Chapter 87: Connive

“An enemy will remember you long after your dearest friends forget your face. Consider this, when you choose yours.”
– Argea Theodosian, Sacker of Cities, Tyrant of Helike

Under the moon’s light the outskirts of Salia were still a pale field of snow, but I almost started in surprise at the warmth of the breeze. Winter was dying, at last. At my right, Archer nonchalantly strolled forward as she strung her overlarge bow. I spared a moment to admire the deftness of her fingers as she did, and the strength of the arms hidden by mail and coat. At my left it was Akua Sahelian that tread the snow without leaving footsteps, so ethereally graceful she might as well have been gliding. Under the guise of Advisor Kivule she wore long black veils hiding her face, though the splendid black velour ballroom dress she’d decided to wear for out little walk provided insisted reminders she was one of the most attractive people I’d ever seen.

“It’s called a Segovian cut,” Indrani idly provided.

I tore away my gaze from the small slits in the dress’ skirts that’d allowed glimpse of the smooth legs beneath. I did not reply, knowing from long experience that if I engaged it would be the verbal equivalent of leaping headfirst into quicksand. Akua had several veils over her face, and yet somehow I could still feel her smirking.

“They wear those for dances they have, where the women spin and-”

“We’ll need to pass by my rooms so I can take my cloak,” I interrupted, pretending I had no interest in her finishing that story.

Segovian cut, was it? I’d have someone look into that, there might be one that’d fit Indrani lying around Salia. Although, I couldn’t ask it of Adjutant. That would be… uh. No, definitely not Hakram. And Hells, now that I thought about it, if I sent for anything like there’d be a report about it on the desk of the First Prince, the Empress and Gods forbid maybe even my father before the day was out. That made the whole notion a lot less enticing, although there might be other ways. Still, if it ended up that I had to call on the smugglers among the Jacks to get Indrani into a revealing dress without half the crowns on Calernia knowing of it I was going to find a tall cliff to leap down it. Even as Archer continued to heckle me I began to hobble towards my quarters, but quiet undercurrents in the Night warned me company was coming.

My Lord of Silent Steps emerged of the darkness between two crowded houses, the purple and silver paint of the Losara Sigil so intrinsically part of Ivah nowadays that I could hardly recall what it looked like without. Ivah’s presence was ever welcome, and once more it was bringing to me what I required before I even thought to ask. Arm extended, it offered me the Cloak of Woe.

“Losara Queen,” it greeted me.

“Lord Ivah,” I replied. “My thanks.”

I wrapped it around me, fingers rising to fasten the broach binding it closed under my throat, and the familiar weight of old mistakes and victories on my back was a reassuring thing. My hand had been filled by a sword, once. First of goblin steel, then of ice and shade, and after that of obsidian only once unsheathed. The dead yew staff that felt cool against my palm, somehow fitting it perfectly, was still a fresh choice: not one I had not fully embraced, for the consequences of it were not all known. The mantle on my back, though? It was like an old friend, and even just wearing it made me feel sharper in thought and deed.

“Should I rouse the Mighty to war, First Under the Night?” Ivah asked. “Steel-clad soldiers march on your camp.”

“No,” I easily replied. “It will not come to that. The Mighty will have may wars to wage, in the coming nights. This need not be one of them.”

Or even a war at all, if I could finagle that. I wasn’t sure why the League of Free Cities would choose to lash out against me of all the rulers in Salia – even if Malicia was the one pulling the strings, it hardly seemed a winning venture for her – but I had no intention of allowing what was coming to develop into yet another front for Callow to fight a war on. I did not invite Ivah to accompany us out in the snows, and it did not presume to invite itself. The League’s people were much further out than we were, since they’d left long before I even began to set out, but as I reached for the Night and let it empower my sight I saw they were hardly a single unified band. Out of the four thousand soldiers that the League of Free Cities had been allowed to bring, maybe two thousand were on the march. One thousand yet remained in their camp, across the distant field, and the rest was marching away. South, although they were split into two groups and one must have left recently to still be so close to the League’s town-camp.

“Archer,” I said. “You followed their movements from the start, yes?”

“You’re wondering about the stagger,” she said, sounding amused.

“The two packs of deserters, yeah,” I frowned. “If the second wave was deserters who hesitated I’d not think of it twice, but they’re moving in an orderly manner. Ranks, supply wagons.”

“First group to walk out was Atalante,” Indrani told me. “Packed up their affairs, assembled their soldiers and diplomats and left without looking back.”

Which was not entirely surprising, I thought. Atalante had no real allies in the League, at the moment. It’d been at odds with Delos before the Tyrant upended the apple cart and started a round of civil war, and from what I understood the closest city it’d had to an ally, Penthes, had only been interested in using the chaos to grab some of the eastern Delosi holdings. Now that there was no Hierarch to compel the city to war against the Grand Alliance, they were likely to head home to lick their wounds instead of linger on foreign fields. If I had to guess, I’d put coin on the second band being the Bellerophon soldiery, and the old-fashioned tight formations I could glimpse in the distance held up to that perspective. It made no sense they’d waited for so long to leave, though.

“What happened with the Bellerophon delegation?” I asked.

“Mind you, I only saw from a distance,” Indrani cautioned.

“You can put an arrow in a wasp from a mile away, Indrani,” Akua amusedly said.

“Sure, but I could exactly hear what they were saying,” Archer reminded us. “Still, as far as I could tell the kanenas tried to execute the general.”

I saw no point in asking why, given that Bellerophon’s laws had been written not even by a single raving lunatic but by a whole assembly of them, many of them violently opposed to each other in their ravings but every single one rabidly incensed by even the hint of foreign meddling in their common lunatic affairs. For all I knew, they’d wanted to executed him because he’d combed his hair the wrong way on the third day of the month. Tried, though, was something worth asking about.

“They defied the authority of their mage-inquisitor?” I said. “I’d never heard about one of them doing that before.”

“The kanenas dropped dead all of a sudden,” Archer replied, shaking her head. “And then they spent a while arguing about that.”

I shiver went up my spine, and against my will I glanced up at the night sky. At what might lay behind it, waiting. What had become of the Hierarch was not yet clear, I thought, but surely all that he was must be tied up in his struggle against Judgement? The mere notion of Anaxares the Diplomat having become some sort of watchful angel to the Republic of Bellerophon was enough to make me sick in the stomach. I shook my head and focused anew.

“That doesn’t explain why they’re so far beyond Atalante,” I finally said. “Unless they argue for nearly ten hours.”

