The suggestion the Carrion Lord would attend as representative for the Dread Empire of Praes had been like ash in Cordelia’s mouth, given the man’s cold-blooded scheme for the death of thousands and thousands of innocents. In all fairness, Foundling seemed to have understood the… delicacy of that situation and offered a compromise: she’d be responsible for the man’s actions while in Procer, and as her dependent he would be allowed only a thousand men in escort to be deducted from her own four thousand. The blonde Lycaonese suspected the hand of Vivienne Dartwick in those terms, whose diplomatic acumen had proven greater than one would expect of a former Chosen.

“He seems to have brought only four hundred legionaries,” Balthazar said. “Though given how popular he remains with parts of the Army of Callow, he’s hardly vulnerable.”

Not that Cordelia was fool enough to entertain assassination at the moment. Not with his apprentice – who, it seemed, still remained fond enough of him to seek his release regardless of reports of their quarrelling after the Doom of Liesse – having become so crucial to the survival of the Principate and perhaps even the continent itself. The amount of forces coming close to Salia made her uneasy, in truth. Four thousand drow, possessed of strange eldritch powers at night by all reports, four thousand eastern legionaries and a mixed force of four thousand from the League whose finest were from Helike. The Dominion would bring four thousand of their own, though they’d proved unreliable allies in many ways, and the First Prince had provided four thousand of her own soldiery to stand for the Thalassocracy of Ashur under thin pretence. Salia was hardly undefended, of course, and Princess Rozala Malanza would be bringing ten thousand soldiers besides as a guarantee. Yet sixteen thousand foreign soldiers within a day’s march of the capital was not something to take lightly in any circumstances, much less these. Countries grown weak often found their allies had grown hungry.

“Then it seems we had survived the crucible,” First Prince Cordelia calmly said, “and must now begin preparing for the one waiting beyond the horizon.”

“If I may, Your Most Serene Highness?” Louis of Sartons asked, and she moved her had in concession. “Our allies in Ashur are becoming increasingly desperate, and when word of the bargain struck for the retreat of the League that despair will turn to fury.”

It would, Cordelia privately agreed, for every step that took the armies of the League further from Procer took them closer to the shores of the Thalassocracy. All the while the fleets of Nicae kept blockading the island-nation and sinking even fishing boats, very clearly aiming to starve Ashur into submission. The bargain would be seen as a betrayal, not entirely without reason, and Cordelia’s assurances that this was maneuvering would ring hollow so long as they were not paired with some manner of relief for Ashur. Which she could not provide so long as the League’s fleets had the run of the Samite Gulf, given that no Arlesite principality had a considerable military fleet to call on. Largely because of Ashuran bribes and threats, one might uncharitably add.

“We will have to exert pressure on the League during the conference,” Cordelia agreed. “Lest we lose Ashur entirely to spite or surrender. If a common front is put forward to at least allow for grain barges to be allowed through, there would be hope to offer.”

“That would require Callow to back us against the Free Cities,” Balthazar grunted. “They’re trying to get a foot in the Grand Alliance so it’s not impossible, but the Black Queen’s no fool. She’ll not let herself be brought into the fold before she squeezed us dry of every concession she can prior to alliance.”

“I am not so certain,” Louis disagreed, bony face gone pensive. “No force under her command has ever resorted to looting or foraging while campaigning in our lands. Though I would agree she has distaste for the well-bred, I would venture she’d be rather sympathetic to the plight of starving Ashurans. It is not an uncommon trait, in tyrants who have popular support.”

Cordelia was, in fact, inclined to agree with the leader of the Circle of Thorns. Catherine Foundling had a record of trying to spare commoners the worst of war even when it was inconvenient to her armies, and the Army of Callow’s regulations were perhaps the strictest on the continent when it came to civilians. Unfortunately, the First Prince found it dubious that the Back Queen would antagonize the League of Free Cities on behalf of the Grand Alliance without some manner of concession. Which was not unreasonable, given that she would be taking on risks for nations that had warred on her own, but was most definitely unfortunate. The fair-haired First Prince only had so many concessions she could make and was reluctant to begin doling them out too early in negotiations. She might have to regardless, Cordelia grimly conceded. Choices were the privilege of those mighty enough to afford choosing.

“There will be a need to approach her in private after she arrives,” the First Prince finally said.

That much had never been in doubt, truth be told, though the extent of matters in need of discussion sometimes felt like to Cordelia like it increased by the day. The First Prince found herself in the unpleasant diplomatic quagmire of having to negotiate with a need to preserve an empire’s dignity without having an empire’s might to ensure it. Whatever alliances she might have once been able to call on were now stretched thin, the Chosen so unreliable as to be worthless and to add one more complication the Silver Letters were adamant that the Black Queen had become somewhat popular with Alliance armies that’d been on the field. The entire host had been plagued with dreams, allegedly the work of the Choir of Mercy, that had shown a span of the ‘heroics’ that’d taken place in these Twilight Ways. The result had been flattering to the Queen of Callow’s reputation, to say the least, though the transcripts of some of these dreams had been disturbing to read. The cunning that Foundling had shown that night was more dangerous than the power, in Cordelia’s eyes, though the power was the stuff of nightmares as well.

