Chapter 1: Recommence

“In the conduct of war offence is commonly preferable to defence; for in attacking a general acts according to their own designs, while in defence they act according to the designs of the enemy.”
– Extract from the ‘Ars Tactica’, famed military treatise of Dread Emperor Terribilis the First

The afternoon sun stared down blearily at our backs, banners flapping in the wind as we watched the soldiers on the field below. These were good flat grounds; my men had had time to set up and there were fewer than five hundred undead facing them: this was as close to a safe skirmish as we’d ever get in a war like this one.

I had no intention of wasting such a rare opportunity even if it’d been tragedy that dropped it into my lap. Hakram himself had handpicked the lines that made up the formation of three hundred legionaries, with an eye to ensuring they were greenhorns – as much as the Army of Callow still had any of those – instead of veterans. We wouldn’t always have the luxury of well-trained soldiers to draw on, and if the assault companies were to be a success on the northern fields then we’d need to plan for the lowest fare of what we’d be able to field and not the finest. Even after only two months of training, though, my countrymen did me proud. Spears were hammered into the ground at a sharp angle, as if a line of long stakes, and behind them the first rank stepped forward in orderly manner: greatshield-bearing soldiers in heavy plate and short swords, a veritable wall on legs. Behind them the second rank set up, soldiers in mail coats handling halberds and the long hammers known as ‘raven beaks’. The third and fourth ranks wielded the same mixture, though with heavier lean towards halberds, and behind them were kept in reserve our specialists.

We might not have the mage numbers the Legions of Terror could boast of, but we more than made up for that in priests. The House Insurgent had absolutely no qualms about using Light as much to burn undead as their more traditional colleagues used it for healing.

The commanding officer of our trial assault formation was a young man from Ankou by the name of Algernon Beesbury, who’d swiftly climbed up the ranks by virtue of having both a solid tactical acumen and a facility with languages. He’d been fluent in Chantant before even enrolling, as it happened, and served as one of General Hune’s favourite vanguards during the Proceran campaign only to make it to tribune rank shortly after the Princes’ Graveyard. Adjutant spoke well of his wits, too, which was even higher praise than Hune’s several official commendations as far as I was concerned. Tribune Beesbury was not disappointing me so far, as he ordered a spreading of the formation when the undead pack began to splinter. The zombies would keep moving swiftly and purposefully so long as the Binds within their number remained unbroken, though compared to the skeleton waves I found the fleshier undead to have a certain… feral way about them. Their bite tended to be poisonous, too. The process that saw zombies rise anew made their gums bleed as they died and keep suppurating blood and pus for weeks after they were dead.

Though it might take a while to kill, foul blood in a wound was poison all the same.

“How many Binds in the lot, do you think?” I said.

“I’d say no more than five, Your Majesty,” Grandmaster Brandon Talbot replied.

Keen-eyed as he watched the unfolding skirmish through his open visor, the commander of the Order of the Broken Bells was careful not to bring his own mount too close to mine. Zombie liked to snap at other horses and given that she smelled like Winter and death it tended to unnerve even Callowan war mounts. Glancing at the man I marvelled that his beard was still so neatly cut: the aristocrat seemed to make it a point of pride to remain nobly groomed even when out on campaign as we’d been for half a month now.

“They are looking pretty sloppy,” I conceded, the two of us eyeing the dead as they closed the last of the distance.

When there were more Binds the necromancy binding the dead together was… tighter according to Masego, though he’d gotten a little lost in a greater metaphor about how the Dead King used necromancy entirely when explaining it. Regardless, in practice the presence of more Binds allowed those same undead more control over their lesser brethren, and finer control as well. Given that the Binds still had soul bound to their dead frames, hence the name, that tended to mean better tactics for the pack than simply rushing at whatever living were closest. Talbot and I kept our eyes on the zombies as they hit the outer line. To my pleasure, just as they’d been meant to they staked themselves on the spears. Not all of them did, for some avoided the jutting steel or simply tumbled forward with great enough speed they either broke the spear or ripped free of the point, but it broke the dead’s momentum across the line.

“It would not work as well against skeletons,” Captain Karolina Leisberg said, her Chantant accented in that attractively sharp Lycaonese way.

