Chapter 76: Procession

“Orphan am I, yet with many mothers and fathers. At once ruler and ruled, yet never only one.”
– Famous Proceran riddle, referring to the city of Salia

I’d never been all that fond of the cloying amount of ceremony that accompanied rising up the ranks.

Oh, I understood the reasons for it. I’d argued the matter with Black back in the day, when we still had our lessons in Ater. Said that it was absurd to treat a king or a general as if they were gods, that the more you set distance between the people making decisions and the people about which those decisions were made the more you ran risks of losing perspective. I still believed that, truth be told, but after years in command of armies and a few wearing a crown I could better appreciate the points my teacher had made back then. When someone was invested with a great deal of power and authority, treating them like a stranger off the street meant treating all that power and authority just as casually. That tended to foster bad habits. In Praes the lie of Malicia and Black’s invincibility had kept rebellions from flaring up because they’d just seemed beyond that: Black always ended up crushing his foes, Malicia always ended up having been three steps ahead of everyone else. It was the same principle for this, more or less: the more ceremony you surrounded someone with, the more they seemed different. Apart from the rest. And, since they were of a different breed from the common man on the street, their authority need not be fought and their power need not be questioned.

That was the reason while my morning had turned into a damned slog, when it came down to it. There were four delegations that the Principate of Procer was to welcome into Salia officially for the peace conference at the capital, and while I would have been happy with being ushered in through the city gates without first needing to bribe the guard that just wasn’t the way diplomacy was conducted between great powers. No, this had to be a show. So everyone had come with their nicest banners and their armour freshly polished, prepared a hundred empty courtesies and now Procer was going to parade us one after another through the large Griffon Gate and the broad avenue it led to. Callow had not been invited to proceed first, naturally. The Principate might be in dire need of my help but it wasn’t going to own up to that before the eyes of gods and men: no, instead it was the Dominion of Levant that was invited in first. Levant was an ally, after all, and a member of the Grand Alliance too. Still, at least we were second. General Rumena was third in line, which I took to be a rather blunt slight to the League of Free Cities in general and likely the Tyrant in particular.

It’d been made clear to me that we would be signaled when the time came for my delegation to proceed, and I’d sent Adjutant ahead to make sure everything went smoothly. That left me with rather little to do, to my rising irritation as time went by. General Abigail was, as usual, finding work for herself so she would not have to remain in my immediate vicinity and while the Third Army was laden with old War College acquaintances of mine – it had, after all, initially been raised from Nauk’s old command in the Fifteenth – there were none I could casually approach for conversation. With Archer still out there somewhere, having sent a single message through Robber’s marauders that she was ‘onto something’, that left me rather light on choices. Moreso than usual since it’d been decided neither Black nor Akua would accompany the delegation on the first day, as that was when there’d be the most eyes on us, and sadly Vivienne was further ahead of our procession. I could go to her, but it’d disturb arrangements that’d taken the better part of an hour to put in place and it felt a little pitiful to do that out of mere boredom.

There were around three hundred of us, arrayed in our finest. A full cohort of legionaries in their parade grounds best made up the heart of it, veterans from a half a dozen fields most of which were old to my service. Thirty knights of the Order of the Broken Bells added a dash of Callowan flair to it, though their hymn-inscribed armour and long lances had been proved to be anything but decorative in conflict against foes of Creation and beyond. They brought with them tall streaming banners, numbering three. The Third Army’s own golden numerals on blue, carrying with them the cognomen of Dauntless I’d granted them at Sarcella as well as the fresher addition of crow wings at the bottom corners. The broken bells of bronze set on black that were the heraldry of the sole chivalric order of Callow trailed in the wind besides it, and last of all of all my own. The laden silver balance on black, what Hakram had told me my people now called the Crown and Sword. And under it words I now longer called my own: justifications matter only to the just. I’d been considering having them struck for some time now, but it would draw questions I was not entirely ready to answer.