Now it was good as certain that the Callowans would follow their queen with fanatical devotion into any war she chose to wage – Gods Above, even as some kind of priestess of darkness she’d received the tacit blessing of angels – which would be a great boon if these negotiations saw fruit but a cataclysm otherwise. More worrisome was the apparent oath by every great line of the Blood to support her bid for joining the Grand Alliance, as it’d received the approval of the Grey Pilgrim. To Levantines, that might carry as much weight as that of the Choir he was said to be servant of. When Rozala Malanza’s soldiers came to Salia, and the Levantines with them, they would find a city that still spoke of the Black Queen as the Arch-heretic of the East and a perfidious enemy. The survivors of the campaign in Iserre would not take well to being called liars, much less the potentially disastrous epithet of heretic. It could all turn into an ugly circumstance with frightening ease if Cordelia was not very, very careful. Merciful Heavens, what had the world come to when she could expect the Black Queen to be a calming influence on the proceedings?

The First Prince would not be blinded by relief at a withheld blade or a sudden surge of sentiment, yet she could not deny that Catherine Foundling seemed to be trying to claw back the continent from the brink of they abyss. She was a horribly inconvenient person, it was true, but she’d also proved she was capable of restraint and a degree of foresight – which Cordelia could not truthfully say of all those who had a seat in the Highest Assembly. That Calernia might end up bound by a set of treaties even more far-reaching than those of the Grand Alliance had rankled, at first, but looking upon the content of the Liesse Accords the First Prince had been forced to concede they might be of genuine help in stabilizing the continent. That the rules of behaviour they proposed were elemental meant they were likely to be functional in practice even when binding such fractious individuals, and that most Chosen and Damned would be inclined towards enforcing them: a flying fortress rarely benefited anyone but the one flying it, and so even another villain might delight in seeing it brought down along with a rival. And as for the Chosen, Cordelia was far past needing convincing they too were in need of similar restraints. That the same plague that’d wiped out a detachment of Praesi legionaries had also wiped out an entire town on the shore of Lake Artoise without a single breakout elsewhere before or since was a damning hint of who was responsible for it.

There would be consequences to that, one day.

The dawning truth of the last few days had been that the Black Queen intended to bring forth an order to Calernia, and that this order was not too inimical to the order that Cordelia Hasenbach had been trying to bring forth since she was but a girl. It was not the resounding victory for Good that the First Prince had wanted, yet it was compromise she was willing to live with. She fully intended on securing as many gains as she could for Procer and the Grand Alliance, yet she would do so with the preservation of the Accords in mind. In truth, there were some aspects she’d found thrilling. This posited city in the Red Flower Vales? It was, she hoped, an end to wars between Callow and Procer. With this Cardinal forbidding the march of armies and the only other land-route between the two realms the Stairway up north, war would become highly impractical to wage. Three kittens and a ribbon could defend the narrow pass of the Stairway against a princely army, if they had the nerve, and having a great city at the crossroads between the east and the west of Calernia would allow for trade between adjoining realms to flourish and make hostility even more costly a prospect. And there was much to gain, in having such a neutral ground where diplomacy would be had even on the darkest days. No, Cardinal would have much greater reach than even the Black Queen seemed to realize.

A sharp rap against the closed door had Cordelia raising her voice to grant entrance to the servant. A man in livery hurried in at her invitation and after courtly bows came to whisper in her ear. The First Prince of Procer’s lips slightly thinned and she nodded a dismissal.

“Brother Simon’s absence should be excused, it seems,” Cordelia Hasenbach crisply said. “For he has been detained by order of the House of Light. The Holies are calling the Highest Assembly to session.”

Two of the most skilled spymasters alive looked at her with faces betraying utter surprise.

“That’s madness,” Balthazar said.

“It’s treason,” Louis said, tone cold. “In time of war, no less. Your Most Serene Highness, this cannot be allowed to pass.”

“Nor will it,” Cordelia Hasenbach said, voice like iron. “It appears I have at last found an end to my patience.”

150 thoughts on “Interlude: Iron

    1. I’m low key terrified of her choosing a method of dealing with them along the lines of ‘set the building on fire and block the exits’ and sliding down the slippery slope into merry hells, but I have more faith in her than that. I think???

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Even if she’s at a point where she’d find it cathartic, she’s far too smart. I don’t think she’ll be pulling her punches, but Cordelia Hasenbach’s version of that is infinitely more likely to look like outmaneuvering them ruthlessly and bending their arm until it’s on the verge of breaking than like a massacre.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Shveiran

          Yeah, I’m with Fayhem. This is Cordelia Hasenbach, not Cersei Lannister; I don’t think EE will choose this instance to break his excellent track records of understandable characters and have her just go coco-for-coco-pops just because someone is trying to piss in the porridge again.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Well, maybe I exaggerated a little.