“Funny story,” Indrani grinned, mouth half-hidden by her scarf, “they actually headed north first. Then they saw a road marker that said they were headed towards Salia and argued for an hour before turning south.”

“And what’s so funny about that?” I said, brow rising.

It was incompetence, but honestly a fairly mild one in nature. It wasn’t unheard of for professional armies to need to catch their bearings, that this particular half-trained mob would have to as well wasn’t anything unusual. Especially since we’d all come here through the Twilight Ways, which would be highly disorienting for those unfamiliar with Arcadian journeys. An embarrassing mistake, maybe, but nothing worth a grin.

“Well, the general,” Indrani said. “You know, the one that didn’t die? I think he must have been the one who chose the directions, because-”

“They executed him,” I sighed.

She chuckled at that, and to my utter lack of surprise even Akua’s body language hinted a smile under the veils. Yeah, well, between Wolof’s golden child and the favourite pupil of the Lady of the Lake I supposed the general sense of humour for this company tended towards the dark.

“Bellerophon and Atalante flee the field, then,” Akua calmly said. “We face numbers diminished and disunited. Who was it that lingered in the League’s lodgings?”

“The people in the camp are mostly Mercantis mercenaries and the Delosi,” Indrani said. “Everyone else is headed here, but not together.”

“Should I guess?” I grunted. “Stygia and Penthes together. Nicae will have made room for a few members of the Secretariat with their own people, their Basileus needs all the friends he can make right now. Helike will come alone.”

“Penthes came with Nicae,” Archer corrected, “though you’re right about the Secretariat. Stygia and Helike march without allies, even each other.”

I worried my lip.

“Penthes is Malicia’s hook in the League,” I said. “And Malicia just broke Nicae’s naval power in a single stroke, so why is Basileus Leo Trakas tolerating them at his side?”

“There were only two cities among the League that might feasibly be able to scry on par with Procer, much less Callow or Praes,” Akua pointed out. “Stygia and Helike, and even the latter held true mostly on the back of the many deals made by Kairos Theodosian. Neither of these have an interest in passing such news along to Leo Trakas.”

“Hakram assessed he still didn’t know during the conference, but even now?” I frowned.

It’d been at least two days since the disaster, by my reckoning.

“Dearest heart,” Akua said, sounding amused, “not all realms are so blessed as yours, to have inherited the scrying rituals of Praes and then been graced with the work of one of the most brilliant practitioners in living memory, the Observatory of Laure. Though your nets are not as wide and your spies nowhere as deeply planted as the Empire’s, Callowan long-distance scrying is likely the most swift and reliable on the continent.”

I grimaced as I considered that. It was true that even when I’d begun as the Squire I’d had access to the reports and assessments of the Eyes of the Empire as well as Legion scrying, and then spent near every campaign that followed with Masego at hand. My standards for the swiftness information was transmitted at were probably askew from most people’s, as Akua was so gently implying. Besides, scrying was largely Trismegistan as far as rituals went – though the Principate’s Order of the Red Lion used a formula Masego had noted as being raw, ‘primitive’ and influenced by Jaquinite methods – and the Free Cities weren’t exactly practitioners of that. There were some local magics, from what I remembered reading, but no dominant school or unified tradition. The Stygian Magisterium were the finest sorcerers in the region, but they weren’t sharing their secrets and it was a point of pride for them they’d been practicing sorcery for longer than the Praesi. Which the Praesi denied, of course, but that sort of historical pride pissing match tended to continue because no one could really be sure either way.

“All right,” I said. “So Basileus Leo sees the League is falling apart. Stygia’s the traditional rival of his city among the League as well unpalatable for the slavery besides, and Helike’s the power he’s trying to dislodge from the place of first among equals. Everyone knew Bellerophon couldn’t be kept in the fold from the start, I’m guessing, so doubtless they didn’t even try.”

“That Atalante walked away implies he is failing to consolidate the League,” Akua noted. “He would have attempted to keep the preachers from walking, if only for their coffers and healers.”

Indrani laughed.

“So in Leo’s hour of need, his buddies from Penthes come to offer support,” she said. “And he’s got no idea’s that Malicia’s hand is up the ass of the Exarchs, moving the lips so they’ll say all the right things.”

Colourfully put, but not inaccurate.

“You think she wants to prop up Leo Trakas and make a puppet of him?” I guessed. “I don’t see how it can hold all that long.  As soon as he hears about Still Water being used on his fleets, he turns on them in fury. He has to, his own people will stone him in the streets if he doesn’t.”

“Agreed,” Akua said. “I would wager his usefulness is purely temporary, and the man himself disposable.”

“Yeah, Sahelian’s got that one pegged. He’s an arrow loosed, not a lasting catspaw,” Indrani said. “Ain’t like the Tower’s ever been shy about using people and then tossing them away.”

“We are in agreement this is a ploy of the Empress, then?” I said.

“It seems likely,” Akua agreed.

“We’d already be hip-deep in corpses if this was the Dead King’s work,” Archer frankly replied.

“Good,” I grunted, eyes fixed on the shapes approaching in the distance. “Then we tread carefully. I’m not willing to hand her yet another fucking victory tonight.”

We slowed and stopped without ever needing to speak a word, my limp carrying me atop a slight hill on the plains and the two of them coming to stand by my side as we waited for the League to walk the last stretch separating us. We could have met them halfway and gotten to speaking more quickly, but that would have been sending the wrong message: it was them coming to me, not us meeting as equals. The Tyrant had not made granted the same quantity of soldiers to all members of the League when making the delegation, that much was made clear by those advancing towards us. The two Exarch-claimants of Penthes had maybe three hundred foot with them, with the looks of professional soldiers about them: long mail shirts of good quality, crested helms with full cheek guards and oval shields. Their spears were unlike the long beasts the Stygians used in their phalanx, only about the height of a man, and they bore not swords but long-shafted axes at their hips.

The forces of Nicae, themselves numbering closer to five hundred, steady sword and board men in chainmail and cuirasses though they used small round steel shields and straight-edged sabers instead what I’d equip a shield wall in in their place. They had about a hundred riders as well, though it was only light horse. Long lances and javelins as well as what looked like armour of leather and cloth had me almost rolling my eyes. Aside from riding down conscripts, I hardly saw what good that kind of cavalry could ever do in a proper battle. They’d shatter under Legion crossbows in a hurry, and Gods wouldn’t that be a horrible waste of good warhorses? The Stygians had brought a mere two hundred, their Spears of Stygian with their long spears raised high advancing at brisk pace as the few mounted people ahead I assumed to be magisters keeping an eye on the slave-soldiers. Kairos Theodosian had not been a man afraid to stack the deck in his favour, so it was the Helikean force of nearly nine hundred that was by far the largest of the approaching contingents.