Where Grandmaster Talbot sat mounted at my right, the Iron Prince’s representative sat the same at my left. Prince Klaus Papenheim had proved very much interested in our attempts to adjust war doctrine to the realities of war against Keter, to the extent that he’d sent one of the captains of his personal guard to have a look at this skirmish after I’d given him advance notice it would be taking place. That and I assumed he’d wanted eyes he trusted assessing how much damage the Dead King’s latest nasty surprise had managed to sow behind our main lines. Gods, we were just lucky Tariq had caught the infiltrators before they made it into Brabant. If the fucking things had made it into one of those cramped refugee camps instead of being forced to prey on the isolated towns and villages of southern Hainaut instead, the damage would have been staggering in scope.

“It’ll still slow them by simple virtue of being in the way,” I reminded Captain Leisberg. “The object is to sap their momentum before the lines hit, not score kills.”

We’d learned the hard way that a wave of armoured skeletons could topple even a proper Legion shield wall by simple virtue of being so damned heavy, if it got enough room for a proper charge.

“And it seems to be working as intended,” Brandon Talbot noted.

Eyes returning to the skirmish, I caught sight of exactly what he meant. I’d missed the first exchange, but the results left in its wake spoke for themselves: a long line of zombies, pulped or hacked down by the polearms and long hammers while the line of greatshields anchored against the ground effortlessly bounced off the few dead that made it close to enough to scrabble at the wall of steel. The dead slowly forced their way behind the line of jutting spears but they were repeatedly butchered as they did until the mangled corpses were tall enough a pile that some of the zombies began using it as a way to leap above. There the halberds proved their worth over the raven beaks, a forest of jutting points that speared the few leapers clean through. Tribune Beesbury barked out an order and whistles were sounded by the sergeants. The mages and priests at the rear lashed out with flame and Light, providing cover to the rank of greatshields as it rose and retreated five paces before setting down again. They were adding depth to the killing floor to avoid further leapers, I noted approvingly. Hune’s man was living up to her commendations.

“A pack is splitting off from the rest,” Captain Leisberg pointed out.

Eyes flicking to the side of the skirmish, I saw the Lycaonese was right. Maybe thirty zombies and what must have been a Bind within the lot were peeling off from the slaughter on the plain, heading southwest. There were villages there, as I recalled, though not large ones – likely the reason they’d not been hit in the initial wave of contamination when two neighbouring small towns had. The infiltrators had aimed for numbers above all else, perhaps understanding that weaponless zombies would require as much to make a dent in a line of proper soldiery.

“Shall I send out one of the Order’s wings, my queen?” Grandmaster Talbot offered.

I mulled on that a moment, even as the assault formation on the plains continued its methodical savaging of the remaining undead. This might be the least of the infantry the Dead King could field, but I was still rather encouraged by the day’s results.

“That village we sent Lord Tanja to, what was it called again?” I asked.

“Pierreplate, I believe,” Brandon Talbot replied.

“About half a bell away,” I said. “And the one Lady Osena was meant to get moving was maybe another half bell further west.”

“The Levantines should be returning, then,” Captain Leisberg said, quickly catching on to my meaning.

Lord Razin Tanja, who was now truly the Lord of Malaga instead of merely the heir designate – his kin back in Levant had found a technicality that allowed him to claim the title without physically returning to the Dominion – should already have been back, truth be told. I rather suspected he’d waited for Lady Aquiline to finish covering the grounds I’d assigned her and catch up to him before heading back together. I was not one to grudge a young man his fancy for a lithe-limbed whirlwind of swagger and knives, especially when said whirlwind had legs like Aquiline Osena’s, but if Tanja was under the impression that he could use our hours on the field to flirt with his betrothed he was in dire need of instructional sparring with Adjutant.

“Send a pair of riders to warn them, just in case they got sloppy with their own scouting,” I ordered Talbot, eyes following the fleeing undead.

The Levantines, particularly the Tartessos foot, were actually better hand at this sort of thing than any of mine save for goblins so it was likely an unnecessary warning. Still, why indulge in a gamble when a sure thing was close at hand?