            But Cordelia is not very well-versed in story-fu, and she doesn’t understand how badly ‘lesser evil’ and ‘necessary brutality’ can go if improperly handled. So… I’m worried =x

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Shveiran

              She is ignorant in story-fu, yes, but that makes it easy to fall into story traps; it’s not a brain-washing device.
              If she got a Name this instance, she wouldn’t suddenly forget all the training that allowed her to pacify and rule the Principate. “I’ll slaughter the most prominent religiosu figures in the kingdom I rule, what could possibly go wrong” is not just story-stupid, it’s stupid-stupid.

              She is liable to fall into the wrong stories, sure; Patterns of Three, Monologues, Tempting Fate… Heck, she is likely a few steps from becoming the Villainess With the Death Ray.
              But she won’t start genocyding her own people, why would she? She is a skilled politician, and “kill all opposition” is not a good idea in Praes, let alone Procer.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. >But she won’t start genocyding her own people, why would she?

                That’s not what I’m worried about tho!

                What I’m worried about is very much the Villainess with the Death Ray thing. Even just curbing the influence that the House of Light has on her country’s politics is an iffy narrative move she might utterly fail to process as such specifically becuase of her ignorance of the narrative. Oh, she’s skilled in politics and PR which is a very close thing, but in politics and PR the way to keep things from interfering is to keep them secret, while in narrative-fu keeping things secret is a VERY bad move…

                Like

  1. Heh.

    Cordelia isn’t happy. About a lot of things.
    At least she seems to be more or less on board with the Accords. Or at least, the underlying principles thereof, even if there’s inevitably going to be some quibbling about some of the details.

    Yeah … the Proceran House of Light is in deep shit when it comes to Cordelia’s opinion.
    But, to be fair, did anybody really expect that they wouldn’t try to spike things? I mean, they did declare Cat the Arch-Heretic of the East, so there’s no way they are going to be happy about inviting her to Salia for negotiations. On the other hand … I suspect that this move might have Bard secretly behind it.

    Maybe Cordelia will have to take drastic measures to bring the Proceran House of Light to heel.

    Liked by 17 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      This might as well have Bard’s signiture. Whether to benefit Cat or light her hair on fire remains to be seen. Because Bard always likes to play both sides.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Sparsebeard

        If it’s Bard, the goal is probably to push Cordelia to react and cement her in the role of a Villain… Which would potentially accomplish many goals:

        Sway the balance on evil’s side, thus enabling good some divine intervention (perhaps to try and remove a pesky Villainess).

        Weaken the accords by having a Named ruling Procer (and how convenient for Bard who supposedly can act mainly through Named).

        Weaken Procer by introducing the civil strife that may very well follow forceful actions by Cordelia (and permiting Bard the intercede on the behalf of either side of such a civil war, I’m sure she has a few good deals in mind).

        Liked by 12 people

        1. mamm0nn

          My thoughts exactly, this sounds like the priests with a nudge from the Choirs being the aggressor that pretends to be a peace-preaching force. They detain people that ‘work for them so it’s fine technically’ and call people into a meeting to talk, which is storywise a-okay for the good guys of course, and then villainise the First Prince for her reaction to this treachery.

          Above is making a play to turn the newfound allies of the Black Queen either Evil or sway them away from her, as we’ve seen with Pilgrim already. I hope Roland will be passed, it’d be a shame if he too has to turn his back or see himself turned a Villain to be disposed of.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. >Above is making a play to turn the newfound allies of the Black Queen either Evil or sway them away from her, as we’ve seen with Pilgrim already.

            What?

            What we’ve seen with Pilgrim is that the Choir of Mercy refrains from having opinions on his political decisions even when he directly asks for advice, and that the Choir of Mercy is willing to work with Catherine both at his will and when she asks nicely (their visions presented her in best light even before they agreed to let her rez him)

            Liked by 1 person

        2. You’re assuming the Bard is an antagonist. Note that Catherine’s only basis for treating her as such is “I hate puppetmasters” (and Bard’s repeated and targeted antagonization and taunting of her)

          Liked by 3 people

            1. Eh. If the Accords are about enforcing the exact thing Bard herself needs the power for, Bard’s reaction is likely to be “finally, a vacation! Oh please don’t let this fall through…”

              Liked by 1 person

    2. NerfGlastigUaine

      “I suspect that this move might have Bard secretly behind it.”

      This can be said about literally every move in this story so far. All bar Hierarch/Tyrant screwing her over. That’s the terrifying part about Bard, her game’s so long and net so wide that you can’t know what’s part of it and what isn’t.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. Well, we are quite confident that Bard was directly involved in the Proceran House of Light’s last big moves – namely the Conclave that declared Cat the Arch-Heretic of the East over the presumed (if undeclared) Arch-Heretic of the East, the reigning Dread Empress Malicia.

        So it’s not really much of a tinfoil theory to think that Bard might be involved with the Proceran House of Light’s latest move.

        That said, it could easily be the case that Bard isn’t currently actively involved, and she merely previously primed certain key figures within the House of Light to take some sort of action as a reflexive setting up of contingencies.