I’d been made just as gaudy as the rest of this procession, put up in full plate for the first time in ages though it was one without a helmet – my hair had been put up a long elaborate braid and I’d put on a crown for once. Silver set with emeralds, the practical crown I’d worn when actually moving around in Laure instead of sitting on the fancy chair in full regalia and attempting to look wise. It was not a coincidence that Lady Vivienne Dartwick, herself sitting astride her mount in a beautiful blue dress, wore a crown as well. A slight circlet of silver, without jewels and much less ornate than mine, but a crown nonetheless. She was heiress-designate to the throne, after all, and though still a lady in title arguably she had higher status than any Proceran royalty save for Cordelia Hasenbach. I’d begun to consider the virtues of outright sending for General Abigail so I could entertain myself at her exp- to consult with the senior commander of my escort, I meant, when Adjutant finally dragged his carcass back to me instead. The Procerans had finally given the signal, so as soon as Hakram was standing by my side our procession began moving forward.

For all its fame, Salia had yet to impress me. This far west it was hardly rare for a great city to expand far beyond its walls, especially if it had seen little war as the capital of the Principate had. Even southern Callow had dabbled in that bad habit. Salia, though, seemed to have more territory outside the distant Yearning Walls than behind them. It wasn’t slums, at least not near the road we were led through. But it was certainly a chaotic mess, since it seemed construction was only overseen by the sides of the large roads that led to the deeper city gates. The smell of mud and shit was staggeringly potent even in winter, and chimneys were belching smoke upwards seemingly endlessly. By the looks of it all the cattle and workers that would be out in the fields around the capital during fairer seasons had migrated to this riotous outer-city for the snows. Houses were wood and mud, rarely stone, and they’d been built in tight clusters like a thousand strange little islands separated from one another by muddy street-moats. The stone road that led towards the Griffon Gate was clean, though, and swept clear of snow. No house was every built less than forty feet away from either side though merchant carts of food or trade goods filled much of that empty room instead.

Small crowds had gathered by the side of the road, though they dared not approach soldiers. At least they seemed more in the mood to stare than throw stones. The deeper we went into Salia the more it began to resemble the Proceran towns and cities I’d seen, as if order was radiating from the centre of the capital and waned the further from it you stood. Streets began to have a semblance of order, shops with hanging signs and neat little houses raised in stone with tiled or thatched roofs. It all looked rather prosperous, though not the kind of wealthy the stories about the beating heart of Procer had led me to expect. Oh, I’d not deny the city was damned large but then so was Ater and the Wasteland’s capital was a treasure trove of grand architecture. Mind you, large swaths of Ater were half-abandoned and only filled when famine drove the desperate to the Tower’s shadow while it looked like every damned inch of the capital of Procer was crawling with a dozen people. Still, the looming cathedrals beyond the Yearning Walls in the distance were distinctly less impressive than the gargantuan horrors of the City of Gates. Procer was a younger nation than any on Calernia save for Levant, I thought, for all its great wealth and power.

It was almost an hour all told until we stood before the Griffon Gate, the great panels of bronze on its wood listing every First Prince and Princess to have ever reigned. It opened to the sound of trumpets, and beyond it was revealed the sweeping Merovins avenue. Great statues of marble flanked on us on both sides, beginning on my right with the stern gaze of Clothor Merovins – the first to ever be elected to the office of First Prince. I suspected the man’s actual furs had not been quite so rakishly cut, or offered glimpse of what was admittedly an impressively muscled chest, but that was the Alamans for you.

“They’re not all royalty, did you know?” Hakram said.

I glanced at him and cocked an eyebrow.

“Famous generals and officials can earn one as well,” he gravelled. “One of Rozala Malanza’s ancestors is further up from the days before the Malanzas were royalty. He conquered most of northern Levant for the First Prince of the time.”

“I don’t suppose anyone’s told the Blood about that?” I drily asked

“I believe it might be one of those inconvenient truths we must all politely ignore,” Hakram replied, clicking his teeth in amusement.

