Chapter 77: Artless

“Even the most skilled of liars are only ever wielding a lie. Truth is the superior artifice, for it will strike deeper than even the most perfect deception.”
– Princess Beatriz of Salamans, later thirteenth First Princess of Procer

“I’m not going to lie,” I muttered under my breath, “it pisses me off a little that anybody can be rich enough to have a room dedicated to tea-drinking.”

Hakram was ahead of us, engaging our guide in what sounded like idle conversation about Salian cloths and their obvious superiority to that of the despicable yet superficially similar works from Lange, so I could vent my indignation without every sentence making it straight to the First Prince’s ear.

“I expect they’ll have one filled with only spices, should we look,” Vivienne drily added. “You know, to make the one that’s just a giant gold ingot stand out less.”

“Right?” I grunted. “Hells, Vivs, you were born noble-”

“A baron line, short on land and incomes even before the Conquest,” she reminded me.

I shot her an incredulous look. Those poor nobles, so very impoverished.

“Did your house have stables?” I asked.

“I’m not dignifying that with an answer,” Lady Dartwick informed me.

“I bet your servants had matching livery too,” I scathingly said.

You have servants with matching livery, Your Majesty,” she exasperatedly replied.

“Eh,” I said. “More like I’m borrowing them for a few years. And I’d help if any of them wanted to find real decent honest work, like running a tavern-”

“Nests of criminal activity, aside from those in better quarters,” Vivienne told me.

I almost gaped at the audacity of that.

“You’re the Queen of Thieves for Callow,” I indignantly said.

“Mere rumours,” she smoothly said, “all I’m saying is that your notion of what good, honest work is tends to be rather skewed given your…”

“We’re in Procer now, you know,” I growled. “Lese-majesty’s something they actually enforce here.”

“Everything,” Vivienne mused. “Your everything, really. Didn’t you use to participate in an illegal fighting ring?”

“I was also a waitress,” I defensively said. “That was lawful – wait why am I justifying myself to you, you used to be the bloody Thief. Have you actually ever had a job?”

“It’s sad to see one so steeped in her criminal ways rising so high, but these are dark days,” Vivienne sighed.

“That’s a lot of backtalk, coming from someone who couldn’t even murder Hakram,” I muttered.

“Is no one ever going to let that go?” she complained. “Do you all want me to murder Hakram now, you niggling harpies? Don’t you think I won’t, you’ll drive me to it.

There was a commotion in front of us, the attendant that’d been sent to guide us concernedly asking Adjutant if he was all right. He had, I grasped from context, stumbled and let out a choking sound. Merciless Gods he’d been eavesdropping with his Name the whole time, hadn’t he? My cheeks burned a little, but I cleared my throat and put on a mask of queenly dignity. Vivienne looked mildly concerned about her dear friend Hakram Deadhand having stumbled, a degree of shamelessness that was positively royal of her. We were close now, the guide told us with an unnecessary amount of bowing.

“Do you think it still counts as a labyrinth if it’s this full of tapestries and nice woodworks?” I asked.

It really was nice woodwork, too. In the same style as those in the royal palace in Laure, which I’d grimly admit to myself probably meant we’d imitated a Proceran style. They also had tapestries that weren’t about hunting, nature and warring with Praes which I’d confess was a nice change of pace.

“It’s the classic Alamans scheme, my queen,” Vivienne drily said. “If you throw enough jewels at your enemy, they’re bound slip and break something eventually.”

“They’d be in a lot less shit if they’d put some of that tapestry coin on good walls instead,” I grunted in agreement.

“Don’t be silly Your Majesty,” Lady Dartwick sardonically said. “This is the Principate, if there is need of a wall that’s what stacking peasants is for.”

I swallowed a laugh at that. I’d never heard that one before and serving drinks in a tavern that catered to both legionaries and Callowans meant I’d heard a lot of cheap jokes at the expense of Procer. Under the Empire’s occupation it’d been safer to go after Procer than to take a shot at Praes. Since not even the most quiescent of my people had been entirely free of the urge take a verbal swing at the Wasteland on occasion, Procer had been getting rough treatment among my countrymen even before the Tenth Crusade so selflessly provided them with fresh ammunition. Relentless mockery of our hosts had me in a rather pleasant mood by the time we arrived at the small hall where the First Prince of Procer was awaiting the three of us. The fair-haired woman who’d been chatting with Adjutant the whole way rapped her knuckles against the door to signal our arrival and bade us farewell, looking almost reluctant at ending her conversation with Hakram. A majordomo in tasteful silks emerged from the room and bowed, intimating he would be announcing us. As the guest of highest rank, etiquette dictated I enter first.

“Her Majesty Queen Catherine of Callow, first of her name, protector of Daoine and high priestess of the Everdark.”

He had a pleasant, ringing voice, exactly the kind you’d want in someone charged with announcements. Queen of Callow, huh? Not so long ago Hasenbach had refused to even recognize me as Queen in Callow, much less the rightful liege lady of Duchess Kegan of Daoine. And someone had been talking to drow, though that might simply be the consequence of the Pilgrim feeling chatty. I entered, the polished plate on my frame making me regret having left my staff behind with every step I took. A bit of Night smoothed the pain quick enough, but when that ended I’d be left feeling the consequences of my pride tonight. I stepped into the hall, followed by the announcement of Lady Vivienne Dartwick, heiress-designate to the Kingdom of Callow. Much as I disliked the Proceran propensity for luxuries, I could not deny that the parlour before me was a beautiful piece of work. A tall plaster ceiling led into great arched windows of glass that let in the winter midday sun, the lighting coming to rest on a long low table of painted wood covered by a perfectly transparent pane of glass. The walls and draperies were in a pleasant pale green, and the seats prepared at the table looked sinfully comfortable with their matching cushions and broad armrests. The First Prince of Procer was seated at the centre of the table, two people standing behind her in respectful deference, and I advanced to the table as behind me the announcement of Lord Hakram Deadhand of the Howling Wolves, the Adjutant sounded.

One of those two people behind Hasenbach was long familiar to me. Princess Rozala Malanza’s classic Arlesite good looks were only called into attention by the light mail and closely cut tabard she wore, but it was the sword at her hip worthy of a raised eyebrow. Few people were allowed to be armed in the presence of the First Prince: I’d worn no sword today and so divested myself of nothing, but Hakram had left behind his axe and Vivienne a surprisingly high quantity of knives before we were allowed into this wing of the palace. A point was being made by Hasenbach, one directed at me: I trust Rozala Malanza to be armed and standing behind me. Procer is not so divided as you think. The other one behind Hasenbach I did not know, though he was quite aged – if bearing that burden rather well, hair having gone a distinguished silver instead of white or falling – and wearing well-tailored but otherwise rather humble robes. On his right shoulder two pale hands intertwined had been embroidered, which struck me as priestly imagery, but I would not assume anything in a place like Salia. I imagined introductions would come soon enough, regardless.

The First Prince waited  to speak until Hakram had come to stand at my right, a towering pillar of steel and muscle, and Vivienne at my left – just as whip-slender and hard-eyed as in her thieving days, but grown steady in a way she’d never been while Named.

“Welcome to Salia, Queen Catherine,” the First Prince of Procer greeted me.

It’d been about a year since I’d last seen Cordelia Hasenbach, though this would be our first meeting outside the unearthly domain of darkness and cold that I’d used as our bridge when I still stood Queen of Winter. As was often her habit she’d dressed in the dark blue that was from the heraldry of her native Rhenia, the cut of it conservative – her neckline ended an inch beneath her collarbones – but close on her frame. It was flattering, though there was no hiding that Hasenbach had been born with a warrior’s build: tall and broad-shouldered, with a strong jaw and hale complexion. Her discreet touches of cosmetics, golden eye shadow that made the vivid blue of her eyes stand out even more and the painted nails at the end of the wrists revealed by sleeves ending in an undercut of puffy lace, worked to shape her appearance rather than to change it, which I thought clever of her. If she’d tried to hide her features it would have made her look comical, while as it stood her height and haleness only enhanced the palpable weight of her presence. Her crown was as a simple circlet of pale gold, holding back long golden curls I’d always considered to be the most appealing part of Cordelia Hasenbach – rich and full, they cascaded down her back in perfect ringlets.

“Your hospitality has been impeccable, Your Most Serene Highness,” I replied.