“By your will, Your Majesty,” the grandmaster said, bowing his head.

He guided his horse away, leaving to pass along my command, but I kept my attention on the undead. They were using the shoddy dirt road headed southwest instead of just running across broken terrain, I noted, so there was definitely a Bind doing their thinking for them. Not that it’d help them much, given the region and season. The borderlands between southern Hainaut and northern Brabant were a strange place, to my eyes: flat stony plains were broken up by valley-like dips in the ground where greenery grew almost aggressively, though the part I’d grown to despise was the damned bogs. They were everywhere, though they always spread like the clap in an army camp after winter snows melted. For a few months every year the entire region became the favourite piss bowl of the Gods, which made campaigning around it deeply unpleasant. The only part that was mildly tolerable about the bogs was the way so many birds flocked to them, which made for good hunting and a change of fare when catches were made. The road southwest was half-flooded by such a bog, which had lapped up at a turn already quite cramped up against a rocky hill.

It was half-expectantly that I watched that narrow passage as the dead neared it. If I’d been trying to lay an ambush around here, that was where I would have done it. Painted faces crested the hill and a heartbeat later a volley of javelins scythed through the flank of the zombie pack. Wouldn’t be enough to put any of those down for good, but it’d pin and tumble quite a few as well as disrupt their ‘formation’. I was not the only one looking, though, I noted.

“That’d be the Tartessos foot,” I told Captain Leisberg. “Those call themselves slayers in honour of the Silent Slayer, the heroine that founded the ruling line of the city.”

Lady Aquiline herself claimed direct descent from the woman, and for all I knew it might even be true. I’d never seen any people half so obsessed with Blood as the Levantines, save for actual Praesi blood mages.

“They are wearing almost as much paint as armour, and most of that leather,” Karolina Leisberg skeptically said.

Lycaonese, I had found, held what I could only deem a very reasonable sort of respect for the virtues of putting on good steel armour whenever it was even remotely possible to get away with it. The way some of the Levantines disdained it was utterly baffling to them, and unfortunately that was one of the least contentious ways their cultures seemed to rub each other wrong. The way the Dominion held single combat as a glorious thing, in particular, had a way of earning aggressive contempt from the northerners. It was, I’d come to believe, the difference between a people that held war as an honourable duty and one that held war as honourable, period. There were no frills to Lycaonese ways: if it worked, it did not matter how ugly or unfair or harsh the way of getting it done was. Captain Leisberg hadn’t come across an honour duel, at least. Those always made the Lycaonese fall into black temper. There was a reason I’d ensured they were encamped at opposite ends whenever I could even though it was a headache to organize. These days I sometimes felt more like a juggler than a general or a queen. And the moment I drop a single ball, I thought, people will die.

It was a sobering thought, and the source of much of my patience these days.

“Slayers are monster-killers by training, not line infantry,” I told her. “They’re used to fighting things that consider plate little more than the crunchy part of the meal. I expect that when we finally get the Unravellers they’ll be the ones fielding them for our front.”

The woman’s eyes brightened, for I’d said the magic word: Unravellers. The sheer intensity of the lust the Lycaonese held for those artefacts surprised me almost every time, though perhaps it shouldn’t. We’d been fighting the alchemical monstrosities of the Dead King for not even two years while their kind had been the proverbial rock in Keter’s boot for centuries.

“I’d heard the Workshop deemed them unfeasible,” Captain Leisberg said.

Unfeasible wasn’t exactly the right word. The first few attempts at making artefacts that disrupted necromancy had either been violently explosive failures or run into what Masego deemed a ‘proportioning’ problem, namely that those first attempts simply didn’t have enough sorcery or Light in them to successfully unravel something like a wyrm or a beorn. Our people had eventually succeeded at making an artefact that could hold that much power, but it’d been a material solution. As in, the materials used in the making of that thing were about as expensive as arming two cohorts in full Legion standard. That’d been bad enough, but they’d also been quite rare: in particular, the kind of eldritch lumber they’d used grew only in the southern stretches of the Waning Woods. Which meant importing it in large quantifies was a half-baked daydream. The Belfry had since claimed a breakthrough in figuring out a structural workaround, though, and fresh plans had been passed along to the Workshop a month past. We’d learn if they were truly functional soon enough, at least in principle.