        Liked by 12 people

        1. noodlewerk

          The fun thing about villains like Wandering Bard is that is doesn’t matter what you actually do in your written story. You have some things that are obviously planned by the puppet master villain, and for all other events you can just claim they were planned later if it suits the story.

          Kind of like the Lords of Dust in the Eberron campaign setting of D&D. The advice to running them is almost literally:

          “Whatever the party did before, could have been a plot. They saved the town? One of the children was destined to become a great villain. They found a magic sword in a lost tomb? That sword is actually needed by some bad guy that will buy it from the merchant after the party sells it when they find a nicer sword.”

          Whatever happened, it’s a plot. Maybe.

          Liked by 3 people

      2. NerfContessa

        True.

        Still, Cordelia becoming a dread princess might be just what is needed now.

        Imagine, unity against an evil so bad all other evils unite against it. How could Good resist? :p

        Like

    3. Skaddix

      Honestly, its not a surprise. Cordelia apparently doesn’t have a good relationship with the Church or with Heroes (Chosen) so she has no real control over the House of Light. I have said it a thousand times Cordelia really needed to a better job of getting Chosen and thus the House of Light on her side. Her failure to do this (especially with her dredging operation if that is an Angel or Demon) could only end up biting her in the behind.

      Granted there is some symmetry in both Cat and Cordelia having to deal with House of Light related issues. Historically the relationship between Church and Monarchies has always been interesting.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. It’s not Scribe.
        I’ve made my position regarding it not being Scribe clear multiple times now, so I won’t fully repeat myself again here.

        But in short? Scribe hasn’t had the time to do this given the constraints that she’s operating under. She can’t utilize planned acts because she’s trying to dodge a precog, which leaves her limited to taking advantage of opportunities as they appear.
        Remember, Augur likes her cousin, and Scribe is a Villain, anyways.
        Augur may or may not be able to detect Bard’s actions via her precognition, and even if she can, it’s still Bard, someone who is presumably a Hero (as far as Augur knows).
        Also, Augur either did not or could not give Cordelia a heads up about the last time Bard (and the Saint of Swords) got involved with getting the House of Light to do something Cordelia didn’t want them to do.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. IDKWhoitis

    So uh,

    What are the odds that when Cat arrives, the city will be tearing itself apart in a brutal schism/civil war? And if that’s the case, how much of the city will be on fire?

    And we don’t need to ask IF Cat will be blamed.

    Because I feel that Cordelia is past half measures and using soft power, and the Holies are done listening to any mortal.

    Liked by 9 people

      1. Shveiran

        My bet is on a show of force, but not a murder spree. Bodies on the ground would have repercutions on civil order she can ill afford and easily foresee.
        Pointed threats, backed by, say, an occupation of the conclave by an armed force, she can more easily smooth over.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Catherine and Amadeus: we didn’t start the fire…

          Malicia: only a sufficient size of a fire can draw the firefighters away from tracking me down for the previous arson,

          Cordelia: I did start the fire but they started it first-

          Kairos: ALL YOUR FIRES ARE BELONG TO ME

          Hierarch: what fire? All I’m seeing is Wicked Foreign Tyrants

          Bard: hiding matches in one hand and fire extinguisher in the other behind her back and widely smiling

          Liked by 7 people

  3. Gunslinger

    The Proceran house of light have been moving against cornflakes haberdash for quite a while now. Are they being manipulated secretly?

    Doesn’t feel like the Bard (also not everything has to be the bard’s plot). Could be Malicia. Long history of Proceran manipulation and she can damage both Procer and Callow with the same weapon.

    Also I had the laugh at the line about two kittens and a ribbon defending the pass. I’m going to steal that metaphor

    Liked by 10 people

      1. WuseMajor

        Or it could be…. Damn, forgot the name. Black had some kind of ….shoot, …um…. didn’t he have a …not Assassin or Captain or Warlock or Ranger but …wasn’t there another one?

        …..

        ……I guess not. And, even if she existed, I’m sure she wouldn’t be behind all the bureaucratic trouble currently facing the kingdom.

        Liked by 16 people

          1. laguz24

            This is the scribe’s doing but bard is pulling the strings. Scribe as a manipulator does not expect to be the puppet, and the bard can only act through those with the story. Scribe also does not understand what it is like to have a home so does not understand the gravity of her actions. To her, she is simply removing a dangerous system that is threatening black.

            Liked by 2 people

        1. Shveiran

          She may. Yet I agree she doesn’t seem to have a reason to end Procer THROUGH A CIVIL WAR if Amadeus is heading straight into the middle of it.
          I suppose there is some doubt Scribe knows he is coming… but then again, that does seem like Scribe shtick.
          It is possible she put things in motion previously, and may be unable to stop them now?

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Shveiran

            True, but the reason why I think she’d stop is that a revolting, capital-sized crowd is not easy to control once she sets it in motion. And Amadeus doesn’t have a Name anymore.
            I guess it depends a lot on what happened when and how much Scribe actually knows, but this kind of moves is a lot smarter when the fire you are lighting is far away from what you love, no?