The brassy call of trumpets jarred us out of the conversation. The Proceran welcome was laid out before us, a riot of silken banners under brightly armoured horsemen and even more colourful highborn. Every line with a seat in the Highest Assembly had sent a representative, by the looks of it, because that was a great many banners. And an infuriatingly large amount of very nice warhorses. They could have outfitted a good company of heavy horse with that, the wasteful fucks. Ugh, this was going to be as bad as the Tower wasn’t it? All rubies the size of a fist used a bloody bench decorations and gold slapped onto things that had absolutely no need of being made of gold. Which, to be fair, was essentially everything except certain coinage and maybe crowns. A representative for the First Prince herself, an old man that carried the title of Master of Orders – one of the important officials in the Assembly, as I recalled, though he shouldn’t be royalty himself – formally greeted us. I forced a smile through the greeting and let Vivienne answer it in my place. That drew attention from our hosts, but then it’d been meant to. The sooner it was made clear to people that Vivienne was truly meant to be my successor, the better.

Advance resumed with the additional escort, though still at an agonizingly slow crawl. Salia itself was worth a second look this deep in, though, I’d admit to that. The Yearning Walls were well-built and apt to weather a siege, I’d say that much, and their shockingly rose-gold stone shining like a mirror under the sun. Hakram continued to speak in a low voice as we passed through, his own research on the city far dwarfing the few books I’d opened in expectation of my visit. Salia itself was often said to be split in two parts, the City Yearned and the City Yearning – a reference to some ancient poem that’d established the name of its walls, with the city behind them being yearned and the city outside being yearning. Passing the gate had brought us into the City Yearned, and into the portion of it known as the low districts. So named not for the poverty of their inhabitants but rather in contrast to the high districts to the west, which had been raised on high hills. The low districts covered nearly a third of the City Yearned, stretching across its south, and the knowledge that it wasn’t even the wealthy Salians that lived in these parts had my stomach clenching in envy. The houses were all stone, often several stories high – Adjutant noted that renting was common practice in these parts, and very lucrative – it was not rare so see coloured glass windows. These were artisans, I thought, traders and officials. Yet their wealth clearly rivaled that of the minor nobility of Callow, if not outright surpassed it.

How much richer would the nobles be here? I’d read that Procer was arguably the wealthiest nation on Calernia, some of its princes surpassing even the famously rich High Seats of Praes, but I’d never really understood until now how far down that wealth went. When Vivienne had told me, before the Tenth Crusade, that’d it’d been brutally expensive to bribe even the servants in the holdings of the Prince of Iserre I’d assumed the Jacks were had, or that she was exaggerating some for effect. Now I could believe that even the servants in the capital of that principality had been well-off, by my people’s standards. It was a bitter pill to swallow, that the Principate had been basking in all this while my ancestors were dying in droves just to keep Praes in its shore of the Wasaliti.

Merovins avenue led directly to the old palace and the Highest Assembly, but that was not our destination. We diverted northeast through another broad avenue, going through the districts known as Les Vendeuses. Great open-air markets, I’d been told, though we skirted the edges of them only. The route we took led through pleasant sights instead. Some streets seemed to be bordered entirely by great winter gardens artistically adorned with glasswork and sculptures, others filled with guild halls and mansions that competed for the most elegant manner of opulence. It was with some amusement I noted that not once we passed in front of a House of Light. The crowds were something of a surprise, having thickened the further in we went. I’d expected jeering and rocks, but while there certainly wasn’t any jubilant cheering we were being treated as a show rather than, well, the Enemy incarnate. The knights probably helped, I decided, for they were a popular sight with children. Orcs were as well, though more in fascinated horror than positive appreciation.

They’d probably never seen orcs before today, I thought. Or goblins, or Taghreb and Soninke. Even Callowans were rare this far west, these days. It’s another world, I thought. One that knew nothing of the blood-soaked Fields of Streges, of the eternal back and forth between knights of black and white and their grand armies that clashed every few decades. They did not understand the dread of seeing a city rise into the sky, heavy with death, or the way greenskins still flinched at the call of our knight’s horns being sounded. All we had in common with these people was worn history, slights and boons long past, and how little did that really weigh? I understand you less than I understand Praesi, I thought, watching the people of Salia. I know their truths and their conceits, their mad ambitions and dark splendours. But you? I know so little of you it could be said I know nothing at all. It was a humbling thing, to know that. A daunting one as well. The world was large and even this meagre sliver of it was vast. Could anyone really change something that… immense? A troubling thought, and not one I wanted to linger on.