Men-at-arms with their scale armour and sharp blades, the steady foot that was the foundation of Helikean warfare, counted six hundred. They moved in formation and good order. The last three hundred, however, were a sight that half-surprised me: kataphraktoi. I’d confiscated the equipment of the four thousand cataphracts that’d warred on my army in Iserre and sent them back to Kairos with a broken finger each, but it seemed at least part of that force had been raised anew. The broken finger I’d not expected to keep them down for too long, not with so many priests among the League army, but the horses and armaments were surprise. Mind you, I was looking at three hundred when my soldiers had once fought four thousand. I doubted even the deeper schemer like the Tyrant had anticipated needing to rearm all four thousand of the most elite force in his army. The last presence from the League was the Delosi Secretariat, and it evidently had not brought soldiers at all. A handful of askretis were walking with Nicaeans, carrying small scribing desks for what I assumed to be a senior member of the Secretariat.

“This is pretty nostalgic,” Archer said, silver flask in hand. “The three of us, more enemies than we practically know what to do with.”

“They’re not necessarily enemies,” I said.

“Cat insisting we’re not necessarily going to kill them,” Archer airily continued. “All we need is caves full of corpses and it’ll be like we never left the Everdark.”

“Any moment now, we’ll declare war on an entire civilization,” Akua suggested.

“We did pretty well last time,” Indrani mused. “I’d say we rank at least a draw, don’t you?”

She passed the flask to the shade, who drank a deep sip.

“Generous, that,” Akua said afterwards. “Although, for an invasion force three women strong I’ll concede there was a surprising amount of invading achieved.”

“I need a better quality of minions,” I complained. “Mine are too mouthy. I bet the White Knight never has to deal with anything like this.”

Heroes must be all sweetness and light, to the Sword of Judgement. All I got were crows that got mouthy about giving me directions and underlings who couldn’t ever let anything go. Akua handed me the flask and I took a sip myself – then spat it out, coughing.

“Indrani, you horrid wench,” I gasped out. “This is senna.”

Drow liquor, made from mushrooms and tasting like godsdamned mud. It’d been tolerable underground, where there was little else even remotely drinkable, but up here? After months of wine? It was like licking a muddy lake shore.

“You slipped me a flask when I left before the Graveyard,” Indrani beatifically smiled. “How does the saying go again? For small slights, long prices. Wench.”

I glanced at Akua who had brazenly betrayed me by pretending this was halfway decent liquor when she’d drunk of it herself, and she languidly shrugged.

“How could I stand in the way of righteous revenge, my heart?” the shade said. “It would have been most uncharitable of me.”

“This is why Hakram is my favourite,” I muttered under my breath.

At the very least, the indignation had me less tense as the soldiers approached.

“And now,” Indrani narrated, “as foes stream forward like a mighty river, atop the hill stand a peerless beauty, a regal queen, a mysterious seductress – and also you two, I guess.”

I could not flip off Archer in front of the League, I reminded myself. No matter how much she deserved it. Indrani shifted slightly to the side, eyes narrowing, and her tone went serious without warning.

“Mages with the Basileus,” she warned. “At least three.”

I followed her gaze and found Leo Trakas atop his white stallion, as well as the two Exarch-claimants, but the mages took me a while longer to figure out. Some of Basileus Leo’s escorting horseman wore ill-fitting armour, I realized. The sleeves were too long, as if made for larger and taller men, and they seemed uncomfortable with the weapons they were carrying.

“You sure?” I quietly said.

“Their horses move like they’ve been drugged,” Archer murmured. “Those are war horses, willful, and they’re not good riders. Either those mounts were spelled to be docile, or they were fed something.”

“Akua?” I said.

“Enchanted,” she said. “Though sloppily. I’d wager they are either Nicaean mages – no great wonders, those – or hired practitioners from Mercantis.”

“Lovely,” I growled.

If Leos Trakas had tight reins on his ‘allies’ I’d call this a precaution and let it go, but given that Penthes was likely playing him at Malicia’s behalf there were risks involved. The larger party, consisting of the Penthesians, Nicaeans and the Secretariat observers, halted its march maybe a hundred feet ahead of our hill. A smaller party advanced, though it wasn’t that small: the Exarchs brought thirty men, Leo Trakas thirty men of his own – including the mages, now dismounted – and with four scribes and the Secretariat official it was sixty eight people who strode towards the three of us. In the distance, the forces of Helike and Stygia halted on either side of the large force. Two riders peeled out of the band for Helike, one for Stygia. Bundled up in furs, Basileus Leo was at the head of the delegation and it was him that addressed us first.

“Hail, Black Queen,” the young man said.

“Hail, Basileus,” I calmly replied. “Your visit is an unexpected pleasure.”

“Is it a visit to walk Proceran soil, now?” one of the Exarchs mocked. “How quickly your dominion extends, Queen of Callow.”

I glanced at Akua.

“Advisor,” I said. “Do remind me – is that one Prodocius or Honorion?”

“Prodocius, my queen,” Akua replied.

I glanced at the dark-haired man, his cheeks gone red from anger as much as the cold, and my eyebrows rose.

“Did you know that the Eyes of the Empire have you officially marked as ‘having the wits of a well-bred trout’?” I asked.

The man snarled.

“You coat your insults in lies, you-”

“I assure you,” I amicably smiled, “it is a verbatim quote.”

“Prodocius,” Basileus Leo sharply said. “We did not come to trade barbs.”

“That is pleasing to know,” I said.

“So why did you come?” Archer drawled. “I’m assuming it’s not to visit the nice Proceran countryside. Snow’s not measurably any nice close to our camp.”

Knowing her, she might actually have checked.

“Accusations were made against you, Queen Catherine,” an old man spoke in lightly accented Lower Miezan.

Long hair white as snow and bound in a ponytail, the man who’d spoken was wrinkled like old leather and nearly as dark of skin. This was, if I remembered my briefings correctly, Nestor Ikaroi of the Secretariat. On each of his cheeks could be found a blue stripe and a black one, tattooed. The marks of someone who had climbed the ranks of their bureaucracy until there was nothing left to climb.

“Secretary Ikaroi, isn’t it?” I said.

The old man, to my surprise, gallantly bowed.

“It is a great pleasure to formally meet you, Your Majesty,” he said.

“And I you,” I replied, dipping my head in thanks. “I’ve long had an interest in the ways of the Secretariat.”