She inclined her head in acknowledgement.

“Our honoured general Princess Rozala Malanza requires little introduction for you, I am told,” Cordelia smiled, “but I expect my other attendant is not so well-known.”

My elbow moved towards Vivienne, softly and as if by happenstance, and her own pushed back against mine. Good, so she did know.

“Lady Dartwick?” I said.

“Unless I am sorely mistaken we are in the presence of Brother Simon of Gorgeault, current head of the Holy Society,” Vivienne smiled. “It is an honour to meet such a distinguished colleague, Brother Simon.”

“As I am honoured to meet you, Lady Dartwick,” the old man replied, lips quirking.

That smile had been almost roguish, I thought. Must have been a heartbreaker in his youth, that one. Regardless he was not in priest robes, so he should be a lay brother who’d taken no vows. Interesting Hasenbach would want him here for this, though. There were implications to that. The First Prince wordlessly invited me to sit and there was a discreet shuffle as the order of seating was seen to. Myself first, as reigning queen, then Vivienne as my designated successor, then Rozala as a ruling princess in her own right and then the broad equivalence in rank between Brother Simon and Adjutant – who while Named was a villain and only actually owed lordly address under the Tower’s law. A small swarm of servants brought trays of silver bearing a tea pot of Ashuran porcelain and matching cups, as well honey to sweeten the brew.

“They are Yan Tei leaves,” Hasenbach pleasantly told me. “Bitterer than the Baalite imports and the plants of the Thalassocracy, though I find they have a richer taste.”

My own passing familiarity with tea came largely through Aisha’s stock – which was Baalite leaves mixed with cheaper Ashuran ones – and the few times Black had served some while we were in Ater. His were from another country across the Tyrian Sea, though, which I suspected to be where the Ranger’s father was from. He didn’t break out the cups often, which didn’t surprise me given the astronomical cost of even a single pot’s worth of brew. It was one of the few luxuries he indulged in, which I’d always found rather amusingly subdued of him given the sheer amount of power at his disposal. I’d brushed up on etiquette before beginning the journey to Salia and made sure all my closest companions did as well, so none of us touched the brew after it was poured for us save when Hakram sweetened his own with honey. Princess Rozala did the same, I noted with amusement, and looked somewhat discomfited that only the orc at the table shared her tastes.

“So what is this palace, if you don’t mind my asking?” I said.

“It was the winter home of the Merovins, in the days where they still numbered many,” the First Prince said. “After their line waned it became the favoured location for winter solstice balls instead, though it had not seen that use since the Great War.”

“Not been in a feasting mood?” I idly said.

“There were better uses for our coin and hours,” Hasenbach replied. “The latter is even harder to replace than the former, I have found.”

Was that an invitation to stop wasting time? I wouldn’t exactly mind. Every day spent dancing around what needed to be done was one more day tossed away as our truce with the Dead King came closer to ending. I understood the Principate had its pride and its ways, but the Principate was also on the brink of annihilation and more than slightly on fire. There was dignity and then there was idiocy.

“Ah,” I said, drawl thickening, “are we to actually talk, then, or do we continued this pleasantly inane ritual of taking each other’s measure? We were past that a year ago, as far as I’m concerned.”

Malanza let out a choking sound, but my eyes were on Hasenbach. She had presence, as much as ever, but I wasn’t feeling… weight off of her. The kind Name would bring to bear simply by being. Might be she was on the more discreet side of things, when it came to that, but that would be rather odd for a ruler. Temper tended to get ripples going, through, so it was worth a try. The Warden of the West studied me for a moment and then allowed for an amused half-smile. She seemed, I thought, tired. It only occurred to me then that the golden eye shadow might not be artifice of beauty but meant instead to hide the dark circles of someone gone too long without sleep. Still, not a hint huh. I’d be unusual for a fresh Named to have that much control over their power, but then this Cordelia Hasenbach and not a farmboy with a grudge and an old sword. She’d held the reins of the greatest empire on the surface of Calernia for years before she’d even had a Name. If she had one.

“I have spent more then twelve hours preparing for this conversation, did you know?” Cordelia ruefully said. “Some of the finest minds in my service studied ever scrap of knowledge we have of you, from your favourite wine to the tactics of your earliest battles.”

“And this is what you came up with?” I replied, brow raising as I cast a look around us.

“It all seems rather pointless, does it not?” the First Prince said. “Yet what can I possibly arrange that would bring to bear even the tenth of the wroth of an angel, or a fraction of the horrors of the Folly? We have nothing that can move if you if you do not wish to be moved, and more masterful hands than we have failed to use you. It is an unpleasant truth, this, and not one I find it easy to face.”

“We have been at war almost as long as we’ve been speaking,” I acknowledged. “And there are things about your country I despise, and likely always will. The grounds for alliance between us are not fondness or kinship.”

“Yet my people are in dire need of your help,” Hasenbach said. “And so as you have proposed let us talk.”

That was as clear an offer as I’d get, I figured, so I took her up on it.

“You do not seem to be Named,” I said.

Cordelia Hasenbach brought her porcelain cup to her mouth and inhaled from the brew before taking a cautious sip.

“I am not one of the Chosen, or the Damned,” she confirmed, elegantly setting down her cup.

I hid my relief. It might be useful to have a heroic First Prince holding up the Accords from her side, but to be honest it wasn’t worth the risks coming with the Intercessor being able to meddle with Cordelia directly. Rather less elegantly I reached for my own cup and took a sip. I didn’t grimace, because I wasn’t a damned savage, but it looked like Hakram had been showing wisdom in honeying his. Wasn’t exactly an avid admirer of sweets, though, so even then it’d be rather like trying to put out a barn fire by throwing sharpers at it.

“Have your spies passed on recent news from the northern fronts?” Cordelia asked.

“We’ve only ever had rumours from Lycaonese lands,” I frankly replied. “As for the rest, we know the general state of it – Cleves was reclaimed, Hainaut’s last lines are on the edge of collapse – but little more.”

“Prince Papenheim has used the truce to solidify the lines in Hainaut, though the Dead King has seemingly massed around six hundred thousand soldiers to break them open anew when the three months end,” the First Prince said. “Hannoven has fallen, as you likely know, and Rhenia has been scoured save for a handful of fortresses where my subjects suffer siege. Only one fortress remains standing in Twilight’s Pass, and when it falls – and fall it will, given the great host waiting before it – the Principality of Bremen will follow in short order. Only Neustria will remain then, and I am told its lowlands will be effectively impossible to defend against an enemy with such overwhelming superiority in numbers.”

A heartbeat of silence passed in the wake of the stark assessment the First Prince of Procer herself had just spoken of the war she was about to resume losing.

“Cleves has been reclaimed,” Cordelia Hasenbach acknowledged.  “But at great cost. Four Chosen died and more than twenty thousand trained soldiers. Meanwhile the Enemy’s ranks swell equally with every dead, be they farmer of princess.”

The fair-haired princess sat stiff-backed, but her voice was raw.

“My generals now believe that the battles for Cleves might in fact have been trap,” she said. “The fighting was meant to bleed our number of professional soldiers, you see. To thin the number of Chosen and leave as much as a third of Procer’s armies stranded behind enemy lines when Hainaut falls and the dead hordes close the circle behind them.”

Cordelia Hasenbach raised her cup again, hand forcefully steady, and took a sip. The porcelain cup then returned to the plate with so small a sound it might as well have been silent. The reclamation of Cleves, I thought, was the closest thing the Principate had known to a victory since the Dead King had begun invading. Malanza had fought there. I looked at her now, and though her face as ashen the fact that she did not disagree spokes volumes. How much of a blow must it have been, to come to realize even that sole victory had been a greater defeat in the making?

“I will not lie to you, Queen Catherine,” she said. “You would find out regardless, given your ties to the Eyes of the Empire and the surprising skill of your Jacks. When the truce ends, if hostilities resume the Principate will fall within five months at most.”

Her frank assessment of the state of Procer’s norther fronts had rung loud in the silence, but this? Coming from her, of all people? Even Hakram stilled in surprise.

“The last strongholds of Hainaut might hold for two months, perhaps,” the First Prince evenly said. “After which the dead will tear into Brabant and the masses of refugees there, which will within another month make the numbers of the Dead King too large to successfully fight on the field. If the armies in Cleves intervene to prop up Hainaut we will lose Cleves, and Hainaut will then fall to a pincer regardless.”