It was a relief when the procession ended at last and we entered the restricted district where our provided lodgings stood. It was called the Lineal, for it’d once been the ancestral grounds of the Merovins chieftains-turned-royalty of Salia. They had kept large grounds to themselves, the seat of their power when another line claimed the title of First Prince or Princess. Now that the Merovins were long gone, the Lineal stood as almost a city within a city that was under the sole authority of the ruler of Salia. Its significant attached incomes were one of the great boons of the title, and as the old seat of power of royal line it was a beautiful place. I’d expected a manse and some attending barracks for my soldiers, something along the lines of the noble’s houses you could see in Laure’s Whitestone Quarter, but instead we were directed to what was effectively a small palace. The grounds surrounding the structure alone were larger than the palace in Laure, and I suspected this was a winter pleasure palace and not anything official.

I reined in my horse after passing through a pretty copper gate sculpted like a flock of chubby naked Cherubim playing laughingly, slowing Zombie’s stride in the courtyard. There were servants swarming all over the place, which were most likely spies, and I almost bit the inside of my cheek. It was going to be a damned pain keeping track of all these people with my limited escort, so I’d probably have to cordon off a part of the palace and have it guarded and warded at all times.

“Any chance at least one of them isn’t spying for Hasenbach?” I sighed and asked Hakram.

“Of course,” Adjutant amusedly agreed. “There’s probably a few working for other royals.”

I accepted his offered hand to dismount, wincing at the impact, and when a stablehand hesitantly approached Zombie I suppressed a grin. I glanced appreciatively at the sandy-haired man, who while approaching a winged undead fae horse looked more like he was wondering if she’d fit in the stable than if this was in any way wise.

“Don’t touch the reins, she’ll bite you,” I said. “Zombie, the man is going to show you where the stables are.”

My mount huffed, displeased.

“You can’t come in with me,” I patiently replied, “this is a very nice palace. It’d be impolite.”

I glanced at the stablehand, who was now seemingly wondering what he’d gotten himself into. I could sympathize.

“She’ll follow you to the stables,” I said. “Leave a stall open for her, but she’ll wander around for a while still. If she gets anywhere she’s not supposed to, send for me. But she’ll be good, won’t you Zombie?”

I scratched her mane and she whinnied.

“Liar,” I muttered, not entirely without affection,

I flicked a glance at the stablehand one last time.

“Don’t feed her anything,” I instructed. “Even if she whines. She always fills her stomach, but she doesn’t actually need to – you know what, just don’t feed her anything. Let’s leave it at that.”

I’d hastily amended my approach when even implicit discussion of necromancy made the man look like he was about to faint. He bowed, looking like he was one stern talking to away from weeping.

“It will all be done exactly as you say, Your Majesty,” he said.

It would have been polite to call what followed retreating, but I knew what it looked like when someone legged it.

“Don’t you say a damn thing,” I grunted without turning.

“I would never,” Hakram lied, the filthy traitor.

“I can feel your mockery without even looking at you,” I complained.

“Would it help your mood to terrify a gardener as well?” my loyal right hand said.

I turned just to flip him off, though the deepening amusement on his face – like the world’s ugliest green cat had just caught a bird seasoning itself – warned me I’d just missed something. A young woman in Salian livery had been approaching, and was now looking like she’d had no idea queens could gesture obscenely and she wasn’t sure whether she should pretend she’d never seen that or not. Godsdamnit, Hakram, I thought. You know Hasenbach’s going to read about that in a report, don’t you?

“Just say whatever it is you were sent for,” I tiredly told the woman.

She bowed.

“I was sent with a message scroll, Your Majesty,” she said.

As I recalled, in Proceran etiquette people weren’t supposed to hand things directly to royalty. I glanced at Hakram, who stepped forward to accept the scroll. He broke the seal – featureless, a mere press of wax – and glanced at the contents.

“An invitation,” Adjutant said.

“For?” I asked.

“Tea with the First Prince of Procer,” Hakram said. “She awaits us in this palace’s own parlour.”