Which was true enough, since back in the first days of my reign I’d been desperate to find a working bureaucratic model that wasn’t an imitation of the Praesi one. There’d never really be time or resources to spend on a venture in the Free Cities though, not with Procer mobilizing.

“Then perhaps in the days to come you might be willing to speak with formal chroniclers,” Nestor Ikaroi offered. “We have a troubling lack of direct sources concerning the beginning of the Uncivil Wars.”

I blinked, taken aback at the continued civility. Usually people were only this polite after they’d lost a few battles or I’d put a blade at their neck.

“Time allowing, I’ve not objection,” I slowly said. “The Marshal of Callow is already writing a history of her own, and I would not object to your speaking with her either.”

“It pleases us all you are willing to interact peacefully with the League, Your Majesty,” Basileus Leo said, reclaiming the lead on the League side. “Yet it would benefit us all if you would answer the accusations that were posed.”

“It is interesting that the Basileus of Nicae considers himself to have authority over the Queen of Callow,” Akua mildly said. “I wonder which precedent is so in use.”

The younger man looked like he’d swallowed a lemon.

“Should I take this as refusal to speak with the League?” he asked me.

“Do you speak for the League now?” Indrani drily said. “You seem to be missing parts, ‘Hierarch’.”

I raised a hand.

“We have further guests, Archer,” I said. “Let us not jump to hasty conclusions.”

The riders from Helike and Stygia had finally arrived. The Stygian was no surprise: Magister Zoe Ixiani had been the voice of the Magisterium through the League civil war and the Proceran campaign, and it seemed she was still to be the same tonight. The fact that she was a slaver rather spoiled her good looks, sadly. As for the two Helikeans, I was familiar with both. General Basilia, who had I once met in Rochelant and later learned was the Tyrant’s favourite general, rode well and high in the saddle. Dark-eyed and dark-haired, she had sharp cheekbones and the well-built shoulders of a warrior. The other I knew almost intimately: the pale eyes straddling the line of blue and grey, the surprisingly young tanned face I had once seen kneeling before me. General Pallas, who had led the kataphractoi who killed my men.

“Generals,” I said. “Magister Ixioni.”

The two commanders offered brisk salutes.

“Magister Zoe would suffice,” the sorceress smiled.

I did not smile back and flicked a glance at the Helikeans.

“Quite the gathering,” I said. “Dare I ask why?”

“We are here as observers,” General Basilia said.

“You are here as an usurper, general,” the other Exarch-claimant said.

That one wasn’t Prodocius, which made him Honorion. Plump where the other was thin, he was middle-aged and his curly hair luxuriant. From what Black had told me, he was prodigiously wealthy and had no particular talent aside form this. Considering a great source of wealth for Penthes was trade with the Empire, I’d wager he was even more Malicia’s creature than the other one.

“I will uphold the last will of the Tyrant of Helike, Penthesian swine,” General Basilia coldly said. “Steel in hand, if I must.”

I was detecting the slightest hint of tension there.

“Accusations, you said,” I mused. “Am I to hear them, or will they remain a mystery?”

“Are you willing to submit to the judgement of the League?” Basileus Leo eagerly said.

I met his eyes, unamused.

“Look at my back, Leo Trakas,” I said. “What do you see there?”

The young man’s lips thinned.

“The Mantle of Woe, it is called,” he said.

“It’s a list of people who asked me to submit to things,” I said. “I would not be so eager to be number among them, were I you.”

“Then we are at an impasse,” Basileus Leo said.

“Secretary Nestor,” Akua said. “What does the record indicate the accusations are?”

Leo Trakas paled, either in anger or fear.

“Claimant to the title of Exarch Prodocius Lesor alleges that Queen Catherine Foundling murdered the Tyrant of Helike,” Nestor Ikaroi calmly said. “Claimant to the title of Exarch Honorion Kapenos alleges that Queen Catherine Foundling was accessory to the murder of Anaxares of Bellerophon, Hierarch of the Free Cities.”

A heartbeat of silence passed, then Archer burst out laughing. It was not, I decided, the most diplomatic we’d ever been. I glanced at the Helikean generals, who seemed untroubled.

“And what does Helike say of this?” I asked.

“We cast no such accusation,” General Pallas bluntly said.

“Our sire would have disdained such a measure, even were the accusation true,” General Basilia added with open contempt.

I glanced at Basileus Leo, wondering in what possible world he might have thought that my ‘submission’ to ‘League judgement’ might have resulted in anything the wholesale slaughter of everyone trying to execute me on such thin pretence. Gods Below, I’d sent running larger forces than the entire League escort, much less his little coalition. No, he was young but he wasn’t an idiot – he wouldn’t have been able to prevent a Strategos from being chosen in Nicae if that were the case. Ah. Had he been presenting himself as the speaker for the League so that he could then declare me innocent in that capacity, avoiding a fight with me while binding Penthes to him? On parchment that was a halfway decent plan, but he had to realize I had no damned incentive to indulge him and the precedent of the League having authority over a Queen of Callow was unacceptable. If he is not stupid, which I know him not to be, I thought, then he must be desperate.

“Gods, do you have a semblance of evidence at least?” I asked. “Tell me you didn’t march near two thousand soldiers for… this.”

The Basileus flushed and gestured towards his attendants. Archer, I saw, was carefully watching the mages. Good. One of the soldiers came forward with two sheaths of parchment, but Exarch Prodocius sneered and elbowed him, snatching the scrolls. He strolled up the hill, staring me down with surprising aplomb for a man who as far as I could tell had no power and no military training – he wasn’t even in particularly good shape. Except, I realized as he approached, he wasn’t staring me down. His eyes were wide and showing white, like a terrified horse’s. He was, I grasped as he hurried towards me, frightened nearly out of his wits. And still he threw the parchments towards my face. Akua slapped them down, even as Exarch Prodocius stepped up to me with a rictus of bared teeth that straddled fury and terror.

“There,” Prodocius snarled, “you murdering tyrant, you-”

At the Basileus’ barked order two Nicaean soldiers stepped forward, one grabbing him by the shoulder and dragging him back and the other offering me an apologetic bow before picking up the parchments – they’d fallen short, as open scrolls were want to do – and bowed again before pressing them into my hand.

Or at least tried to, before Archer caught his wrist and rammed a blade through the side of his neck.

155 thoughts on “Chapter 87: Connive

        1. Morgenstern

          I also like the placement of the “just story discussions” post – for me it is shown as the VERY first comment to this chapter. No discussion or anything whatsoever, other than complaining about the vote reminder, which wasn’t even there yet. o_Ô

          Internet trolls… *shakes head
          So. Amazing. 😉

          Hm… Can we vote *this* troll post to be the very best yet? Sure has my vote. =P

          Liked by 1 person

          1. NerfContessa

            Isn’t it always?