She paused.

“The Morgentor, the last fortress of Twilight’s Pass, will likely hold until the other fronts have collapsed,” Cordelia said, a hint of pride to her voice. “Yet it will fall, and though the truce you bought us has allowed the southernmost of my people to flee into Alamans lands we…”

Her voice broke a little there.

“We do not retreat, Catherine Foundling,” she said. “Even when we should. It is not in our nature. Some will go as ordered, but more will flock to walls and fortresses and they will die screaming defiance against the dark. It will be the end of us as a people.”

I said nothing to that, for what was there to say?

“When those fronts collapse so will Procer,” the blue-eyed woman told me. “Already the cracks have begun. I have stripped the western principalities bare of grain to feed the heartlands and bare of men to fill our ranks, but keeping the northern armies supplied has emptied our granaries and our treasury. Foreign trade has broken down and the principalities untouched by war grow weary of paying their taxes to Salia. Even if the Kingdom Under lifted its sanctions, we would not be able to afford their armaments. There will be starvation, and despite my best efforts shortages of steel ensure that we can hardly even keep our current armies in fighting fit.”

She slowly breathed out.

“I expect that the moment Salia falls the Principate will end,” she said. “Southern principalities will secede and form alliances with each other and abroad, throwing the rest of us to the dogs. To be frank, I’d expect Ariel of Arans to offer to pay you fealty for protection before it even came to that – and neither Bayeux nor Orne would be far behind.”

Cordelia Hasenbach met my eye squarely.

“You must understand, now, that I do not have a single thing to threaten you with,” she quietly said. “I have no armies to send forth, no coin to cajole or coerce with and my alliances are weaker than yours. Besides, those allies I do have would not war on you for my sake, for you have them bound by debt and respect. I have through steel and insult ended any inclination between us that could now be called on, much less between our respective peoples.”

The thing was, there was a part of me that was savouring the words. The same part that remembered my every desperate plea to this same woman to call off her armies and rapacious princes. That remembered every spurned offer of peace, every sentence of scathing dismissal and barely-veiled contempt. She’d been so godsdamned arrogant, telling me she could choose the fate of Callow because she had the swords and the righteousness and that I should just go into exile like a good little thug after shutting my mouth and abdicating. And now she needed me. They all did, her entire alliance and the heroes behind them too. Even the Grey Pilgrim had good as admitted to it. They had sneered and spat and tried to kill me, and now I fucking had them. Cordelia Hasenbach had laid out before me the death of her nation and her people, and yet I could not help but think that they’d brought this all on themselves. That if they’d left Callow alone, that if they’d let me fix it instead of hounding me every step for their own hungry purposes, they wouldn’t be tumbling down the cliff right now.

Then, to my surprise, she pushed back her seat and rose. Not well, in opposition to the understated elegance of her every other movement. It was clear her leg had been broken and not finished healing. The pain had her lips thinning as Cordelia Hasenbach, First Prince of Procer and Warden of the West, knelt before me.

“I have a responsibility,” Cordelia said, “to the people of the Principate. To rule, to guide and to protect. To ease their worst inclinations and spur their finest ones. I have failed them in this.”

She was proud, Hasenbach. Not the kind of person something like this would come easily to. Not someone to do it unless she believed it to be necessary. Rozala was halfway to her feet, protesting her ruler kneeling before a foreign queen, but neither of us paid her attention.

“I have no right to ask grace of you now, and no might to compel it,” the First Prince said. “So I can only beg that you act as I did not, and help those I cannot.”

That I’d savoured this, for even a moment, tasted like ashes in my mouth. Because it wasn’t her or her reign she was begging for. It was her people. And while I might not be leading a crusade into Procer, I could not deny it felt poisonous that I could be in this moment and begged at instead of begging. Not because I enjoyed the helplessness of it, but because I’d never liked to think of myself as someone who would need to be implored to save lives.

“Get up,” I said, voice rough. “Enough. There was no need for this.”

I pushed back my own chair, rising to my feet, and the eyes of both Malanza and Brother Simon went to me. Watching, weighing.

“Get up, Hasenbach,” I said. “You and I are going for a walk.”

173 thoughts on “Chapter 77: Artless

  1. You really should rub it in at least a little, Cat.
    Make it clear to Proceran leadership and the various Princes/Princesses, and the other power bases in Procer that they owe you and Callow big time over this.
    And that a return to Procer’s typical foreign policy after the Dead King is dealt with will not be tolerated.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. magesbe

      I’m sure lines will be laid down. But there’s no need to rub in that they will owe Callow after this. Everyone knows it. And unspoken by well known debts are often more powerful than spoken ones.

      Liked by 16 people

    2. nimelennar

      In our world, maybe.

      In a world based on narrative, forcing the “good guys” to agree to something under extreme duress is only ever going to backfire in your face. And a Procer which repaid Callow coming to their aid (after first repelling an attempted invasion and annexation, no less) with treachery would get smacked down just as hard by narrative forces.

      To say nothing of the fact that Cordelia already knows exactly what she’s asking, and that she has nothing to offer in return.

      No, Cat needs to do this in such a way that Hasenbach maintains her dignity.

      Liked by 21 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        I think either signing the Accords right now, or at the end of the War will be the best way to handle this. Establishing who the actual enemy is, and presenting an alternative to the End of Days, should be top priority of this meeting. Even without narrative forces, Procer would be persona non grata across Calernia if they betrayed the hand that helped them up in their darkest hour. There would be no convincing other nations that they could be anything resembling an ally.

        The Procer of the Pre-War died with the Coup. There will be no returning to Status-Quo after this war. Hells, no nation that went into this war is leaving the same as before it. Short of Bard hitting a Retcon button, forces are already in motion that will make this Great War the funeral of the Age of Wonders, and the Coup of Salia will be recorded as the Time of Death.

        Liked by 16 people

      1. Shikkarasu

        I feel like this is one of the calculated, rehearsed approached that Cordelia prepared for in the past 12 hours. A sort of “If Cat drops pretense then: grovel, because Catherine has a history of respecting passionate Guardians of the Common Folk”. I love the speech and I want to trust Cordelia, but someone of her station and MO definitely considered this as the best way to manipulate Cat into doing what they need.

        “We have nothing that can move if you if you do not wish to be moved. Please help,” is exactly what would move the Queen of Callow.

        All that said, I look forward to being wrong. Cordelia for Prime Minister, 2019.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. I’m thinking of it as something like Hakram cutting off his hand. Absolutely a deliberately calculated move made to incite a specific emotional reaction based on your knowledge at another person.

          Completely honest and genuine at the same time.

          The ‘manipulation’ part is just that it wouldn’t have worked as well on most people who aren’t Catherine (like, imagine Kairos’s reaction to this. Or Malicia’s), and Cordelia is using her knowledge of what she is like to get sympathy.

          No lies were involved, but Cordelia has a better read on Cat than Cat thinks at the end.

          Liked by 2 people

    3. stevenneiman

      I think she’s making a point of not acting like Cordelia herself did. This isn’t about power dynamics or bargaining positions, it’s about doing what needs done. Especially because the power dynamics and bargaining positions are already quite clearly established. Cat has about as much power over Cordelia in reality as an absolute monarch has over their subjects in theory. She’s helping Procer because she wants to, not because there’s literally anything at all Procer could do if she decided to just sit back and let them all die.