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Amadeus doesn’t have a Name, but he does have an army. He’s not vulnerable to this bullshit, it just puts him in a better relative position – see Cordelia’s musings on being unable to afford NOT making all the concessions Cat asks for, at this point.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Shveiran

                Amadeus has a very small army, Salia would have a very very big mob, and most of Amadeus’ allies at the moment ultimately answer to Cat… which is bound to jump in if the city is eating itself alive, and Scribe knows it.

                Cordelia musings refer to a situation where rational people sit across a table and discuss the way forward; it doesn’t consider the balance of forces if suddenly its ptchforks everywhere.

                Liked by 2 people

    1. Scribe. Don’t forget we have Scribe deliberately destabilizing things.

      She’s probably continuing where Bard and Laurence left off, that-wise…

      Also Cordelia has the best way with words. Remember the barrel of fish? ;u;

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Alivaril

    Ah, nostalgia. Certain church(s) in our world also had trouble knowing when they should stop poking locals with a sharp stick. Here’s to hoping they get the smackdown they deserve. *toasts with wine sweet enough to poison certain Named*

    Liked by 6 people

    1. quite possibly a cat

      Although in this world, they have much more interventionist gods helping them out. Here you can poke back and the worst that will happen is eternal hellfire after you die. Cordelia could have a very bad time if Above tells their priests that smiting Cordelia and her minions is an acceptable use of Light.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. > Cordelia could have a very bad time if Above tells their priests that smiting Cordelia and her minions is an acceptable use of Light.

        Except that in practice, the gods don’t seem to rule on such matters. Mostly they grant capabilities, and let mortals use them according to their own judgement. We’ve only seen a couple or three exceptions, relating to people who have direct assistance from a Choir.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. konstantinvoncarstein

    I wonder how Cordelia will respond, but attacking the priesthood is narratively speaking a step more into evil.

    I had an idea about the Bard’s plan concerning Procer. We know the fact that the First Prince is not a Name impede her.
    So what if she is trying to make Cordelia a well intentioned tyrant who will become Evil to save her nation? And then put her down via another Proceran, a popular war hero like Rozala, who would gather enough narrative weight (and benefit from the increase of the power of the FP by Cordelia) to create the Name First Prince?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Someguy

      I expect her to pull a Henry VIII & declare the Proceran House of Light to be heretics, then have a faction/sect within them that aligns with her interests to be proclaimed the “True House of Light”

      Liked by 5 people

  6. […] having become so crucial to the survival of the Principate and perhaps even the continent itself.

    She is not going to be happy when she inevitably learns of what she proclaimed to the Grey Pilgrim.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Too many pronouns, not enough names.

      Do you mean Cordelia won’t be happy when she finds out about Cat’s reminding of Pilgrim that Cat’s the one with the cards to play, not Tariq?
      Or are you referring to Rozala’s promise?
      Or are you talking about something else?

      Liked by 9 people

    2. Regardless of how that sentence resolves, Cordelia is not too happy with Pilgrim either, especially since she’s got a pretty good idea about the plague incident. I think she’ll be chuffed when she hears how Cat slapped him down.

      Liked by 4 people

    1. Shveiran

      I’m not sure they are enough to cause a repudiation, but why do you think they could “confirm” it? It seems very much a positive effect, I would say the question is about whether or not it is strong enough.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. Shveiran

          Granted, but…

          …”The Choir of Mercy is sending holy visions to show she is not all that bad. CLEARLY that means she is worse than we ever thought possible!” feels… kind of forced.

          Liked by 2 people

  7. Why is everyone so willing to forgo the possibility that it’s Scribe behind HoL’s move? We know she’s been working to weaken Pricer from within in the absence of Black’s instructions, and this is definitely a move in that direction.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Because if it were a Scribe move, Augur would have been able to warn Cordelia.
      Remember, Augur is a precog who can warn about planned actions. She only misses unplanned opportunistic acts.

      Scribe is good, yes, but I don’t think she’d have had the time to infiltrate the House of Light (and at a very high level) via solely unplanned opportunities taken advantage of. Give her enough time, sure, I think she could manage it, but I don’t think that she’s had the time to do so, especially when she’s no doubt had other priorities to work on.

      I don’t think Augur would (or could) warn Cordelia if this is a Bard move, even if it’s several steps removed from Bard.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Shveiran

        A very good point.
        It is possible that Scribe gave a very tense situation a nudge… but if she tried to do more than that, she’d likely be detected. And if all she did was give a nudge through an opportunity, teh situation was mostly independant from her.

        Liked by 6 people

      2. lennymaster

        What if she had no specific plan in mind and just set up series of situations that may or may not have dire consequences, and this is the one that came into play, maybe even just the first plan?
        Considering that she made even Cat forget about her, it might very well be possible that she can fuck with even the Augurs visions. Black may have suspected that she might be able to do so, but considered the risk to great and the price of failure too costly. Involving Assassin into her plans could just be enough to draw the Augurs eye, despite Scribes interferrence.
        There is very little information just what she can do, what her Aspects or the core of her Story consist of. Considering the Calamities power and the fact that she is their sixth means she must have some major abilities.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Shveiran

          It’s possible. There is still much unknown regarding the limits of Augur and Scribe’s powers, not to mention their interaction with each other.
          I tend to disagree she can achieve this much just through opportunities, but you may be right.