I’d only venture to call it a true success after shoving a spear inside one of those fucking undead dragons collapsed the whole thing, instead of requiring three Named and a full mage contingent to get that job done.

“Might not be, after all,” I said. “Though I’ll not count the chickens before they’re ha- Razin Tanja, you shit.”

It’d been a beautiful little ambush, pretty as a pearl: javelins first, then a dozen Malaga foot had emerged to block the road, raising a shield wall the zombies promptly threw themselves against. The slayers had leapt into the chaotic melee and scythed through the lesser undead with almost laughable ease, Lady Aquiline Osena among them. Quick enough all that was left from the massacre was the Bind that’d led the pack. They should have killed it first, by my reckoning, since the zombies would regress to almost animal thoughtlessness after it was broken, but the reason why they hadn’t had became rather clear when Razin Tanja stepped forward in chainmail and leather, a hooked sword in hand. The Levantines formed a circle around the two, those with shields in front, and took to shoving the undead back into the middle of the makeshift battle circle when it strayed too far from the Lord of Malaga.

“Foolish,” the Lycaonese captain said at the sight, and I grunted in agreement.

Not that Aquiline was any better when it came to this sort of stuff: if anything she was much, much worse. The Grey Pilgrim had made clear that the two lordlings were to listen to my orders, so at least they usually obeyed when I was there to keep an eye on them, but when I wasn’t this sort of inanity still cropped up with depressing regularity. It was like someone had chopped out the part of their brains where common sense was and replaced it with glorious single combat instead. Gods, I supposed I should be glad at least they weren’t stabbing each other. Apparently the sole Dominion aristocrat killed at the Graveyard – Razin’s own father – had not been slain by one of mine or the Tyrant’s but instead by the Lord of Alava. I was rather glad that one had ended up on Malanza’s front, even if he’d been somewhat easy on the eyes. On the plains the assault company under Tribune Beesbury was cleaning up the last of the zombies with admirable thoroughness and without much trouble, so I decided the Levantines were due the first visit. I could personally praise Beesbury and his three hundred for their work later.

“Grandmaster Talbot,” I called out.

Zombie moved under the pressure of my knees almost eagerly, and I could tell she was itching for a flight. I patted her mane fondly.

“Later,” I told her.

The leader of the Broken Bells was not long in attending me after the summons, and as a sign that he was getting used to my ways he’d come riding with twenty knights and my banner instead of a courtier’s manners.

“Good man,” I smiled at him, then turned to my knights. “Lord Tanja seems intent on putting on a spectacle. Wouldn’t it be poor manners to fail to indulge him?”

There were a few smiles, and even a laugh. Though Levant’s soldiery was not hated among my people, neither was it liked. It had not been forgot that a campaign had been fought against them in Iserre, or that they’d been part of the Grand Alliance back when it was still just a pack of hounds baying for fresh meat. Callowan meat, at least in part. I flicked a questioning glance at Captain Leisberg, to see if she wanted to accompany us, but she shook her head. With a courteous dip of mine I took my leave, staff of yew laid across Zombie’s back as we took the lead on our ride down the hill. I kept a brisk pace and made no pretence of hiding my approach, so the Levantines saw us long before we came. Tanja finished his opponent before I got close enough to hail him, a clean blow that carved through the Bind’s spine under the throat. The head, still wrapped in leathery but seemingly living flesh, tumbled to the ground. The Levantines let out a cheer. Hiding my irritation, I spurred Zombie onwards quicker, not slowing as I came upon the ring of soldiers surrounding the victorious young Lord of Malaga.

The warriors had to hastily scatter out of my way and instead of pulling on my reins I let Zombie enter the ring at a trot, circling Tanja. So maybe I wasn’t hiding my irritation that much, all things considered. By the time Zombie had slowed to a halt, there was only silence surrounding me.

“Hail, Black Queen,” Lady Aquiline called out.

“We’ll get to you in a moment, Lady Osena,” I flatly replied.