            More serious, what could pose enough danger that indra I is forced to abandon all elegance and banter and even more so, kills before cat orders it?



      1. Dudes, and salary start the typo thread. You know that’s why Archer take a sword through that guy’s neck? Because he didn’t start a typo thread?

        Let’s review. Guy didn’t start a typo thread. Archer stabbed him. Ipso facto, that’s what happens when you forget the typo thread.

        And he’s got no idea’s that Malicia’s hand is up the ass of the Exarchs
        Change idea’s to idea.

        There are at least 8 more typos. Can you find them all? Can you be as eagle eyed as Akua and Archer?

        Liked by 4 people

    1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

      I just spent several minutes fiddling about with web tutorials trying to learn how to get WordPress to let me embed a link in a comment so I could quote you and make the word “vote” a link to topwebfiction. Alas, I have nothing to show for it.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

            Okay, judging by the fact that the type of angled bracket I typed doesn’t show up, I’m guessing it’s the correct form. So, without further ado, here goes nothing:

            “So happy no vote reminders,” Aston said, blithely spelling their own doom. “Just good story discussions.”


  1. magesbe

    I’m… guessing that there is something cursed about those papers or at least Indrani knows something we and Catherine don’t. Because I can’t think of another reason she’d do this.

    Liked by 13 people

        1. Jane

          Well, if Hierarch does still have some power over the citizens of Bellerophon as implied, then I could see that mattering. And while it would be ridiculous, it wouldn’t actually be out of character for the city to have a law as absurd as “If you touch the paperwork, you agree to be our citizen”. Plus, I can certainly see why someone would be as stressed out as the Exarch, carrying those papers! Imagine the fear that you might accidentally become a citizen of that place, if the winds blow the wrong way!

          …Joking aside, it’s not citizenship papers. But if they were, it could actually be a more effective assassination plot than one would expect – possibly moreso than a more conventional magic attack.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Shveiran

            It couldn’t.

            Story-fu requires actual STORIES to work. Narrative doesn’t like technicalities unless the story is about technicalities. You can’t step up to king Arthur and tell him you owned the field the rock was in, so you technically own the sword too because it was in the rock, and thus you are in fact the true king of Britain.
            I mean, you can, but it doesn’t get narrative traction unless your story is about land ownership and legal battles AND your story is bigger than King Arthur’s.

            I’m frankly still baffled the Hierarch could get away with that, but this no name getting it to stick with the Black Queen?

            Not going to happen. It must be something else.

            Liked by 4 people

        1. Shveiran

          I have a law degree, so I can confirm no law system I know of works that way.

          That wouldn’t be a problem if we were operating within a legal system that actually works that way – I mean, it would be moronic IMO but it isn’t IMPOSSIBLE nor anything, as law is a social construct – but it is a fair assumption that’s not the case.
          Otherwise, Anaxares would have commented on it with regards to him receiving stuff all the time, and the Tyrant woudl have exploited the hell out of it.
          If it was that relevant, EE would have shown it to us beforehand.

          Liked by 5 people

      1. Contact poison’s a thing, but no great hazard to a Name. I imagine it’s more a sorcery/story/legal thing that could cause problems. Perhaps the scroll curses her, perhaps it reveals a page from the Dead King’s ascension book, or perhaps it makes her an honorary member of the Republic of Bellerephon (subject to all laws incumbent within).

        Liked by 2 people

        1. NerfGlaistigUaine

          She’s not Named though. She’s just a squishy mortal albeit with powerful patrons. Contact poison would probably work, at least until Sve Noc healed her… actually can they heal? It seems likely, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them doing it…

          Liked by 7 people

          1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

            They healed her after beating her nine tenths of the way to death then deciding to take her on as an advisor. She even had to request that she be allowed to retain her limp, to keep her humble. But that was in person, not via the crows, so maybe it’s different.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. “Nine tenth of the way”? She had her HEART ripped out (thanks Akua, you’re a dear). Also, I don’t think she requested the limp, she just didn’t request to remove it (in one chapter it says that removing it would have demanded a price not unlike that once paid by Warlock to heal her from near death, which was human sacrifice, so… yeah. not default)

              Liked by 1 person

        2. KageLupus

          I doubt that it is Story related, as that line of defensive thinking isn’t Archer’s wheelhouse. Honestly the odds are that it was a mundane assassination attempt, and that guy that got knifed was some kind of physical threat to Cat. That would make the most sense for why it was Archer that noticed and took him down.

          Archer is the physical defense, able to pick out hidden weapons and incongruous details. Akua is the magical defense, and if the scrolls were dangerous she would have said something after knocking them out of the air instead of letting that little scene play out. Cat of course is the narrative defense, since her brain is oddly keyed in to meta-text and how stories can play out.

          I highly doubt that the scrolls had a story-based aspect to them, mainly because there are no Named around to make that play. Maybe Malicia if she is pulling the strings here, but even then using Stories has never really been her strong suit. She is a manipulator on a grand scale, but regarding people and not only Named.

          Liked by 8 people

            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              Even then there can be limits once you roll initiative. My DM says you can get about 6 words out during a round if you expect to be understood and heard once you’re in the thick of it. Seems legit.

              Liked by 2 people

  2. Jane

    …Well, I’ve seen succession crises lead to worse plans than this, and which ended in even worse places, so I guess the League is technically still ahead compared to some histories.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Something like four different people consequently pretending to be both the fifth long-dead person and all the last ones combined. Even if one of those was publicly shot out of the cannon.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Jane

        Well, personally, I’d just been thinking of the various ways in which the Eastern Roman Empire undermined itself with fighting over who the Emperor “should” be – at least here, the League is just provoking someone who’s already an enemy, instead arranging for a more powerful rival to be captured and humiliated while they decide that it’s a splendid time for a civil war while an enemy army wanders through their territory.

        But with the League being the League, maybe it is more appropriate to compare them to the more absurd moments in our history…

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Jane

          Oh, though I guess if we’re talking “Bad Succession Ideas”, the whole War of the Roses kind of takes the cake, doesn’t it? I mean, setting aside all the bad decisions that were made during the war, spending thirty years tearing the country apart instead of just sitting down and coming to a diplomatic arrangement is pretty much the epitome of a bad idea. Assuming one actually cares about the kingdom, at least.

          Liked by 3 people

  3. superkeaton

    Archer must have seen something on the scrolls. Probably spelled, maybe some kind of bomb or poison or whatever those mages are around for.