      Like

  2. magesbe

    I like the duality here. For Catherine, on the one hand, this is satisfying. As she thought in the chapter, the boot is on the other foot now. On the other hand, that Cordelia feels like she needs to beg probably hurt, especially when she’s been trying to make herself not look like a monster in the eyes of others.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. major R

      Catherine is a monster, no matter what she believes or does. It’s a state of being, not a particular act or action.
      She wins impossible battles. She seizes power from things that should not, cannot be touched. She makes impossible allies as easily as she dismembers foes. She is fundamentally unlike any being to walk the continent right now and it is unfair of anyone, including herself, to assert that she actually keeps with the Below – she is the adviser to a pair of fledgling rogue Gods who ostensibly keep to the Below, but for all intents and purposes she is a contractor for them and nothing more, and she drags their being more to the Above with every change she makes on their behalf or arguments she picks. Never will they actually cross that thresh-hold between them, but much like Catherine, her proposed city, and her proposed new world order, they may eventually come to sit just upon it. Night & Twilight.
      Cordelia is right to beg. You don’t reason with monsters, you either stab them or you beg their mercy. She started with reasoning, and then a bit of Proceran diplomacy, but both totally failed in their purpose and led to immense long-term losses for Cordelia, even the actions that made her gains in the short-term. A total defeat.
      Now, Cordelia is about to get taken for a wild ride on the begrudging friendship train and she’s probably going to hate every minute of it, but in the end she will probably begin to agree with and support the person she had the conviction to cast thousands and thousands of her countrymen at to stop, even in the face of the pressing undead menace. Her act of legitimate begging will be forgotten, if all goes well, and she will finally treat Catherine with some of the authority and levity that the Black Queen has always demanded, all while we listen to Catherine’s internal monologue talk about how everyone’s got her wrong and if only people would just step aside and let her run her little corner of the planet for long enough to turn it into something other than a disaster zone she could just gallivant off into the sunset and never kill a dude ever again. Hardly acknowledging that, whether they step aside or not, she seems to get her way anyway- just slower, more arduously, and more “accidentally”.
      Just like every other monstrous dictator in the making, volunteering to retire or not. Yeah, I see you over there Pinochet. You’re not fooling anybody.

      Liked by 19 people

      1. Catherine crucified hundreds of prisoners after Liesse. I don’t think we are about to get confused as to whether she is a good person. Like, she went to Dead King to try and get him to attack Procer herself a few chapters back.

        There is a writing toolbox and having a character torture a prisoner is a character revealing beat. Having them do it to hundreds of people is an explicit ‘this person has Herod/Hitler/Sauron energy’ beat.

        The important thing, tho, is that Cat doesn’t SEE HERSELF that way. In her mind there is a big dif between her and Diabolist. Like, I don’t think she ever updated her self image from ‘plucky underdog trying my best to do what is right’. She wears the cloak of stolen souls and carries a banner explaining that having reasons for things is for suckers, but I don’t think she gets how that looks to other people. “Yeah, his name is Deadhand, and he has an evil bone hand and eats people, but, like, he brings me weed and likes honey in his tee.”

        This update is probably jarring to her because it feels strange that someone would have to beg her to try and preserve human life on this continent. Like, shouldn’t they realize that she would have done that anyway? Who do they think she is, some kind of Villain?

        The disjunction that’s currently happening, tho, is that Cat doesn’t grok how severe the Dead King seems to Procer. She was Winter Fresh Cat when she met him, and I think she just hasn’t taken another look at his deal since she became sane again. In her mind he is just another player in her games, civilized and urbane, someone to balance against Bard and Tyrant and the Black/Malicia relationship.

        Whereas Cordelia understands him as the end of humanity. She doesn’t understand Cat’s POV, which is that dude is someone you can negotiate with and get truces from or military alliances with, a cool cat named Neshamah. To Cordelia he is just a wildfire burning down the world.

        I tend to lean more towards Hasenbach’s view on DK, myself. I think the way he behaved towards Cat is a mask that he uses, and I’m hoping that this meeting will help Cat see the truth of him.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Shveiran

          Most of what you say is true, yet again, I’d argue that as in most instances the question “is Cat a monster?” is best answered with “Compared to what?”.

          At the end of the day, there is no denying that Cat has done montruous things; but I see no reason not to extend the same category to all current rulers in Calerna, bar none. I suppose Tyrant, Hierarch, Black and Malicia, or Andronike and Kumena, hardly need much arguing on this point, but I think it is a fact that the Blood, Cordelia and the Ashurans have all shown a blatant disregard for human life unless it was their own people. As for the rest of the League, well, they are going along with two madmen and grabbing up all commerce-relevant spots they can, and I haven’t seen them drag their feet much, so they don’t get a pass.
          Now, we could argue that they don’t raise the dead and that this makes them less of a monster than Cat; honestly, I don’t feel that way, but that is beside the point in my opinion: past a certain threshold, arguing “he is worst though” absolves you not at all.
          If we consider the means, they are all monstruous; that some botehr with a shiny coat of paint earns them no point in my book.
          If we consider the ends, the matter becomes very debatable; I guess only Cat and Cordelia have a shot at the Greater Good justification, but whether that is acceptable or not is a very personal judgment.

          Ultimately, though, I don’t think morality is not why Cordelia feels she has to act this way.

          Cat is a monster, objectively, at least in the sense major R enunciated above: she is a force shaping the world, with the winds of fate blowing in her sails, doing the impossible every few weeks; and that monster Cordelia has scorned, provoked and bled countless times.
          She has begun a feud, and chosen time and again to throw fuel in that fire because she judged the alternative worse. Whether or not you think she was justified in making that choice, the gamble backfired, and she stands before that monster now knowing not only that she could kill her and her people if she so wished – but that the monster need do nothing to doom her to that fate. That nothing but the monster decision to stand by her side, bleed her people and her resources, and gamble her own life will possibly save her kingdom from anihilation. She needs the monster to be a martyr, and that is not someone you can be sure to be granted by a dear friend, not fully.
          And she knows she has earned no trust from Catherine Founding, no good will whatsoever, and more than a few reasons for enmity.

          Of course she is terrified. How could a beggar not be? Her fate and her people is in someone’s hands, and of an enemy she willingly made to boot.

          Liked by 12 people

          1. Yep.

            Catherine can take as much advantage of the situation as she can. Appealing to her goodwill and heroism is literally the only leverage Cordelia has at this point – be as pitiful as possible, so she’ll want to help and not ask as much as she can in return.

            Cordelia has no choice but to try and take advantage of these traits of Catherine’s – because otherwise, even with the obvious fact Catherine came here to fight the Dead King, Procer is about to become a province of Callow.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. > otherwise, even with the obvious fact Catherine came here to fight the Dead King, Procer is about to become a province of Callow.

              I don’t think so? There’s a term for trying to absorb a polity several times larger than yourself in population as well as landmass, and that term is “strategic overreach”. Cordelia’s right that if the Principate splinters – and if DK isn’t stopped, it is in fact on the very verge of that – some of the southern princedoms would beg to get invited to the Callowan Let’s Not All Die party, but there’s no scenario where Catherine could take *and hold* something the size of all Procer regardless of whether she wanted to. Triumphant was brought down by narrative logic in the Guideverse, that’s true, but she’d almost certainly have been just as doomed in our world by the simple scale of her strategic overreach. Taking is always easier than holding.

              Honestly, even if you’re speaking more figuratively than literally and you downgrade the scale of ambition to vassalage (or even a level of really severe concessions) rather than outright absorption that still wouldn’t be sustainable long-term. If Procer survives Procer will recover, and when Procer recovers it will once again be in an objectively more powerful position than Callow thanks to its greater population base and resources. And at that point they would start re-evaluating the concessions they were driven into under duress with a very jaundiced eye indeed. Catherine is much too smart to try to force a Guideverse version of the Treaty of Versailles onto Procer now, for exactly the reasons why that treaty was a dumb, dumb thing to do in the real world. That said, the last time Cat and Cordelia spoke Catherine was still Winter!Cat instead of F.U.N.!Cat and she was spitting raw Callowan spite at Cordelia over the DK situation to boot; it would be very plausible for Cordelia not to feel entirely confident that Catherine is more smart than spiteful about the level of concessions/whatever that she could feasibly extract from this situation.

              Liked by 6 people

              1. Do note that Callow post-allofthis will have a trade deal and mutual defense treaty (iirc) with Praes, putting it in a radically better position than it was ever in before, relative to Procer.

                But yeah, Cordelia also cannot be confident Catherine will see the future situation projected in a way that favors Procer 🙂

                Liked by 2 people

        2. I think Catherine knows full well what a menace Dead King is. She cannot fully process it, no, but the way she sees him is EXACTLY why she’s uncomfortable with this. She also sees the end of humanity, and she doesn’t like the idea of being BEGGED to stop it. If it was just politics, if it was what you said – civilized people bargaining – Catherine would be full on enjoying the spectacle.

          But it’s the end of humanity coming, and Catherine is not a fan of being treated like she doesn’t understand that herself.