          Liked by 4 people

        2. Scribe has to operate under the assumption that her own abilities don’t interfere with Augur’s early warning system.
          Because if Scribe acts like Augur can’t spot her and is wrong about that, then she (and Amadeus) are fucked.

          Getting the House of Light to make a move this big would require high level infiltration of either broader scope or of specific key figures.
          Either way, like I said, I don’t believe that Scribe has had the time to get that level of infiltration given the constraints she must be operating under. Especially since infiltrating the House of Light probably hasn’t been her highest priority concern – she first needed to make sure that she could spring Amadeus when he was brought to Salia.
          Remove either the constraints or give Scribe more time, sure, she could get it done eventually.

          Plus, we already know that Bard had been working on the House of Light.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. >Getting the House of Light to make a move this big would require high level infiltration of either broader scope or of specific key figures.

            It’s not that big IN COMPARISON TO how they’ve been already acting though.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Except those prior acts were at the direct, active, and personal urging and intervention by Bard and the Saint of Swords.

              And those acts, while having significant, albeit indirect, external consequences, didn’t actually involve anyone outside the church, or the House of Light actually doing much of anything – they held some meetings where two major Heroes told them they should declare Cat the Arch-Heretic of the East, and then they voted on that, and then they had to write out their proclamation.

              This, though, involves summoning the Assembly during a time of war, plus apparently detaining someone who is a major interface between the House of Light and the First Prince. This is an even bigger move. This has major direct consequences. This is not something that could be done at the drop of a hat. Something like this should take major amounts of pull.

              This is, IMO, something that is more attributable to Bard than to Scribe, especially considering the various constraints Scribe is operating under.
              Scribe just plain hasn’t had the time to pull something like this off without using the kind of planning and planned actions that she knows Augur can and will detect. Scribe has to limit herself to taking advantage of opportunities that appear, and that’s a huge limiter on what she can do. Without that limiter, Cordelia would already be dead and Procer would have collapsed into flames.

              Liked by 5 people

              1. My understanding is that Scribe just had to nudge events along in one of the possible directions they could have taken. Much like Bard would have, I just think that it’s about time we saw Scribe’s handiwork and the timing of this points to that, narratively.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Shveiran

                  There is merit in what you say, but doesn’t the time factor Javvies brings up makes a lot of sense? Scribe is a string puller, most of all, so doesn’t a big move require a lot of preparing the field?
                  It hasn’t been this long since Amadeus was captured, was it? Not considering she had to move to Salia by foot at least?

                  Although… uhm, it could be possible she has communication has part of her powers. If she could start even without being there, that changes a lot, IMO.

                  Liked by 2 people

          2. WuseMajor

            I wanna say that the last time we saw Scribe was months and months ago. Like “back when Cat left for Keter.” So, given that she’s apparently very, very efficient, I can easily imagine her becoming the local Moriarty in a month or two and I think she’s had three or four.

            If nothing else, I’d say that the fact that anyone was capable of planning a coup without Augur outing them, was at least partly due to her.

            Liked by 2 people

      3. Darkening

        Augur isn’t perfect, it was mentioned back when they were planning to go up against the skein for the first time I believe that most oracles can only focus on one subject at a time, and I imagine Cordelia has a lot of subjects to prompt her to look out for, while having no knowledge of Scribe being at play. Especially with Scribe seeming to have a whole aspect dedicated to not being noticed.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Shveiran

          True. And yet the working hypothesys is that this goes for Augur’s conscious vision; she has a second set handed out by the Choirs when they need to.
          In this instance, this threaten to send Procer, and thus the Grand Alliance, and thus Calernia, into a very dangerous spiral.
          Wouldn’t they take interest? Wouldn’t they nudge her to take a peek?

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Morgenstern

            Not necessarily. Especially when looking at the “which Choir / which stance” conundrum and that the Bard seemed all ready to feed Procer to even the DK. Why not feed it to civil war, too? Scribe’s well-meant, but turning-out-bad intentions might just fit multiple other factions’ ideas of what’s good and proper. *shrugs

            Liked by 4 people

            1. Shveiran

              You know, I have a lot of beef with Above, but I have to defend them this time… we have no reason to believe either Bard’s or Saints’ actions have been endorsed by Choirs or Gods.

              Liked by 5 people

            2. Caerulea

              “Why not feed it to civil war, too?”

              Because letting Procer bleed heavily, or even be taken by The Dead King makes him the ultimate, unstoppable evil that took the last refuge of good. Perfect opportunity to kill him. Letting it die to civil war doesn’t serve any purpose, and indeed reduces the chance that The Dead King dies. She is not senseless, nor a force to destroy Calernia.