Lord Razin Tanja looked up at me with defiant eyes, his tanned skin and coal-black hair framed tight by his helm. It wouldn’t do to upbraid him like a child in front of his own men and his betrothed, I reminded myself, even though it was tempting to allow myself to spit out a few scathing lines that’d cut him down to size. On the other hand, it wouldn’t do to simply let this go either. He and Osena had been testing me more often lately, as if pushing to see how much I’d take from them. If I gave them an inch now, they’d be reaching for another before day’s end. I stared down the Lord of Malaga without blinking until, reluctantly, he opened his mouth.

“Hail, Black Queen,” Razin Tanja greeted me.

“And to you, Lord Razin,” I calmly replied. “Now, would you care to explain to me why you were tormenting what is most likely the soul of an ancient crusader bound by dark sorcery into unwilling service to the Hidden Horror?”

Ah, the embarrassed silence of someone who’d not quite considered the implications of what they were doing. How nostalgic. I could see why people had done this to me so often, if it was always this darkly satisfying to be standing on this side of the exercise.

“Well?” I prompted amicably. “Do go on. I’m sure your reasons will be… enlightening.”

That was just twisting the knife but then I wasn’t Razin’s mother. I had absolutely no interest in caring for his bruises, be they on his skin or his pride.

“The Volignac companies are already back at camp, last I heard,” I casually said. “Because they saw no need to play around with corpses, they’re having first crack at the ale rations that just got shipped in from Brabant.”

I’d ordered some set aside for the assault formation too, as either reward or comfort for the way the skirmish went, but I saw no pressing need to mention that. Knowledge they’d be laying claim only to what the Procerans saw fit to leave behind went over with the Levantines about as well as I’d figured it would. There wasn’t an army on the continent that didn’t run on drink and brothels, save perhaps the one we were pitted against.

“It was a good kill,” Lady Aquiline said, rallying to the defence of her betrothed.

Gallantly, some might have argued. Some but not me. My eyes flicked to her painted face, hardening.

“Made by a man half a bell late on his march back to camp,” I said. “I don’t suppose you have anything to say about that, Lady Osena?”

Embarrassment once more, and matching silence. And she should be damn well be embarrassed: they’d been sent out to ensure none of the zombie-makers had gotten or could get at villages, not to mess about. And considering they’d gone out with two hundred warriors each and there couldn’t be more than fifty here with them right now, they couldn’t even pretend with the parchment-thin claim they’d linked up for safety in numbers. For now, I’d generously assume the other warriors were left behind to be thorough in ensuring the safety of the evacuating Proceran civilians, though I’d be sure to ask pointed questions about this later. I was making no friends among the Levantines here by asserting my authority so bluntly, but then I didn’t need to be liked by these people. Only obeyed, and they’d been growing lax about that lately.

“Return to camp,” I said, eyes sweeping across the ranks. “I’ll expect a distinct lack of detours, this time.”

It felt like I was spanking unruly children, which was all the more galling for not being entirely untrue. Neither of them were all that far from me in age, though sometimes I felt more like tired old Klaus Papenheim than the woman of twenty-three I truly was. I could understand why Tariq wanted me to keep an eye on them, too, to both meanings of that. For all their sloppy habits and general recklessness, the two Levantine nobles made for a very charismatic pair when they weren’t straining my patience. Both brave and skilled at arms, and while Aquiline was a finer blade and the most popular of the two it was Razin I’d found had the firmer grasp on politics. If the Grey Pilgrim was in the market for successors to keep the Dominion stable after he died, then these two were by far his best bet from the current crop of the Blood.

Sadly, this did not in any way make them less of a trial to deal with.

I didn’t linger around the Levantines any longer, guiding Zombie out of the battle circle as my knightly escort and Grandmaster Talbot fell in. The man who’d once been the heir to Marchford rode up to my side as we returned to the hill that’d served as our earlier vantage point.

“The Levantine fondness for duels truly is a tawdry habit,” Brandon Talbot said. “It has no place in proper war-making.”

“Duels are useful when they can be used to demoralize the enemy,” I disagreed.