104 thoughts on “Chapter 76: Procession

  1. Soma

    “Justifications only matter to the just” does have the potential for a hilarious evolution. Initially a boast that Cat not need justify herself as she is not just. Later, it now can morph into the an argument for her considering her just given she has taken so many pains to justify her actions. Not to say this is what will happen, but such an evolution would be deeply entertaining.

    Liked by 22 people

    1. Zggt

      “Justifications only matter to the just” translated to Heroic is “honor is luxury, duty the weight” (a theme in sayings from many cultures), which would explain the amount of contempt Black and herself feel when heroes don’t get it. As such, this has already (repeatedly, in great detail and violence) been discussed (usually with swords and burning things).

      Liked by 8 people

    2. Indeed, in time she herself might well come to embrace that slogan from the other side. Thus making it an excellent slogan for a villain who often acts much like a hero, and whose successors may well be followers of Above who gain aid from servants of Below.

      Liked by 3 people

    3. Collide

      Ah, but “Justifications matter only to the just” doesn’t necessarily imply that only the just will provide justifications. That would be “Justifications matter iff just”.

      Like

        1. Sparsebeard

          I did read it, but while it’s great, it’s not as grippingly good. I mean, the story as a whole was great, but some chapters of worm where pretty hard to get into (or to even understand). Complexity is one of the strong point of Worm with it’s hundreds of characters and over arching plot but yeah.

          Then again, it’s more that the Practical Guide is just so good, not compared to others, but simply on it’s own. The story is gripping and well structured, there is tons of foreshadowing but the plot remains mainly unpredicted and the characters are charming and witty.

          I mean, personally, i might prefer the Wandering Inn for the emotional pull and the no-hold barred thrill (and just being also VERY good in general), but I must admit that the Guide is objectively a masterpiece (I woundn’t even know what to criticize frankly).

          Liked by 10 people

            1. Sparsebeard

              Lol.

              I wouldn’t dare considering I often end up making a few of my own in my much smaller comments… (Takes out tin foil hat) Plus, everybody know that Erratic makes those on purpose as some kind of secret code.

              Liked by 5 people

        1. Sparsebeard

          I’m always more eager for TWI but I still think the Guide is objectively better (both are my favorites with perhaps Savage Divinity just behind because it’s just such a a great satire of eastern webnovels).

          Then again, those are perhaps the only three web novels that I consider to pretty much be narcotics in addiction levels.

          Liked by 4 people

      1. Pethrai D’arkos

        I don’t know about better as it scratches a different itch but The Gods Are Bastards is something I’d recommend while sticking to High Fantasy. It’s surprisingly adept at making you believe that losing a fight is a real possibility both in and out of universe (nobody really believes the heroes can lose if the villain threatens to destroy the world but they might if it’s only a small town at stake) despite the fact that the original party consists of, in no particular order; two paladins, a half-demon, a pirate princess with an anti-magic rapier, a pixie, a dryad, a drow priestess, and a pacifistic heiress who’s sharing her body with an amnesiac archdevil.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Sparsebeard

          I loved the Gods are Bastard at first, but I don’t agree to the part about losing being truly an option… Without going into spoilers, it seems to me that neither the heroes nor the villains never truly lose (baring a few minor characters) thus ensuring a never ending Monty-Pythonesque chase .

          Liked by 2 people

      2. noname

        The wandering Inn, Worm, Twig, HPMoR, Unsong, Worth the candle. But I always feel like the Practical guide to evil is like the Deadpool movies, it’s slightly better than the rest of the MCU, but still not very good.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Sparsebeard

          I loved all of those except Unsung which seemed to me to rely on the reader’s knowledge of religion (which I have pretty much none seeing my parents where mostly atheists/non-religious and I never got into it either).

          And, the Guide, not very good? What the hell?

          Liked by 2 people

      3. Sun Dog

        Don’t know about better, but I’m rather partial to The Gods Are Bastards and The New Humans, and think the latter in particular could use some more attention and exposure.