    Maybe it’ a dickbutt.

    Liked by 7 people

          1. I’m wondering if Catherine noticed it too. After she notices Prodocius’s facial expression, she stops commenting on people’s motivations or reasons for anything that’s happening and just sticks to straight narration of events. It’s possible she also realized something, but didn’t say it yet and didn’t react because, well, a game of impressions. The less she reacts, the better, outside of the carefully controlled eyebrow lifting with a ‘fucking really?’ disdainful look.

            Liked by 2 people

      1. Decius

        You would never expect Assassin to attack you from the front when you are expecting trouble, which means you can’t assume that your front is safe from Assassin just because you are expecting trouble.

        Liked by 8 people

          1. Jarthon

            While I agree that he isn’t likely to do this, he has shown a willingness to fight head on as he did to Hanno right before jumping off of his exploding horse, which I assume is likely do to his strange ability to defy death (likely with clones or something)

            Liked by 2 people

            1. That wasn’t Assassin. That was Black using the same Nefarious trick that Malicia is so fond of. That’s why it worked for misleading Hanno; Black’s soul/mind was actually (temporarily) in that body.

              Liked by 7 people

        1. Shveiran

          By that logic, you wouldn’t expect him to try to kill you by terrifying you via a scary dance performance.

          I’m not quite sure that “we’d have the element of surprise” is a good reason to employ unorthodox tactics as often as people think. Some things aren’t usually done for a reason.

          Liked by 3 people

  4. Jane

    Cat, Cat, Cat, don’t look down on light cavalry like this! Yeah, they wouldn’t be great at charging into a line of spears reinforced by archers, but you’re not supposed to be using them in the same way as heavy cavalry.

    Light cavalry excel at scouting, and at running down a routed enemy. A victory is only worth as much as it can be exploited, and your heavily armored legionnaires aren’t going to be chasing down many of the stragglers – to say nothing of the danger they’d face breaking formation like that. Your heavy cavalry are better at this, but they’re expensive to train and armor, and still aren’t going to be as nimble as your light cavalry at the end of the day.

    And it’s not as though they’re worthless in a pitched battle, either – sure, they’re great, big targets, but they’re still highly mobile, and can be sent to threaten archers, commanders, or other targets of opportunity while the enemy’s main force is engaged. Or just send them at the flanks if there’s nothing more appealing to strike – they’re not great at charging a prepared target, but they’re good for hitting a vulnerable foe and withdrawing before they’re fully engaged.

    They might not be revered as much as heavy cavalry was at the time, but to roll your eyes at them would be like someone rolling their eyes at sappers for not being able to hold a line. They still perform a very important function.

    Liked by 17 people

      1. Jane

        I ~guess~ I can forgive her for not being up to date on cavalry tactics when Callow lost their horses before she was born, but… Really, she should at least know the scouting part, goblins or no.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. I’m guessing she does, but right now is looking at them as ‘potential opponents for my force to fight here and now’. Mind you, all the soldiers present at Salia are meant to be guard – what scouting in the middle of a diplomatic conference?

          Liked by 8 people

          1. shadw21

            I though they had this already, undead goats/horses loaded with munitions.

            Alternatively, 4 goblins pretending to be a horse with a goblin riding on top, or maybe it’s more of a chariot situation?

            Liked by 2 people

    1. Decius

      Light cavalry are very, very good at being somewhere where they can’t be struck but also somewhere where they can’t be ignored.

      “We can’t run the supply train through that valley, the enemy’s light cavalry can reach it.”

      Legion doctrine means that the light cavalry is not very effective on the field, and so of course it should never take the field against the legions.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. nimelennar

      What are you taking about? Light cavalry are supposed to have their swords lit aflame, and be sent in, without support, against the very centre of an massive horde of undead.

      Liked by 7 people

    3. And cloth armor, also known as gambeson, is pretty effective against most things less powerful than a crossbow. Sure, a sword’ll cut through the first layers without too much trouble, but there are a _lot_ of layers; most attacks won’t pierce all the way through, or at least not anywhere near as deeply as they would without armor.
      I’m starting to think Catherine has a warped view of the kinds of opponents an army is expected to fight.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. It can be even more resistant to blades than that. Leaving aside magical possibilities, or advanced tech like giant spider silk (ie Kevlar).

        Some of history’s most famous cavalry wore cloth armour – Alexander of Macedonia’s companion cavalry wore the linothorax.

        Sure, it won’t do anything against an enemy lance or pike, but it’s not ever meant to come in contact with either.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. JJR

        “What do you mean ‘most battles /aren’t/ against monsters from outside of creation’?

        Her Name experience probably gave her a fairly warped view of how effective armor actually is too. Though guide armor isn’t nearly as bad as it is in some settings, and don’t you dare forget your helmet!

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Shveiran

        Actually, no.
        Gambeson was very often used by most European Medieval armies, but they were not employed ALONE.
        The idea of the gambeson or aketon, is to provvide padding between your body AND the outer shell of armor.
        Alone, it isn’t very effective: a slashing wound from a sword will not do great damage to you, but it will wreck the gambeson itself, which is NOT easy to make or repay. So even then, teh gambeson deployed on its own will risk falling apart after the battle if you got hit once.
        And that is the best case scenario, because padded cloth provvides no help against puncture: spears and arrows and good old stabbing will get through just as easily.

        When comboed with a different armor, however, gambeson becomes amazing. Imagine wearing chain mail on your shirt: as soon as one ring gets split, it will risk piercing your garment and cut your skin as you move, which is painful and distracting. Beside that, metal protects you from cuts but doesn’t stop momentum: the rings are meant to spread the pressure over a larger area, but it still bruises fiercely. If you get hit by an axe or a mace, you’ll be GLAD to have chainmail, but it could still very well be an incapacitating blow without any particular strength on the enemy’s part.
        If you are wearing padded armor, high-impact weapons deliver much less punch because the gambeson absorbs a lot of the impact the mail spread, and your skin is protected from split rings and chafing.

        Even with cheaper armor, say, leather or even better studded leather, a padding layer goes a long way in protecting you from broken bones but only if the harder, external layer is doing something to stop the cut, divert the piercing and spread the impact over a larger area.

        Macedonian may very well have used cloth armor, but they were not exactly the peek of military research. They were amazing, but only compared to their time period.
        Ceaser could not go against Napoleon and win, is what I mean.

        TL;DR: Gambesons are amazing when combined with an hard, external shell like plate, chainmail or studded leather.
        On their own, they are better than fighting with your shirt but not by much.