          And I think Cordelia knows this and hoped for / expected this exact result. That based on her assessment of her personality, this is how you get Catherine Foundling to actually drop grudges and do her best to help you, to push back against your helplessness instead of taking advantage of it. This GOT to Catherine, and I expect Cordelia did this because she knew it would.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Andrew Mitchell

            > And I think Cordelia knows this and hoped for / expected this exact result. That based on her assessment of her personality, this is how you get Catherine Foundling to actually drop grudges and do her best to help you, to push back against your helplessness instead of taking advantage of it. This GOT to Catherine, and I expect Cordelia did this because she knew it would.

            Huh, I think you’re right. I didn’t get that when I read the chapter but this makes perfect sense given all our previous evidence of how smart Cordelia is.

            I wonder if Cat’s going to call Cordelia on this bullshit during their walk?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. No part of it is bullshit tho.

              The conclusion of ‘she wouldnt do this if she didnt think she had to’ is in Cat’s head and on Cat, Cordelia never said she didnt think Catherine would help if she didnt do this.

              Like

          2. Shveiran

            Life on Calernia, not humanity, but nitpicking aside I agree.

            With that said, it begs the question of how much of a bitch Cordelia has to be to have acted as she has if she had that good a read on Catherine.
            I’d much rather believe she is gambling all in on the Black Queen being a decent human being because, well, if she isn’t than Procer is already screwed.

            Liked by 5 people

              1. Shveiran

                She did, which is why I hope it is the second option and not the first. Mostly because it seems Cordelia is here to stay and I would prefer not to have a reason to hold her in such contempt.

                Liked by 1 person

            1. Cordelia didn’t have ANY read on Catherine when she was first declaring the Crusade, and she was only forming it during their Hero Winter negotiations. Not helped by Catherine deciding to go with pomp, formality and listening to Akua for that period. Remember how Catherine managed to surprise her with sharpness / understanding of intrigue in their last pre-Northern Crusade talk? Cordelia got a much better understanding by the time Cat was begging her for a break pre-Keter, and at that time she would have been willing to deal if she could have (as it was, if she agreed to anything it literally just wouldn’t hold, leaving Catherine with the same problem and Cordelia deposed).

              By now, between Cat’s warning about Dead King and a portion of Callowan spite, and all her actions since she came back, and likely Augur’s advice, Cordelia knows how to move her. First make it up to her (Catherine thinks her admissions are satisfying for a reason), then push even further to make her actively uncomfortable so she won’t seek more of it.

              It’s a good move.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. IIRC, Cordelia and Cat would have started their chats at some point early in the book 3 => book 4 timeskip, since the anchor artifact got delivered to Cordelia by Thief in the Book 3 epilogue.
                So probably at least a year before the Crusade kicked off. Admittedly, things would have needed to be moving some months before that point, and Cat had been knocking off Heroes publicly enough that it was known about in Callow, so it probably got picked up by spies.

                Like

          3. mavant

            I doubt Neshamah wants to *end* humanity; where else would he get raw materials?

            No, it’s just about changing the status quo. Because the status isn’t quo, and he just needs to rule it.

            Like

          1. I dunno, I think ‘Catherine is always a little high’ makes a lot of sense.

            Like, she just found out Cordelia didn’t get a Name.

            Sane Cat: “Shit, a mighty Named would have been really helpful to stop Dead King’s ongoing atrocities. Thousands and thousands of people will die because of this.”

            High/Petty Cat: “Haha! There’s one in your eye, Fucking Bard! Your lute sucks and you suck!”

            Liked by 1 person

    2. caoimhinh

      Yeah, it’s understandable that she has mixed feelings about this.
      On one hand, Procer has finally gotten down of their high horse and stop their presumptuousness and arrogant attitude when dealing with Catherine. But on the other hand, Catherine is not happy that it had to come to such slaughter for this to happen.
      If anything that may have her angrier at Procer, that each and every time Cat makes a truce with Procer it took a lot of devastation for them to seat and have a talk.

      At least now everyone on the Crusade side will stop that initial bullshit of “we can’t have a Villain as Queen of Callow, we have to bring them freedom through our army” (both Cordelia and Pilgrim had said that in the past).

      Liked by 7 people

      1. I think Cordelia calculated this quite well – that at some point, when you have no bargaining advantage left to lose, the best way to get things out of Catherine is to be pitiful about it.

        She is a hero, and right now that’s Cordelia’s only hope.

        Liked by 7 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Nah. First that could legitimately hurt her ability to rule. More of the house of light rebels, the people riot, the pettier nobles that dont comprehend the big picture see it as a moment to take the throne. It doesnt help cat to have cordelia capitulate if it just makes her a less powerful ally.

      What she did do was do it in front of a woman who hates her enough to see her dead one day, and who has the best claim to her throne if shes disposed, to say nothing of the 3 rulers of Callow. Her ego is well and truly smashed.

      Liked by 19 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        Like a previous discussion about the nature of symbols in the book (can’t remember if it was Black or Malica who gave the lesson to Cat)

        The message was transmitted clear to anyone who mattered, and the pointless spectacle was avoided for the sake of expediency and to prevent unfortunate consequences that accompany public showings of such things.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. Shveiran

          Yet it was, so far, only spectacle.

          I don’t think it was an empty symbol, not coming from someone that sees the role fo First Prince as Cordelia does.

          But I am most curious to see what Cordelia is really willing to offer; this is an acknowledgment of weakness, but not repentance: all Cordelia has said is that when it was Cat doing the beggar, she gave her the cold shoulder. That’s all well and good, but it erases nothing that has previously happened, and is not even an apology.

          I’m very curious about next chapter. Cat’s stance will be interesting, but Cordelia’s even more.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. I get the impression that Cordelia is basically acknowledging that this is not a negotitiation, this is a planning session of what Catherine wants done, and her voice is going to be basically advisory. “Oh this is a concession you don’t want to extract because it would blow up this and that down the line”. Which is the only way to deal with it at this point tbh, kind of like how Amadeus convinced Cat about the mage academy.

            Like

      2. > What she did do was do it in front of a woman who hates her enough to see her dead one day, and who has the best claim to her throne if shes disposed, to say nothing of the 3 rulers of Callow. Her ego is well and truly smashed.

        OH THIS IS A FACT YO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR POINTING IT OUT

        Liked by 3 people

    2. RoflCat

      To parphrase something I heard:
      “The ones who care don’t matter, and the ones who matter don’t care”

      Cordelia just listed out how Procer is essentially on the edge of the cliff, barely survived being pushed off due to Cath’s truce with Dead King.

      So to her, anyone who would find fault in her begging Cath for help is not someone she’d care to pay attention to right now.
      And as can be seen in this chapter, Cath does not care that Cord is breaking some kind of etiquette to kneel and prove her sincerity.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Oh, Catherine cares.

        Cordelia knows exactly what she is doing, and exactly who she’s addressing. This is as calculated a move as she’s ever made, and it has achieved exactly the purpose she wanted.

        Oh, it was at the cost of her personal dignity, but Cordelia has always, I think, cared about that more in light of how it reflected on dignity of those with whose consent she ruled, rather than her own pride. That much is a low price to pay, when she can pity-manipulate the Black Queen into dismissing the charges.

        Liked by 5 people

          1. > And as can be seen in this chapter, Cath does not care that Cord is breaking some kind of etiquette to kneel and prove her sincerity.

            What I was referring to.

            Catherine cares 🙂

            Like

      2. ByVectron!

        That listing of exactly how near the edge, how dire the state of Procer, that wasn’t all for Cat- it was for Roz as well, lest she think that she might want to take a swing for the Prince. She was laying it all out in cold, stark lines, “Procer is f’ed, right in the A. We will last for a little while yet, and some will fall later than others, but they…we…will all fall, and soon. The coup was not only ill advised, it makes exactly ZERO difference to the ability of Procer and her people to survive annihilation at the hands of the Dead King.”

        Liked by 3 people

      1. konstantinvoncarstein

        They are able to sink entire kingdoms, and possess fleets of flying machines impervious to magic. I don’t think Neshamah holding the whole continent could threaten them. Furthermore, the narrative would smack him very hard if he conquered Calernia.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Shveiran

          I think the narrative would smack him hard if he tried. If he achieved that, Calernia would quickly become even more of a background feature than Keter, though. He’d be kind of safe, I think, or at least not more in danger. But getting there is a very slippery slope, because until there is even one enemy on Calernia she is the “villain that can’t be defeated”, which guarantees he will be. God, I love narrative logic made physics.