I’d myself duelled in the past, after all, and sent others to do the same on my behalf. Usually I’d done it to kill a Named foe before they could inflict great losses on my soldiers, or eliminate a titled fae before they could unleash a large working, but there was a reason I didn’t use that method unless there was no other choice. Fighting on the front bound your soldiers to you in ways that could be hard to explain – it’d been my willingness to fight on the frontlines that’d first won me loyalty in the Fifteenth – but there was a difference between that and seeking out every duel there was to be had out there. One was sharing risk, the other courting death. Even the Lady of the Lake picked her fights and fled when they turned south on her.

“The dead have no morale,” the Grandmaster said, and I didn’t disagree. “Which makes all this posturing rather puerile.”

“Lord Tanja is young and in need of proving himself to his warriors,” I said. “Lady Osena’s bloodline is famous for such duels, so there is a reputation to uphold.”

“Facts which did not seem to hinder you in the slightest from disciplining them,” the older man said, sounding faintly amused.

“Because if they pull something like that against a Revenant after these little victories let them think they’re champions, they’ll get themselves slaughtered like lambs,” I grimly said. “And while it might be a fool’s errand to expect Levantines to discard centuries of customs, I’ll expect them to at least bend those to accommodate the realities of the war for survival we’re fighting.”

Neshamah could afford toss fifty thousand Binds in a pit and forget about them until Last Dusk, if he felt like it. If half the visions the Sisters shared with me of the drow front in the deep north were accurate, then that was the kind of force he was willing to throw away on a fucking distraction. On the other hand, if either of the Dominion nobles got themselves killed the Grand Alliance had a damned mess on its hands. Whether it was about succession, command of their armies or even the casting of blame that’d no doubt follow there would be no part of it that wouldn’t end up a nasty turn. So when I saw them playing duellist with undead, you might say my temper rose just a tad at the sight. Even in the wildest streaks of my days as Squire I’d never been reckless for recklessness’ sake, much less acted so blithely unaware of the stakes at play.

“Doesn’t matter,” I finally sighed. “They’re only in my charge until we’ve swept the region clean. We’ll be moving on to other things afterwards, and the Pilgrim can shepherd his own cats.”

“Another day’s march south and we’ll have reached into Brabantine lands proper,” the bearded knight said. “We ought to be encountering the first of Prince Étienne’s forward patrols come morning, and soon after our duty will be discharged.”

“Looking forward to a stay in a proper city?” I teased.

“A warm bath,” Brandon Talbot reverently said, “and food not cooked in a cauldron. The Heavens smile upon us indeed.”

I chuckled. It was funny, the way months in the field could turn the simplest of things into luxuries. I was, myself, looking forward to finally getting a decent drink as well as a full night’s sleep: wherever lay diplomacy also lay quality wine and wards good enough I wouldn’t need to sleep with one eye open. Hanno was due back from out west, too, which would be nice. It was always easier when he was there to foist off chores o– share the burdens with, I’d of course meant, in an absolutely equal and unbiased manner.

“Let’s get this business over with, then,” I said. “I’ve had about as much as I can stomach of spring in these parts and the walking dead do nothing to improve the scenery.”

“I’d hardly noticed a difference,” Brandon Talbot drily said.

Let it not be said that one of my people had ever willingly let an occasion to rag on Procer pass them by. We returned to the hilltop only to learn that Captain Leisberg had already taken her leave and headed back to camp, from where she’d be changing mounts and riding straight for Prince Klaus’ forces further north by the main roads. While I was somewhat irked she’d not stayed around long enough to discuss her impressions of the day’s skirmish and the performance of the assault formation, she was not under my command and owed me nothing save perhaps the occasional courtesy. Odds were I’d need to have that talk with the Iron Prince himself, which truth be told I hardly minded. The First Prince’s uncle was an old soldier of a breed that was deeply familiar to me: I’d spent most of my life either serving them drinks, fighting them or leading them in battle. If the man had known a few rebel songs and told a story about some wound he took during the Conquest, it might have been enough to make me homesick.