        Liked by 3 people

  5. IDKWhoitis

    As far as attempts of assassination go, this was pretty fumbled.

    Is Malica this desperate? It would make sense given that all Praesi spies in Prócer are effectively compromised with Scribe watching, and Assassin certainly answers to Black before Malica. But this attempt is barely shows any effort into killing Cat. Is this escalation to prod Cat into a bad decision?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Jane

      If Cat were to act sufficiently rashly here (say, killing everyone of importance present in retaliation), I could see that being enough to push Callow out of the Grand Alliance again in conjunction with a couple more pushes. The assassination a couple chapters back, Judgment wounded, people not being comfortable with an Evil ally to begin with… There’s ample arguments for people opposed to the alliance to work with. It’d just take Cat playing into those expectations a few times to put Hasenbach in a pretty difficult position, though I don’t see the Dominion listening any time soon after Pilgrim.

      But that would be a pretty big “if”, has too many other points of failure, and would be expecting the loss of an asset that Malicia presumably spent at least a little effort to acquire – and it would have worked almost as well if Cat were to be provoked into killing a delegation instead of actually important people. Or, better yet, if they instead sent people who would be opposed to Malicia to these talks instead.

      No, assuming that this is an actual plan instead of a cursed scroll disrupting everything or a lone sleeper agent primed to attack at any opportunity, this whole scheme looks ridiculous enough that I’m inclined to think it was purely a League-born plot; an ambitious and desperate ruler trying to consolidate the League around himself with a bold plan that ended up considerably less baked than it needed to be.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Hellspirit

      If it is a Malica plot, considering how botched, it would not have been her true objective. Rather her objective might have been to ruin the diplomatic relations between her and the Free Cities, considering that in recent time Cat has gone from ARCH HERETIC of THE EAST, the BLACK QUEEN, a warlord with immense power and a reputation for making corpses where she goes, to a somewhat more reasonable image.

      If a diplomatic party has one of theirs killed in cold blood without the true plot being unraveled/proven, it feels more like a Malica play.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. This is more what I’m thinking. Malicia is trying to throw everything she can at Cat at once, to confuse / panic her and trip her into bad decisions. While Cat is handling one crisis, she’s not handling another; for all we know there are parts of Salia being lit on goblinfire right now (in a secret plot Scribe hadn’t known about). The assassination attempt doesn’t have to work – it doesn’t even have to rattle Cat, just distracting and frustrating her means it’ll have done its job. And if it fucks up her diplomatic relationship with the League – which I think Malicia would know better than to expect by now, but on the off chance – well that’s just two birds with one stone.

        They only have one Catherine. Note that if she hadn’t picked out and groomed Abigail for just this task – to be The Liked Callowan Commander – she probably WOULD be panicking right now. And we probably don’t yet know about ALL lit dynamite sticks flying in Cat’s direction right now.

        Liked by 2 people

    3. Morgenstern

      …. an excuse for something? “How dare you kill our messenger; he was just handing over papers”.
      Who knows, maybe one CAN prod Akua’s and Indrani’s sense for sth. being off (way too much) and let it be nothing at all in the end, making them / Cat look bad.

      Someone was meant to kill someone so that someone else can…. (what?)

      For what end, though…
      We’ll see. *shrugs

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Darkening

    Huh, bit of a contradiction in the last few paragraphs, first it says that Akua caught the parchments, and then it says they fell short and someone needed to pick them up? Weird. Wonder if this is actually an assassination attempt? I suppose Cat *is* a lot more fragile these days, if she wasn’t expecting it and it worked fast enough, a curse or some kind of explosive or something might actually manage to kill her if she didn’t have the time or presence of mind to protect herself with Night.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. I’m not familiar with legal procedure in international diplomacy, but I’m pretty sure reading a document doesn’t imply that you accept it. Even EULA’s aren’t that strict; they just identify other actions that imply accepting the agreement.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. Darkening

      Yeah, I mean, when you get big enough you just don’t *need* to lie to people or stab them as much, but there’s still a real joy when you get the opportunity to go back to your roots and indulge in a little wanton violence.

      Liked by 6 people

  7. Cicero

    “This is pretty nostalgic,” Archer said, silver flask in hand. “The three of us, more enemies than we practically know what to do with.”

    “They’re not necessarily enemies,” I said.

    “Cat insisting we’re not necessarily going to kill them,” Archer airily continued

    Archer, it really isn’t sporting to open the ball just because you want to call the tune.

    Liked by 9 people

  8. Huh.

    I’m hoping that the Helikean reaction indicates that Kairos’s last will and testament or final orders has him leaving presents for Cat. Like making her his chosen heir/successor.

    Props to the Secretary Nestor for acting like a mostly reasonable person. Though the fetish for records is showing. But, to be fair, it’s existing itself in a relatively reasonable and restrained manner.

    Seriously? Charging Cat with the murder of Kairos and/or Heirarch? That’s … yeah. No. Archer might not have been the most diplomatic, but still, it’s hard not to laugh at that.
    Might be Malicia trying to cause trouble, because I doubt that they’d come up with going after Cat on their own.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Jane

      And, like, imagine thinking that anyone is going to agree to a trial after the way the trial of the White Knight went. Obviously, nobody is going to agree to have their monarch tried by a foreign country, but suggesting it just after the last trial killed the judge, the plaintiff, and nearly everybody else in the room… Yeah, that takes some nerve.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        Crack Theory: They are trying to get the law to apply to her because the law very well may soon apply to her and this is their last chance to balance that.

        Tyrant hasn’t just named her the ruler of Helike. He’s named her heir to Hierarch! Our newest Angel of Judgement didn’t agree with this so much as not care when he signed all the papers Tyrant’s gargoyle’s put in front of him (whomever takes over should get to it already, he needs to be executed yesterday! Really, he ought to execute all the kanenas for not executing him..) Anyway, there’s a lot of people not into her being granted such power, Malicia least of all, so this is a desperation tactic where she is either found unsuitable for the office via the legal system or ends up killing so many people in the League she is automatically disqualified. That’s why everybody is so nervous yet still willing to go along with this horseshit, she has a legit claim otherwise and might well end up in charge. Ironically Pallas might be one of her strongest supporters now. “no no, she left us alive but she did it in a totally evil and sadistic way. we had to march back to a man who might well kill us for failure in the cold, while crippled, after being forced to cripple ourselves! Trust me, she’s still serving Below!”

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Crash

    I’ve always had a bad impression of Leo Trakas. The way he speaks in his few appearences rubs me wrong, really. But this kind of stupidity? What in the hells gave him the impression he can use that kind of wording with the Black Queen?