        Like

    1. 'Ladi Williams

      This fiction crushes all competition bcos it’s just that damn good.
      The comments about voting just ensures the lead is a very comfortable one. Sort of like icing on cake or waffles with ice cream. 🥰😍

      Liked by 5 people

  2. NerfGlaistigUaine

    Oh Cat. She’s learned a great deal about diplomacy and dealing with things without stabbing them (or just stabbing them), but she’ll never be quite, ah, queenly.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. anon

        I mean she could, but my read on it is that she’s just a character with ADD like personality traits. I mean most mental disorders are a spectrum to begin with where the line between quirk and disorder comes in when it debilitates a person’s ability to live their life. In my opinion, Cat’s too high performing for that line to be drawn for her. I mean, she already had achievable goals for her future and was working towards them at the beginning of the first book which is a lot more than most normal kids at her age would have.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. > the line between quirk and disorder comes in when it debilitates a person’s ability to live their life.

          Or as I’ve put it when discussing “subclinical” autistics, “no disability, no diagnosis”. But that in turn raises questions about “who gets to decide” — e.g., is that student “handicapped”, or is the teacher an asshole who can’t be bothered to make time for them? Or for a physical analogy, is someone “crippled” because it’s painful and laborious for them to climb stairs?

          The thing is, that’s not even a map vs. terrain question — it’s a question of balance of power. When enough Congresspeople have mobility issues (or kids with such), you get laws requiring curb cuts and public elevators. Similarly for educational handicaps and accommodations for those.

          In the Guideverse, however, power relations are more direct: The relevant question for Catherine isn’t going to be “can she be diagnosed?”, but “can an enemy exploit this in a fight?”

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Reddit doesn’t like my address, so replying here: As I’ve said before, diagnoses are an attempt at a map of human diversity. They have all the usual hazards of such maps, including not just the map vs. terrain thing, but squabbling over the borders.

        The potential advantage of having such a map is if you can pick out a functional pattern, that can be useful: Taking “this worked for me, it might work for you” to a more systematic level.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. > Catherine sitting on a table with Cordelia.

        I realize this is a harmless typo, but now I’m picturing Catherine just dead-pan sitting on top of the table and Cordelia having to climb up to join her and snickering to myself at work.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. nick012000

      It’s not filler, it’s set dressing so that we have an idea of the setting for the talks, as well as a way of characterising the Procerans. Remember, we can only know what the author describes to us.

      Liked by 9 people

    2. Just a potato

      I’m going to have to respectfully disagree. This is exactly the type of chapter I would want to see in a good book, it’s building the city of Salia for us. The problem is that normally you don’t have to wait several days to read the next chapter in a book. That is a bit frustrating but we can’t have every chapter be an amazing reveal or insightful conversation, if there’s no background that builds those events then the events can’t happen or they’d end up thin and meaningless. The crescendo before the climax is what makes it so good, not just the climax itself.

      Liked by 16 people

      1. Shveiran

        While I do agree on the gist of your comment, the Guide usually deals with this need better than this; on world-building/transition chapters, EE usually delivers something that keeps you hooked to the chapter, even if it is “only” character interaction and development or background events.
        It is, in my opinion, one of the Guide’s strongest points: EE’s ensures there is a good reason to read every single chapter, as in, there is always SOME progress toward SOMETHING.
        It is almost never quite JUST a transition piece.

        In this particular instance, I do not think these commenters are swinging out of the blue. The fact that this kind of chapters are usually so good makes you raise the bar.
        This is NOT a bad chapter, mind you, but it is a rather dull one. There is no real progress aside the very last lines, and aside from the transition what we see is mostly Salia – which I personally have an hard time being too interested in since by this point we already “spent” time in it and gottena feel for it. I liked bits of it, of course, like Cat’s reflection on the world’s divides and barriers, but I can acknowledge that this is a step below the usual.

        I wouldn’t even notice on a less impressive work, but I think it is helpful to point out that this felt a bit like filler to some of us.
        EE can take this into consideration and decide that no, he likes the chapter as is, or that maybe something needs to be adjusted before publishing. Isn’t that the point of feedback?

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Point

      Filler? What were you expecting, a jump directly from the talk with the White Knight to the conference in Procer?