              Liked by 3 people

      4. quite possibly a cat

        Because if it were a Scribe move, Augur would have been able to warn Cordelia.”

        But would she? Cordelia is going down the road to Evil and already doesn’t like Heroes. If Scribe got the House of Light to do something about it? Augur could just put that down as “Evil fights Evil” and declare a Good victory.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Cordelia isn’t a Villain, and she’s Augur’s cousin.

          I see no reason to think that Augur wouldn’t warn Cordelia about stuff Scribe is doing. Especially since our understanding is that Scribe has had two priorities (a) rescue Amadeus, and (b) bring down Procer.

          I do, however, suspect that Augur would not be as capable of issuing warnings about what Bard is up to.

          Also, again, even if Augur (for whatever reason) cannot or would not warn Cordelia or anybody else, Scribe has to assume and act as though Augur can and will.
          And that means, Scribe is more or less limited to acting only through taking advantage of opportunities, not through planned actions. I just don’t think that Scribe has had enough time, given the constraints she’s operating under.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Note how unsurprised Cordelia and her spies are to hear of this. Pissed off, yes, but they’re not like “WAIT WHAT?! NO WAY THIS CAN’T BE RIGHT”. This move is not actually a huge deviation from the House of Light’s normal behavior, it’s entirely in line with how they’d been acting. A nudge here or there would suffice to make sure they take the most radical stance of all available.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. Aside from the other arguments, I’ll point out that Scribe may be sneaky and ruthless, but she is also a Named Villain. I seriously doubt she has any entry whatsoever into the House of Light, and trying to mess with them would be deeply unwise. At least some of those priests surely have enough power from the Light to no-sell Scribe’s own powers.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. JJR

    Three kittens and a ribbon. I’m just imagining a huge army in a confused halt because the people at the front stopped to play with the kittens and there’s no room to go around.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. RoflCat

      I mean….

      >She fully intended on securing as many gains as she could for Procer and the Grand Alliance, yet she would do so with the preservation of the Accords in mind.

      What does that reminds me of…oh yeah.

      >“We will twist around the spirit of every rule while obeying the letter,” the green-eyed man said. “We will lie and cheat and hide our sins, while dragging into light those of our foes and rivals. We will seek to twist the laws as a tool for our ambitions and a sword to slay our enemies. We will hide behind every protection afforded and make red art of the details that save or slay. We will defend our advantages and seek to unmake yours, never once faltering in our callous greed.”

      >The grin went wider still, a madman’s grin. A challenge.

      >“And yet we will uphold the Liesse Accords, you broken old thing, and wage war on any that would unmake them,” the Carrion Lord said.

      She is acting exactly like what Black say Praes would in regard to the Accord.

      Liked by 8 people

    2. hakureireimu

      I don’t think she has the necessary story-fu to see where she’s going. After all each of her steps are very reasonable from her point of view, so she’ll be ignorant until the day when she literally wakes up with a Name.

      Liked by 6 people

          1. konstantinvoncarstein

            I doubt that a Name weared by the sovereign of a Good country could be irremediably Evil. Maybe First Prince could be like Squire, depending on the person?

            Liked by 3 people

  9. Faiir

    It’s funny/tragic how Cordelia thinks of herself as the smartest person ever, and consistently underrates her enemies.

    She considers the fact that a neutral country between Procer and Callow leading to less conflict is a kind of far reaching event that even the Black Queen couldn’t foresee? What?

    It feels a bit like conclusions of a kid listening in to an adult discussion and thinking: “They’re all wrong since they didn’t talk about that one obvious thing I did think about so I must be smarter than them!”

    Liked by 6 people

    1. To be fair, that does seem to be roughly the level of competency she’s comes to expect from many of her nobles. To be less fair, treating your enemy who has basically done the exact same thing that’s your crowning achievement (coming to rule a country in a time of strife for its own good through force of arms) as anything less than your equal and peer is indeed very dumb.

      Liked by 6 people

        1. Well, she can only be referring to what Cat had realized at the time of writing the document she’s drawing conclusions from. The fact that Catherine might have had more realizations since this draft is outside the bounds of what Cordelia is talking about.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Actually I think the bit about Cardinal being more important than the Black Queen realises is more of a mirror of what Amadeus told Cat, that Cardinal will become the royal court of Calernia.

      The fact that it will prevent war between Procer and Callow is obvious.

      The text of the Accords though seem to be focused on Cardinal as the location of the Academy, the council and the enforcement. Black was the one who pointed out to Catherine that between the location, the Academy and the neutral ground, Cardinal would inevitably become the center of trade, diplomacy and sorcery in Calernia.

      I think that’s what Cordelia was referring to.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Shveiran

        Agreed. I think Faiir is right saying that Cordelia usually underestimate her opponents and oveestimate her own foresight.
        But as Dresden pointed out, she doesn’t underestimate them THAT much, and has objectively good skills.

        Liked by 9 people

    3. WuseMajor

      “It was becoming increasingly evident they’d all severely underestimated Catherine Foundling, and that her game was a long one indeed.”