    The sheer idiocy of it all.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Cicero

      Like Cat said, it was probably the least bad of his options.

      Even with Cat obviously rejecting his demand, the fact that he made the demand might give him leverage in the League to try and hold enough of it together to keep his city relatively safe.

      Of course, his assessment is based on the assumption that he still has his fleet, and hic city has not been ravaged been Praes sorcery turning his sailors into undead.

      Liked by 4 people

  10. laguz24

    The whole league just needs to go home and lick its wounds, the tyrant may have won but the league is kind of dying at the moment. Keeping on trying to reach beyond their grasp will just end in more failure and disappointment especially against the black queen.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. At this point, I’m pretty sure we’re seeing city-states trying to properly position themselves relative to each other before going home. Hence Trakas trying a diplomatic measure which would give him implied diplomatic authority over the League rather than anything which would improve things for the League as a whole.

      Liked by 5 people

  11. So many comments, so little love for the Hakram vs Ivah battle of being Cat’s favourite manservant. Shame on you all for putting these clowns above the truest battle that has been raging for near a whole book now.

    Liked by 11 people

  12. Mike E.

    “I need a better quality of minions,” I complained. “Mine are too mouthy. I bet the White Knight never has to deal with anything like this.”

    Heroes must be all sweetness and light, to the Sword of Judgement. All I got were crows that got mouthy about giving me directions and underlings who couldn’t ever let anything go.”

    Of course, we know from Hanno’s interlude that herding a Heroic band is almost worse than a Villan band.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. > Of course, we know from Hanno’s interlude that herding a Heroic band is almost worse than a Villan band.

      I mean, Hanno’s compatriots/followers (he seems to be more of a first among equals than an authority per se, if I’m reading that right?) are in fact more respectful to him so Cat’s point does technically stand. They just infight among each other much more. Although tbf that seems to be heavily related to them being drawn from all over the continent, with all attendant cultural histories being put in the same room and attached to what are by definition strong personalities.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. Between all the interludes we’ve seen about bands of heroes, villains, and mixed Named, it’s probably fair to say that the quality of such a band depends less on its team jersey and more on whether they have literally anything else binding them. The Calamities (and, to a lesser extent, the Woe) had/have personal ties binding them together, so they worked well together. The hero army up north is bound together mostly by a shared fear of the Dead King.

      Liked by 4 people

  13. Is anyone else mildly concerned every time the story reminds us that the one nation not ruled by a monarch is a hive of incompetence and villainy specifically because it doesn’t have any rulers given nigh-absolute power? Or confused about why the only democratic nation is so terrible, with its democracy consistently framed as the reason for its terribleness, when the story’s protagonist is so firmly anti-aristocratic?
    Or annoyed that Bellerophon is called a Republic when it’s more of a direct democracy than any real-world democracy I’ve ever heard of, from ancient Athens to the Hodenosaunee to modern Scandinavia?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. JJR

      Not really. As it is the only democratic nation that the characters know about, it makes sense that many characters end up democracy itself for everything they consider wrong in Bellerophon. This might even be the purpose of the city, in terms of the wager between the gods above and bellow. That is, it might be that Calernia is ‘supposed’ to be the sort of high fantasy monarchs, knight, castles, and wizards stuff that we see, and that it’s supposed to stay that way while the wager is playing out. But humans have that pesky free will and keep trying new things that don’t fit the paradigm. So you put Gnomes in the world and they stop anyone from getting too much technology, and you put a Bellerphone down and make sure it develops into the type of place people look at and think, “On second thought, let’s not go with democracy; tis a silly thing.”

      And of course, regardless of anything else. Cat did introduce a form of democracy into the Sigil holder selection process for the Drow. So, clearly she realizes democracy isn’t all bad.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. Goobinator101

      I saw Bellerophon’s label of Republic in the same way as I see it in other countries like North Korea and China, just because it is called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or the People’s Republic of China, doesn’t make it so. Same case here.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Actually WoG is that their democracy is Exactly What It Says On The Tin and there is no secret totalitarian ruling class.

        It’s just, y’know, a bad idea to have direct democracy over everything with the logic of ‘if leader makes mistakes execute leader’ and ‘competence is treason, never teach people things’.


        1. roobee

          I think Bellorephon’s general implementation of direct democracy is pretty good. I just disagree with the specifics of the morals of the population


    3. Shveiran

      It’s realy not strange, IMO.
      Calernia has a medievalish culture and education system. Democracy doesn’t really work without good ways to establish communication and education on a large scale.
      The Roman Repubblic was still very strict with teh number of folks that could elect senators or could become one, and their infrastructures, education and mail system was way ahead of what Calernia has when you don’t consider the exceptions like scrying, which are not something you can give people access to.

      It’s not really controversial to say that fire doesn’t burn without fuel, no? It just read like that to me.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Agreed.

        And scrying is… a new technology, so to speak. Mass scrying like what Callow and Praes have is something Akua just reminded Catherine is NEW AS FUCK – Wekesa literally invented it. Procer is starting to replicate it but so far it’s only a military technology.

        Give it a generation or three, and many things might change. Drow, notably, are having an odd sort of anarcho-democracy established right now (no central authority except for the goddess, local elections, like three global laws mostly relating to bureaucratic procedures for the former).

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Two points.
        First, Calernia is superficially similar to real-world feudal settings, but there are plenty of differences, originating both from the supernatural elements of the setting and the fact that this work is being written by a modern author with modern sensibilities. This isn’t A Song of Ice and Fire; the tough edges of medieval life aren’t relevant to the story’s themes, so they get sanded down.
        Second, this isn’t a historical piece being written by a Calernian author; it’s a piece of fiction being written by an Earthling. The author could have framed Bellerophon in literally any other way; it could be functional but alien to other Calernians, it could be recognized as a mess distant from its principles by the characters voicing opinions on it, or it could just be another Free City without anyone thinking that its unique method of governance was any weirder or worse than any other Free City’s. Or it could not exist. Or everywhere could have some degree of democracy. The choice to include both a vocally anti-aristocratic main character and display democratic government solely through a dysfunctional parody of democracy was not the only option available to the author. They could have picked another option…but they didn’t.


  14. laguz24

    Honestly, I am just waiting for this book to end. There are no more serious plot threads in the vicinity and this seems to be a good time to move onto the next one.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. alele

    We had a whole chapter about Malicia Order 66’ing the Legions and how graduates of the College get their own sleeper order. Catherine didn’t react to her Archer and Akua’s DANGER!! reactions, maybe she is compromised in some way to not notice some things she usually would.

    Liked by 2 people

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