      In this chapter, we learned who is in Salia with Cat (Vivienne, Hakram, and Abigail), who isn’t (Amadeus, Akua, and Archer). We learned a bit more about how she’s making a show of passing power to Vivienne, and we learned how Cat feels about Proceran wealth. We learned a few points about Proceran history, though those aren’t essential. We also learned a bit about how the average Proceran citizen feels about her, or at least her people.

      Sure, it wasn’t the most eventful chapter, but it was a much-needed transition between two important conversations, and it established a backdrop for the beginning of the talks in Salia.

      Liked by 16 people

    4. 'Ladi Williams

      Sigh. If all chapters were bang bang thank you….very soon we would bcom jaded.
      Personally I think this and previous chapters go a long way to help show us the way individuals interact and their motivations when they ain’t fighting for their lives.

      Liked by 6 people

    5. Pacing my good friend, you have to learn to appreciate pacing. Sure you may eat a burger for the beef, but a beef-wrapped beef-garnished beef-burger with nothing but beef will make you sick to your stomach before long. Learn to relax, enjoy the establishing moments and the unwinding of tension. A spring cannot be indefinitely wound tighter and tighter, the action rise higher and higher, without breaking under the strain. A good story must take time to let the tension out and bring us back to a place of rest, and these chapters are how that is done.

      Liked by 1 person

    6. Actually, hey, if you really hate pacing chapters that much, go read Wildbow’s Pact. It’s basically an exercise in how much tension and action can be ramped up endlessly without hitting the breaking point, and while a fair chunk of its readership thought it did go past that breaking point, I’m guessing you’d love it for just that reason.

      That said, if you get frustrated by the pacing chapters in *Pact* … look Wildbow’s speciality is in endlessly rising tension, he’s one of the best at it, and this story was him experimenting with the utmost limits of that. If you get frustrated by that story there is literally no story in existence which will ever satisfy you in this way.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Agent J

    Ugh. Cat’s right. While I understand the narrative need to go through the hurdles, I am utterly bored to tears with the pomp and fanfare. I’d much rather have the chapter involving tea with Cordelia. Wednesday can’t come soon enough.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        Much like out of nowhere unexpected rap battles, the entire procession surprises everybody with a surprisingly swift march that incorporates hamboning and twerking.

        Like

    1. Ultimate_Procrastinator

      I find participating in ceremonies and such dreadfully boring and tedious, but watching someone else go through them while being snarky the whole time was pretty amusing for me, so I’m pretty happy with this update. Of course, Wednesday still can’t come soon enough, but that’s just because the Guide is literary crack

      Liked by 6 people

  4. Just a potato

    Cat:

    “Don’t feed her anything,” I instructed. “Even if she whines. She always fills her stomach, but she doesn’t actually need to – you know what, just don’t feed her anything. Let’s leave it at that.”

    My usual response being “Friendship is magic” is being appended to “Necromancy is magic” just this once.

    Liked by 8 people

  5. Wrap Attack

    I know everyone’s probably forgotten about him by now but grand processions and the chapter opening up with Cat talking about Leaders being separate from everyone else. It’s Hierarch time soon.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. Heh.

    Hmm. Procer is wealthy, partly because it’s so damned big.
    And because, well, only a small fraction of it is normally under constant external threats, and inter-principality warfare tends towards field army versus field army in the field, and major population centers are usually mostly untouched by the ravages of warfare.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      “Famous generals and officials can earn one as well,” he gravelled. “One of Rozala Malanza’s ancestors is further up from the days before the Malanzas were royalty. He conquered most of northern Levant for the First Prince of the time.”

      “I don’t suppose anyone’s told the Blood about that?” I drily asked

      What the Blood should not appreciate is that someone who conquered their country is honored in their ally ´s capital.

      Liked by 5 people

  7. reyishi

    When I read chapters like these I really hope that EE makes a book that tell us about the lore from all of Calernia. I really love all the details added to Salia, like “the city Yearned and the city Yearning”. It makes the city so much more real I can see it when I close my eyes.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. superkeaton

    A genuinely interesting look at Procer. Deeply fun to imagine that Catherine is so infinitely more comfortable with the hated madness of heroes and villains and theirs that Procer’s… quietude and splendor is uncomfortably alien. I imagine it’d be worse if it hadn’t nearly been burned tot he ground. That, at least, she’s familiar with.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. I love the slowly dawning realization throughout this chapter: oh. Callow is poor. Callow is really, really poor.