      …and then she proceeds to attribute the diplomatic prowess to Viv and later says that Cat doesn’t see how important this city is going to be.

      Really, Cordy, why don’t you start overestimating her for a change? You’ll be able to be smug when you’re wrong then, instead of feeling stupid like you do now.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Valkyria

    I wonder who had their fingers in the pie here…. *cough*bard*cough*

    So go get them girl! Show those Above fanatics their place!

    I really want to have Bard vs Cordelia at some point. (Most likely sooner than later, considering the Bard wants to end the whole country…)

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Andrew Mitchell

    ❤ ❤ ❤ seeing Cordelia finally admit that she and Cat are largely on the same side, AND the fact that she sees the issues with Heroes as well. Her internal monologue here was that of an entirely reasonable person, IMO.

    It will be interesting to see what's up with the House of Light calling the Assembly to order. Don't they know that Cordelia has the votes to crush them? Will the representatives of Good finally find a way to fuck up the ACTUAL progress that is being made?!? Have the choirs spoken to the House of Light and told them to stop the peace being made OR maybe even to support it?!? And what role, if any, has the Bard played in this?

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Aotrs Commander

      Probably not interested at the moment. They seem only to care about technological advancement, and that’s not at play here.

      I think the gnomes probably exist mostly or entirely (at the moment) more of a reason why Calernia has been stuck at the same tech level for as long as it has (which is, to be fair, a better excuse than most fantasy worlds get, even the good ones). I doubt they will play any part in the current conflicts. (I mean, I could be wrong, but it doesn’t seem likely.)

      Now, is the continent actually stabilises – especially if the Accords break the god’s game – in a theoretical that is when the might become a functional antagonist, as a stable continent is one that might start looking to improving itself overall. And then it depends really on why the gnomes do what they do, whether it is out of spite to keep everyone down just for the benefit of themselves to maintain technological superiority, for fear the endless wars will spread further than Calernia (and thus they might be more tolerant with peace) or whether this has all been done on the auspices of the gods or even of Bard in service of the great game.

      Now, I suppose if they are divinely mandated to do it, if the Accords come into place and the game breaks, the gods might order them to go murder Calernia out of spite; but given that the implications are they’d curb-stomp everyone effortlessly, that doesn’t seem like would come to pass, simply because “and then everyone on Calernia died” doesn’t make for a good story out-of-universe.

      (Nor in it, come to that; but perhaps that is the only out Calernia would have, pulling Fantasy Independence Day on the gnomes…)

      Liked by 5 people

      1. agumentic

        >Now, I suppose if they are divinely mandated to do it, if the Accords come into place and the game breaks

        The game doesn’t break, though, just the rules of it change. And there’s nothing saying that the Gods wouldn’t be able to shrug and accept the change and see how the game plays out under new set of rules – the nature of it doesn’t change, in the end, merely how much collateral damage it causes.

        Liked by 6 people

  12. Cassiemouse

    This is going to cause one hell of a religious schism. With the Callowan rebel House of Light and the traditional Procer House of Light, what ever Cordelia comes up with and Catherine being a high priestess herself. Religious conflict seems to be the central theme of the coming action.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Ahem. Note that the “traditional” faction of the Callowan HoL are the ones standing against the Villainous Black Queen, it’s the upstarts (House Insurgent iirc) who went along with her.

      Cordelia might be able to keep a similar fragment of the Proceran HoL, but the way she’s going, the main body will correctly note that she’s heading over to join the Evil crowd.

      Overall, I think the game between Above and Below is switching from shatranj/chess, to dice. Or at least backgammon.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Can we start rumors that Grey was raised with necromancy tho?

    Correct me if im wrong but a few chapters back i think it was said that the First Prince was digging up a weapon from the lake and tightening her grip on the government. Now she is likely to take a hard, even if debatedly much needed, action against the foremost religious organization in service of the Above. Is someone or an ancient something slowly pulling her strings into a position she is unable to see?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Morgenstern

      I like that idea of a rumor. But it has already been there and has been debunked. Remember the one that got burned by the angels because they wanted to look at the Peregrine for exactly that doubt as a reason for their actions (they’d been called upon to perform by higher powers… poor servant)? 😉

      Liked by 4 people

  14. Morgenstern

    On a totally different note – is it just my Chapters summary that is broken or are the links to the last chapters in a jumble on the side table for everyone?

    For me, it’s normal up to Chapter 63, then the jumble starts:
    68
    69

    64
    65

    70

    66

    71

    67

    Interlude: Iron

    Liked by 4 people

  15. quite possibly a cat

    While its possible that Scribe or Bard had their fingers in the pie here, why not just Augur? Or just Above? Cordelia currently thinks better of the dark priestess Cat, than the unreliable Heroes! She has already taken the first steps towards villainy. Preventing Team Evil from getting Procer is their job.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. superkeaton

    Given how Saint treated her, and Pilgrim’s wiping out of a town, and the utter uselessness of the other heroes she’s had at her disposal, I am wildly unsurprised by Cordelia’s embracing of the Accords.

    Liked by 3 people

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