          Liked by 4 people

        2. lennymaster

          Was any imperviousnes to magic ever mentioned? The only thing said was screaming things in the sky and destroyed kingdoms, the rest we inferred. And all that was a good while ago, when magic was not nearly as developed. Who knows? Maybe Masego cold have played fly swatter with jets and aircraft carriers when he still had his magic.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. konstantinvoncarstein

            “They stopped laughing, when they lost contact with all their colonies. It was already too late by then. The Yan Tei have the only surviving records on the subject, and they say that the fleet of metal ships that came for Kerguel darkened the sky itself – it could be seen from miles away.”
            […]
            “They sunk the island into the sea,” Black said. “Sorceries Kerguel had spent decades refining slid off the ships like water off a duck’s back. The explosions were larger than anything that’s been seen before or since. By the time the gnomes were done, there was not a living soul left on the barren rocks.”
            Book 1, Chapter 15: Company

            I was wrong in that aircrafts are not mentioned, but I was right about the anti-magic. And you said that magic has advanced on Calernia, but do you think the Gnomes did not? I doubt they sitted idle during thousands of years.

            Furthermore, if they are able to see what Goblins do underground, they are probably aware of the most recent advances in magical theory.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. I mean, if the ships are darkening the sky I’d call that a pretty solid indication that in fact they are aircraft. Given that nobody else in creation has aircraft it would make sense that they’d call them “flying ships” instead.

              Liked by 6 people

      2. Quite Possibly A Cat

        I don’t see why the Gnomes would have trouble beating the DK. Bullets forged of holy silver and guns should let them mow down undead legions. Then drop some nukes into Serenity kill source of fresh bodies. After that its just a mop up mission. I didn’t get the indication the gnomes were slouches in sorcery or tech.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. lennymaster

          Do the Gnomes have holy bullets, would they not need priests for that? We have seen holy water (wich did nothing against Winter Cat’s zombies) but never blessed swordes or armor. Was there ever an undead weaknes to silver mentioned? Can they even get to Serenity? Why would jets be immune to magic that rots stone into dust and takes up the entire sky of a sizable part of Calernia for a skrying ritual? And just what could he build with the dead of an entire continent and plenty of time? A giant necromantic spaceship made of bones? Magical monstrosities that can eat nukes like candy? Maybe he needs none of that and can just open a gate directly into the Gnomes capital and rip it apart in the span of minutes with his undead Named, Demons and devils, with the contructs he can make out of millions of corpses and the reanimated mages of Calernia. There was never any indication the Gnomes know shitall about magic, they certainly never interfered with magical WMDs. Maybe they feel secure enough to not bother or simply cant, no one knows.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Shveiran

            The premise of the Guide is that Calernia is backwater country and there are real powerhouses beyond the sea. The gnomes seem to have technology and magic in par/slash beyond our own, whereas Calernian are at least five centuries behind.
            I see no reason to believe that a host of undeads covering the continent would be an issue. Zombies have not been shown to be particularly hard tod estroy in this universe. If they can be killed with swords, why would nuking teh continent not work? And why wouldn’t the gnomes be able to? A first world country in our timeline could address such a threat without too much of effort, and no risk.
            The Dead King is a CALERNIAN problem, not a WORLD ENDING one

            Liked by 1 person

          1. Andrew Mitchell

            Not physically relaxed, but emotionally. Walking side by side is more emotionally comfortable than sitting facing each other over a table. It’s more intimate. It promotes the feeling that they are in it together and they’re heading in the same direction.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. ninegardens

              The rearrange the god damn couches! Sit on the same couch! Or Sit on the Couch and get Rozalia and Adjunt to carry the couch around the palace while your two spy masters chat or place chess or whatever.
              😛

              Liked by 4 people

  3. IDKWhoitis

    This is the even darker reflection of that last conversation Cat had with Cordy before the War. Where Cat started off with admitting she had absolutely failed Callow, and then worked up her courage to walk away from a raw deal. Now Cordy worked up her courage to face the inevitable deal presented before her, admitting she had failed Procer.

    At this point, Cat holds absolute leverage, because Procer cracked under it’s own weight and the relentless waves of Dead, and even though Cat doesn’t own a massive lever, she barely needs one to pick up and move all the pieces. If anything, the Coup was favorable for all parties involved. It divested Cordy of any illusions of Procer holding itself together, she doesn’t need to try to save face or play the power game with a 2-7 off suit.

    And above all things, Cat has been known as, while admittingly violent, still an someone who will act in good faith. Cat has shown repeatedly that she does not want to set the world on fire.

    Unbowed by Angel’s worth, unshaken by Demon’s madness, and patron saint of disasters and burning battlefields, Cat is the person who needs to lead Calernia right now, and Cordy has effectively recognized it.

    Bard must be kicking herself for getting distracted by Auger right now.

    Liked by 12 people

  4. Slick Rick

    Cat’s nearing hero territory here! The fact that she smothered her enjoyment of this and it was unthinkable to not help might make her… well, The Good Queen or Queen of Callow really aren’t ever going to be her (not nearly stabby and vicious enough for her).

    But I really like how meta the situation is; the Crusade always defeats Evil because they are in the right, but Catherine genuinely offered them every one of their goals as long as they don’t destroy everything Callowan about Callow and they refused, thus invalidating the Crusade’s righteousness and thus the tables inevitably flipped. I suppose I could see Hasenbach looking at Cat’s record and expect everything she ever wanted destroyed (and probably set on fire) and Cat replacing the entire ruling class with stabbier people that are loyal to her and would bleed the Principate dry on principle… as an opener to negotiations (after all, those were the terms she gave to Cat before the crusade). In a way, she’s probably hoping Cat doesn’t accept this, because as far as the story goes it would be a fantastic way to end the story of the current iteration of Procer (the corruption of Good becoming its own downfall, being destroyed by their own arrogance).

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Crusades don’t always win. They just have an advantage. In theory, anyways.
      But one of Dread Emperor Terribilis’s crushed two consecutive Crusades so hard that the last five Crusades weren’t aimed at Praes, but assumed at the Dead King instead.

      So … actually the Story is more that Crusades usually tend to lose, or at least, fail.
      Huh. We know the Crusade against Triumphant basically worked …
      Oh. Damn. The Bard thinks the only way she can get at the Dead King through Story is to have him playing the role of Triumphant, so when the “forces of Good” rise up against his Conquest, they get bonus Story points. The Bard works through Stories … and calling a Crusade isn’t a Story that works.

      Liked by 8 people

    2. I think Cordelia knew exactly how to manipulate Cat into pliability here. She’s employed the ‘righteous indignation’ tactic against her before with success, although that negotiation never went anywhere in the end. As long as you’re willing to discard dignity and any pretense of moral high ground and appeal purely on pitifulness, Catherine will be there. And that’s the best hope Cordelia has right now.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Simpli

    Wasn’t Callows Army also overstretched, filled with green recruits, bleeding coin and spent after too much campaigning? Somehow that sounds like its getting overvalued right now.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Novice

      I think you’re forgetting the experienced mid-tier officers; excellent generals like Juniper, Grem and Black; their siege expertise thanks to Legion training; force multipliers like the Knights, goblin munitions and the Woe and most importantly the entire Empire Everdark. Catherine isn’t being overestimated.

      Liked by 9 people

    2. Agent J

      Green recruits, but a veteran core from three legions. Plus the Legions-in-Exile and the full might of the Empire Everdark.

      Catherine is bringing three armies to the table, a truce that gives them time to organize, and a brighter tomorrow with the Accords.

      Yea, Cat’s not fresh as morning dew, but she’s still in a far better position than Cordelia. A strong ally and, really, the only chance for the Principate to survive.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Quite Possibly A Cat

        Let’s not forget how absurd the Everdark forces are. Not only do they have absurd numbers of soldiers on par with Saint, when one of these super-soldiers falls the power can be immediately transferred to a new host resulting in an *even more powerful* super-soldier! Then if that wasn’t enough they can pull the DK’s favorite tactic: stealing the enemies strength in victory.

        Their one weakness is dawn and I’m betting the DKs miasma and general darkness craps on the power of dawn. At a minimum Serenity won’t have any dawn to stop the Drow.