It was brisk business after my return, organizing the return of our soldiers to camp and sending out riders to check on the forces we’d sent further out. While we’d be keeping a force of knights here in case an undead force had slipped our notice and reinforcements were needed by one of our detachments, there was no real need for me to stay here to supervise in person. Grandmaster Talbot was perfectly capable of handling this without my breathing down his neck. Consequently, I’d been preparing to ride away with an escort when Zombie suddenly shivered in discomfort. She’d only ever done that around a single man, which meant it was no deep mystery as to who had finally emerged from the wilds again. It was hard to tell how old the man was, or where he came from, though Indrani had once told me he was only a few years older than her.

Between the tan and the filth, though he could have been from anywhere from twenty to forty and passed as anything but Soninke. I’d expected a Named of his bent to be athletic, but instead he was built like a bear: tall and broad-framed but undeniably heavyset. His clothes were thick leather, save for the fur boots and the beautiful hood he always kept up: lined in ermine and made of fox, it was beautifully sown and it seemed a waste it would be pressed up against long matted brown hair. A long knife and a hatchet at his side, the man might have passed for a warrior of some sort if not for the most eye-catching thing about him: the two great falcons seated on his shoulders, watching me with unnatural poise.

“Beastmaster,” I greeted him, turning and betraying no hint of surprise at his sudden presence.

“Black Queen,” the man rasped out. “I have found you a quarry.”

My eyes narrowed. I’d not expected there to truly be one born from this crisis, as we’d been swift in crushing it. It was worrying it had anyway, even though I’d known the possibility was there. Events were quickening at brisker a pace than even our worst predictions.

“Where are they?” I asked.

“He,” the Beastmaster said. “East.”

“Where east?” I impatiently said.

“It will be easy to find,” the Beastmaster replied, hacking out a laugh. “It is the only village on fire.”

Shit, I thought. Couldn’t I, just the once, get an easy Named to bring into the fold?

97 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Recommence

      1. Annoyed about Voting Comments

        Feel free too, I will continue to scroll past all the same. Sometimes it is a shame though, often I wont be able to find where the comment thread ends to actually discuss the damn story. Maybe there could be an option to collapse the comment? Or it could just be a tag at the bottom of the post?

        Like

      1. caoimhinh

        “And in the middle of the war against the Hidden Horror, this guy appears. He became a Named and set a village on fire. What did the Black Queen do? Recruit him, of course! Coincidence? I don’t think so!”

        -Extract from “Is the Black Queen a Pyromaniac?“, heated debate in the Temple of Manifold Truths, Atalante. Infamously known for coincidentally taking place right before a city fire.

        Liked by 11 people

  1. Insanenoodlyguy

    That was just twisting the knife but then I wasn’t Razin’s mother. I had absolutely no interest in caring for his bruises, be they on his skin or his pride.

    “The Volignac companies are already back at camp, last I heard,” I casually said. “Because they saw no need to play around with corpses, they’re having first crack at the vote rations that just got shipped in from Topwebficiton.”

    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil

    Liked by 6 people

  2. interesting… ngl this timeskip feels a lot longer than three months, in terms of changes and developments, so when cat said they’d been fighting the dead king’s forces for nigh on two years i almost thought that meant that we’d skipped forward two years and had a small heart attack

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Let’s play “count the time passing”!
        Catherine was eighteen during the spring/summer campaign of Book 3. Then the next winter was the one where the heroes came and tried to kill her en masse while Callow rebuilt, and the very next spring was the Crusade’s invasion. Black was sitting at Vales that whole time for the exact reason it was about to happen, he didn’t spend over a year idle. Also, see again: the one, specific, rebuilding and heroes winter.
        This makes Catherine nineteen for the time period before the following winter, which is one within which she and Malicia bargained with the Dead King, whereupon she came to Everdark.
        In Everdark we have our next concrete time marker, because she asserts she is not twenty-one yet. Unless an additional year passed, she has to be no more than twenty, but it technically fits.

        This is where the true fuckery starts, though, because we have a concrete marker of one (1) winter of fighting Keter so far: the one titular in Hanno’s extra chapters. Book 5 was during that winter.