      And Catherine coming from poverty and struggle to a land of wealth and privilege is… absolutely fascinating, for her and us both.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. But then, the flipside, which is power: For all their glory, Procer has troops, but almost no mages (for all Callow considers itself short on mages, they at least do have some). And those troops can fight well for humans, but stagger against the Legions. And Procer has no match to the Callowan knights, much less orcish infantry, goblin sappers, and even the occasional ogre.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. A fun thing to do is go back in the book and find the last time Cat’s soldiers used swords on screen. Without reading my recollection is something like:

          Post Drow stuff: Crusaders stumble through engine bombardment towards their palisade, Mighty Drow Wuxia them.

          Pre Drow northern battle: Lol lakomancy

          2nd Laure fight, warlock and hierarch are destroying devils, siege engines destroying devils, I think there were some demons who twisted people and made them fight each other?

          Fae fights, Named fight melee, I want to say soldiers get shot with arrows while falling back, engines shoot people

          First Laure, devils are unable to fight back vs. Empire troops

          Like, if Cat’s people were all the greatest swordsmen in the world, or literally didn’t have swords, I feel like the story would have been pretty much identical. Troops are scenery, Procer is only as strong as the heroes let it be.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. laguz24

    I do love the realization that callow understands Praes better than Procer through centuries-long bloody struggle. The Principate only invades frequently, plus all the hobnobbing with Praesi has made her understand their point of view.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Sparsebeard

      I wonder if in a way, the conquest (and the cultural rapprochement that ensued) was utterly neccessary for the East (or even the rest of the surface) to even stand a chance against Procer’s hegemony.

      I mean, they’re beset by enemies on all sides (rats, DK, Levant, Callow) but still can afford to squabble internally without being defeated or crumbling.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. SpeckofStardust

        Callow never attack Procer to the best of our knowledge.
        Procer has gone after and been beaten back by Levant and Callow.
        DK also has never really gone all out.
        historically Procer unified would likely be stupidly powerful, but the same could be said for Levant who is less unified then Procer, Praesi who spend most their history murdering each other for power (and the only times they weren’t was Triumphant, and well the Conquest). The League well ah ah ah. and Callow itself we don’t know about to honestly judge its abilities and relative unity.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. > I do love the realization that callow understands Praes better than Procer through centuries-long bloody struggle.

      > But you? I know so little of you it could be said I know nothing at all.

      Well… one could argue that nowadays that goes both ways. Procer surely knew the old Callow well — but this new hybrid, where a child on the street might offer flowers to an orc?

      Liked by 7 people

  10. mavant

    So, we’ve concluded that the stuff being dredged up from Lake Artoise was goblinfire / the remnants of the legions wiped out by Pilgrim’s Plague, yeah?

    Like

    1. No.
      The goblinfire and Legionary remains would have remained in the watercraft they were using as transport … which never stopped floating.

      Dredging indicates that they are looking for something that is buried beneath the surface of the lakebed.

      In addition, Cordelia thought of the project as reaching for something to use to “fight fire with fire” in the context of the war with the Dead King. In addition, it was mentioned to be “worse” than Angelic intervention.
      A few tons of goblinfire does not constitute the kind of gamechanger (or fighting fire with fire) against the Dead King and his forces that Cordelia believes herself to be in need of and is looking for. Nor would a decidedly limited amount of goblinfire be worse than Angels.

      Cordelia is most likely looking for something (or someone) from before Procer was Procer, IMO.
      I believe it’s been mentioned that there are still unaccounted for Hell Eggs from Triumphant in Procer, so it could be one of them, or Cordelia could be looking for something from the Mavians, or her objective could be from the old proto-Lycaonese that produced the Witch-Queen(s) that warred with the pre-Dead King Keter and first summoned Tikoloshe.

      Liked by 1 person

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