        I wonder if Above can make something like Night, but non-evil. Like it goes to your heirs, and you can only sacrifice animals you rightfully own plus yourself. Maybe sacrifice small drops of your own blood while you live? Good has a tradition of self-flagellation right?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Shveiran

          >>”Their one weakness is dawn and I’m betting the DKs miasma and general darkness craps on the power of dawn. At a minimum Serenity won’t have any dawn to stop the Drow.”

          Actually…

          >> from book 4, chapter 53

          “Killing undead,” I said. “Would it also grow the Night?”

          The drow paled.

          “Speak not of the Hidden Horror,” Ivah whispered. “For its crown is dawn, and that pale light is the end of all things. Only the mad would enter the eye of the Host of Death.”

          Liked by 1 person

    3. They’ve been bloodied in the skirmishes in Iserre. They’re not green anymore. The three month truce will give them some well needed R and R but I think the help from Callow and Cat’s partnership with the Everdark is not enough against the Dead King.

      I believe they need the entire continent against him. Get Praes and League involved and try to get the Kingdom Under to make a play for the lands underneath Keter.

      Liked by 5 people

        1. Shveiran

          Are they? I thought that’s what the dwarves would get, and the dwarves would mostly become surface based? Or, you know, something like the goblins that live underground but dare not dig too far below.

          Like

          1. No, dwarves were after the Everdark territory. That’s why the drow had to leave, and why they now basically have no choice but to wage war against DK to the last drop of blood – they’re essentially a whole nation of refugees.

            Like

  6. caoimhinh

    It’s quite sad that so much of the Procer’s populace had to be massacred before its leadership finally recognized that they needed to stop acting like self-righteous bastards and finally sit down and have civilized talks with Catherine.
    The same applies to Levant, of course, as Pilgrim (and lots of their soldiers) had to die before they changed their attitude.

    At least now they can have an alliance, and hopefully they won’t backstab Cat once this war is over (Procer has a historical tendency of doing such thing, as has been noted several times through the books).

    Liked by 4 people

  7. 'Ladi Williams

    Am I the only that while reading the banter between Cat and Vivian was secretly worried they would take up a too large part of the chapter leaving us with very little meat on the bone for Cat and Cordy?
    I was like nooo….EE…just get on with it already…though normally I like reading their day to day interactions that don’t involve stabbing people bcos that’s where you really see all the schemes taking shape or coming to fruition…

    Liked by 8 people

      1. Shveiran

        Though I agree, I think the chapter was shaped this way because this chapter wasn’t about the talk, but about setting the tone for them. The meat will come next chapter, and without the bickering it would have been eitehr a very short chapter or a too long one (if EE merged it with the next)

        Liked by 5 people

  8. Andrew Mitchell

    I really enjoyed this chapter.

    Cordelia’s frank assessment of how fucked Procer actually is was unexpected and heart-breaking. I can understand her assessment that begging on her knees was the best option (given she does not have access to Cat’s thoughts) but it just goes to reinforce my feeling that Cordelia just doesn’t understand Cat.

    Regarding the war, it seems that the Dead King is fielding several hundred thousand dead and it will quickly go over a million once the collapse starts again. Honestly, I don’t know what Cat can do to quickly stem the tide given the most the the Drow are somewhere else.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      Calling it now:

      Cordelia isn’t going to come clean with Cat about what she’s dredged up from that lake. And that checkov gun is going to go off at the worst possible time.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Shveiran

        Uhm, I disagree.
        It’s possible, of course, but Cat knows there is a checkov gun. I don’t think she will want such an unknown quantity around, so she’ll likely ask?
        Unless Theif actually found out and Cat is cool with it, in which case we won’t know but it won’t come out at a bad time, but as part of another Black Queen scheme

        Liked by 3 people

    2. ninegardens

      >I can understand her assessment that begging on her knees was the best option (given she does not have access to Cat’s thoughts) but it just goes to reinforce my feeling that Cordelia just doesn’t understand Cat.

      I mean… it worked right?
      It was that that burned through Cat’s last fragment of spite.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. Yah, but she would still be spiteful. And now she isn’t. If nothing else, it’s better for Catherine to not be festering in that.

          It was, in a very real sense, morally right of Cordelia to do this. Narratively, it took her from “ungrateful asshole who does not deserve any of this” to “grateful and indebted”, which is a biiiig upswing.

          Cordelia is, for once, not trying to get as much as she can out of Cat while paying as little as possible of a price for it. That’s a good, and Good, decision.

          Like

    3. Oh, Cordelia’s read of Catherine is quite fine.

      And a Catherine who feels awkward and kind of defensive about being presumed predatory is a better Catherine to negotiate with and try to get infromation form than a pissy Catherine who wants to drive it in how much she doesn’t have to do any of this even as she’s agreeing to do this.

      It’s Catherine whose read of Cordelia is off. Cordelia is not that proud; her pride was on behalf of the people she represented and with whose consent she rules, part of her duty much more than it is a part of her personality.

      She’s proud, but she’s not too proud to beg if utilitarian calculation shows that it’s better for Procer if she does.

      Liked by 4 people

    4. > Honestly, I don’t know what Cat can do to quickly stem the tide given the most the the Drow are somewhere else.

      “Somewhere else”, yes. Somewhere that has been carefully unspecified, but is definitely *not* just sitting back in the Everdark since exiting there was part of the deal with the dwarves. You know the narrative rule about how the plans that aren’t revealed in advance are the ones that work, right? Let’s just say I’m not at all discounting the rest of the drow as a factor in this war.

      Liked by 4 people

    1. Soronel Haetir

      I would have to think it’s Cordelia, I mean her broken leg is only something like a day old at this point. She’s not walking that one off. Cat at least has had some time to both recuperate and learn the limitations of her body (as well as being able to call on Night to overcome those limits when she absolutely has to).

      Liked by 3 people

  9. WuseMajor

    “Ok, so. Point 1. In the next few days you are going to receive an official message from the government of Callow. I’ve had poets and calligraphers working on this thing for a month, it’s beautiful, lyrical, and just amazing. What it boils down to is “I Told You So.” I expect an official reply acknowledging the receipt of the message. I am just petty enough to want the First Prince showing any degree of humility to Callow to go on the official record.”

    “Point 2. When we have the official council meeting with everyone, I want us to stand united on the Accords, so if there’s anything you don’t like in there, tell me now so we can get that hashed out beforehand. If we need to make a show of trading something during the meeting, fine, but it gets worked out now so neither of us is surprised later.”

    “Point 3. Amadeus of the Green Stretch stays with me. Call it releasing him into my custody. Call it an exile to fight the Dead King, because he will be very useful up north. Call it whatever you like, but I’m keeping him. If nothing else, he’s the only one who has a chance of reforming the dumpster fire that is Praes.”

    “Point 4. What are you dredging from the lake?”

    “….I think that’s pretty much it as far as demands go. Well, I might ask you to leave that thing alone, depending on what it is, but…”

    “In return, I will lend my might to the fight against the Dead King. I will rescind the deal with the Dwarves so that you can buy from them again. And I have a few other deals going that should help us out too.”

    “I know you already said that you don’t have the ability to say no here, but I’ll let you in on a secret. I don’t like it when innocents die. And the Dead King is a threat to this entire continent, not just you. I don’t have much of a choice here either, because we either fight him now together or he kills all of us separately. So, you can push back. You can fight me on those demands. You can screw me over, either now or later after the fighting. And I’ll still help.”

    “But if you do, I want you to remember that, in your hour of need, after you spent so much time fighting me instead of someone who deserves it, I came. A Villain and a monster answered your call for help, because we were the only ones left. But we came. And we helped. And anyone who turns their back on that afterwards needs to ask themselves who the real Villain is.”

    Liked by 9 people

      1. Shveiran

        I don’ EXPECT it, but can you imagine how well that would sell in Callow? People would be boasting for a generation. Generations.
        There would be riots over rights of first spot in the queue to pay more, voluntary taxes.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. Draconic

      She actually doesn’t need to rescind her deal with the Dwarves. The deal said that they won’t sell weapons to nations at war with Callow. So as soon as they make peace, they can buy them again.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. I think the emphasis on ‘villain’ in the last paragraph is a bit petty, given that Cat’s pretty much reclaiming it from meaning ‘the fucking worst’ to just ‘the folks who worship Below but can still be decent eh’.

      But overall? 😀 😀 😀
      mwah -kisses fingers-

      Liked by 1 person

  10. God

    this was so fucking

    great

    but also it’s making me laugh because for all of the ‘artless’ title and for all of her talk about how Catherine cannot be moved if she doesn’t want to be

    Cordelia knew exactly what she was doing with this perfomance and knew exactly how to appeal to Catherine

    like there’s nothing wrong with that per se! it’s just funny that I’m pretty sure it’s based on cold, cold calculation based on Catherine’s known personality

    Liked by 3 people

    1. > I’m pretty sure it’s based on cold, cold calculation based on Catherine’s known personality

      Well you know, that’s how they roll in that crowd. Cat’s not going to have any trouble with that, especially not given how often she’s depended on sophisticated intelligence and manipulation.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. laguz24

    Personally, I think this fully cements Hasenbach as the opposite of Malacia. Where one made a deal with a devil to avoid kneeling. The other one knelt to make a deal with a monster. Personally, I really want to see what Malacia is up to because she is not sitting pretty on her throne, I guarantee you.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Shveiran

      “One made a deal with a devil to avoid kneeling” ? What do you mean? Who’s the devil, what’s the deal and more importantly what kneeling did she refused?
      I doubt you mean kneeling before Amadeus or the crusade, because that would have changed nothing: Crusade was still coming in the first instance, and Crusaders would not have stopped because she asked before being humbled, let alone for Malicia who has a much longer list of atrocities to her name (and Name) than Cat, who was still refused.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Draconic

    Very cunning!
    She kneels in front of you, so you pretend to be good to her, and tell her to stand up. And then you ask her to come walk with you. All the while “accidentally” forgetting that her leg is broken, and hurts like hell.
    Very cunning indeed!

    Liked by 7 people

  13. crescentsickle

    I just realized why Cat’s existence is such a massive blow to Good/Above, and why everyone has been fighting tooth and nail to stop her.

    It hasn’t been about Callow being the domain of Below, or the expansion and stability of Praes, or anything of the sort.

    Like anything else, it’s about stories. Terribilis. Triumphant. Sorcerous. Malicia. Black. These are all villains that other villains are compared to. From this era onwards, any new rising Villain has the chance to be compared to the Black Queen and thus slotted into her story beats. The Pilgrim wasn’t just trying to stop the Black Queen, he was trying to tie her story down into an ignoble death and thus guarantee that such villains would be curbed.

    It wouldn’t be as bad if she kept to the rails of Black’s story: wildly successful but at constant odds with the people she governed. But she didn’t keep to those rails at all. The people of Callow love or fear her in different measures, but none of Praes save the Dread Empress and his Calamities love Black. Everyone has thrown narrative pressure on the Woe to tie it down to the Calamities, but despite those similarities it has become something entirely new. Black would never suffer the likes of Diabolist or Vivienne to sup at his table, and thus the Woe is its own entity.

    This isn’t just a story for the here-and-now, it’s a story for every future generation from this moment onwards. A plucky underdog who overcame the worst the world has to offer time and again, forging friendships and alliances after decisively defeating her enemies, winning ever more power to her banner, causing unprecedented changes to the world, curbs the worst of other villains to win back some karmic debt, etc.

    A Villain… that lives a Hero’s life. She may have lost the Name, but her weight on the many scales of the narrative engine hoisting up the world is magnitudes more than most with a Name, and said narrative engine *will remember*.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that even though she doesn’t have a name, she’ll leave behind a Name for Black Queen: The Black Queen rises from among Callow’s own people to defend the country in its hour of need, but is ready at any time to step aside when she’s no longer needed. She’s massively charismatic and a trickster-figure who’s also a creative strategist. Wields strange magics and gathers strange allies, combining both Good and Evil forces,

      Like

  14. Shveiran

    My prediction is as follows: this is when Cat will slip the beans about going to Keter herself.
    Something along the lines of “This is what war pushed me to do: we must grow beyond our past or it will keep bleeding us.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Just desserts

      And Cordelia is going to be immediately forgiving and will totally understand that that wasn’t an abhorrent choice to make, because consequences for your actions are things that happen to people that aren’t Catherine Foundling.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Shveiran

        Well, I was thinking more along the lines of “That’s fucked up, but I did invade you first, then said screw you Imma doing it again, so I can see why you’d be desperate enough to take extreme measures (like my lake thingy) so how about we STOP trying to doom each other’s people and find a why to fix this mess?”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think Cordelia was already assuming it, and is 100% not here for holding a grudge over something that (1) didn’t happen, (2) Catherine is currently helping fix to the degree that it sort of did. Oh and (3) she knows damn well Catherine absolutely did not want to do and was pushed into a corner for. Not to mention how she’s not Callowan and how grudges against Catherine are absolutely the last thing she can afford right now.

        Like

    2. Draconic

      I don’t think she was trying to keep it a secret. I think there was mention of people in Callow already talking about how she burned down a mansion to try stopping Malicia from making a deal with the Dead King.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Shveiran

        There was, but that is a memoir from Aisha that we don’t know when she’ll write down. Since they commented about the Uncivil Wars since before they started, I took that to mean the secret will come out at some point, but I don’t it has yet.

        Like

        1. That’s the line about it only taking Cat a week to set Keter on fire or something along those lines.

          There was also mention in a post-Everdark update-Cat-on-what’s-been-going-on in Callow discussion (think it might’ve been the first discussion after leaving the Everdark through scrying, when Cat learned the Observatory was down, Masego was missing, and the Army of Callow was in Procer and in trouble), that Hakram and Vivienne had spread the word about Cat going to Keter and trying to kill Malicia (and trying to prevent Malicia from making a deal with the Dead King) in the wake of their return to Callow, and the wave of assassinations being Malicia’s retaliation. Presumably they left out some of the details about why Cat and company were in Keter in their public statements on the matter.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. You’re forgetting the origin of House Insurgent, aren’t you?

          With Malicia’s delegation coming, Vivienne deliberately seeded the rumors that Catherine was in Keter to stop the deal from being made. Which made a bit more of an avalanche than she was expecting, with a schism in the House of Light as a result – between the more conservative ‘eh the Black Queen is okay’ crowd and the more radical ‘ANYONE WHO SAYS A BAD WORD ABOUT BLACK QUEEN IS A HERETIC AND THIS IS A CRUSADE NOW (SORT OF)’ crowd.

          Like

    3. SomeGuy

      It’s known that Cat went to Keter. Remember how Callowans were prideful that she set one of the palaces on fire? They think she was there to stop Malicia but they know she was -there-.

      Like

      1. JJR

        “Let me tell you what you need to do. You need to sit him down. You look him dead in the eye. And you say, “Don’t invade my country.”

        “And you think that will work?”

        “He’d have to be awfully evil if it didn’t.”

        Liked by 5 people

  15. mavant

    Hasenbach has always displayed an impressive mastery of her chosen field, not to mention strength of will and emotional fortitude, but this is the first time I’ve really been compelled by her essential goodness. That took not just big brass ovaries, but a remarkable selflessness.

    You go, Cordelia. Four for you, Cordelia.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Cordelia is not broken, she has been reforged into something stronger, and something strangely parallel to Cat. She is on her knees here, but remember that she just defied the Angels and refused an epic Name, and that takes an iron will that stands, like Cat, above and beyond a mere Name. Feel free to check off more parallels in replies, but let me get you started:
    Limping with a wound that is a humbling reminder of a failure and the need to do better? Check!
    Showed up with people previously thought to be their enemies at their back? Check!
    Was offered a ruling name that would destroy all enemies but let it slip? Check!
    Is thwarting the Intercessor’s plans by making the “wrong” choices? Check!
    Considered unleashing an unspeakable horror from the past on you enemies to save your people in a way that everyone can see will go badly? Check!
    Puts her people above her own power or dignity? Check!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. With this chapter Cordelia has earned my utmost respect, and Catherine has reminded me exactly why she is -regardless of which gods she may serve- a hero worth following into hell itself.

    Like

  18. John brokovsky

    Do not let the narrative significance of the First Prince of Procer kneeling to Cat pass unnoticed.

    We are one step closer to the return of Triumphant.

    Like

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