        This is the spring directly after that winter – months of the truce plus the mentioned half a month on campaign. Technically you can tack on more time because it’s not specified how long it took between the end of the truce and the arrival of reinforcements in the Prologue, although that makes it incredibly questionable why the fuck it’s still spring – the weather was getting spring-y in southern Procer at least three and a half months ago. I suppose we can imagine southern Procer gets spring in no more than a month after the winter solistice, which would give us an additional approximate one and a half months before the end of calendar spring. Assuming seasons last three months in Guideverse, which at this point I’m no longer willing to just assume lmao

        All of that said, for Catherine to be twenty-three now, considering the concrete age marker during Book 3, it would have had to be approximately three years. She would have to have taken THREE YEARS to get to the campaign since the truce ended.

        Yeah, I. I have nothing.

        Or, alternatively, seasons could come less frequently than once per year in Guideverse. Maybe erratic’s taking a page out of Discworld’s book or ASOIAF’s book. Maybe it took over two years-as-counted-in-universe for Catherine to gather her army in Everdark and get through the Iserran campaign until the Prince’s Graveyard whereupon the truce started.

        That was one LONG winter.

        Liked by 5 people

          1. caoimhinh

            Another consideration:
            Cat was 15 years old at the beginning of Book 1, so to get to the age of 18 by Book 3, at least 2 years and a couple months should have passed, yet Book 1 was only like 3 months, right? I don’t think 2 years passed across Book 2.
            I believe it was a year and a half, tops.

            Liked by 3 people

          2. Crash

            Nah, I think this is an interpretation problem with the “not yet 2 years of fighting in this chapter”.

            The way this was written implies that we time skipped after the prologue.

            Now, the concret time marker of the everdark is neat for us. Not yet 21, okay. Written like this, I’m prone to believing she didn’t just get to 20, she simply hasn’t gotten to 21 yet. So let’s take the medium spot and assume she is 20 years and 6 months old, or around that marker.

            Now, we get some interludes telling us Cat has spent the better part of a year away, and when she returns she likes to use that phrasing when referring to the time spent so far. Which makes me think that as of her return, past the Everdark, we have “not yet 21” + “the better part of a year” which, I think we can take to mean she got to 21 now. So let’s assume that at the meetings in Salia she is indeed 21.

            Okay, now we got the 3 months of truce plus give or take a few weeks and that leads us to the prologue where the armies walk out of the Twilight Ways.

            In this chapter, we become aware of yet another timeskip which is the “not yet 2 years of fighting the Dead.”
            Thus neatly getting us to Cat’s 23 years of age if put together to the 3 months of truce and the unspecified amount of time spent in the Prince’s Graveyard and return from the Everdark debacle.

            Additionally, this explains how Beastmaster could be here at all since presumably Indrani would have had to fetch him and she has said before that he is not always guaranteed to be at Refuge.

            Liked by 1 person

        1. caoimhinh

          Well, she could have been 18 during the Fae Campaign and be 19 by the time of the Crusade’s attack (depends on when exactly is Cat’s birthday or how she is marking the time. We have seen some characters, like a Lycaonese girl in an interlude, count their age by the number of Winters they have lived).
          By my count, Cat was 20 when she went to the Ever Dark, and they spent somewhere between 6 months and 10 months there. Although Cat counts that as a whole year on more than one occasion, with expressions like “one year ago” and “last year”.

          She should, nevertheless, be between 21 and 22 right now, not 23.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Latest timeline updates, as of recent dedicated archeology work.

            (Format note: I know Guideverse uses different months. Since we never got a full calendar, I’m going with our months instead. Just assume ‘that 1/3rd of the season’)

            Catherine’s birthday is in late May.
            Book 1 begins in mid-May: late enough for Catherine to call it ‘summer’ when complaining about the heat, early enough that there’s still at least a week before her birthday.

            The Liesse Rebellion starts in approximately February. Summerholm’s in April and Marchford’s in May; approximately a month passes between Killian and Cat hooking up post-Summerholm and Three Hills.
            In Marchford it is STILL SPRING yet Catherine is ALREADY SEVENTEEN.

            (This is how we know her birthday. As of Interlude: Precipitation, according to Amadeus, she “has been at this for two years”; Precipitation is in summer after Triumph, which is next spring after that; that makes a full two years and change.)

            Catherine returns from Everdark in late winter / early spring before her 19th birthday.

            The exact next turn of winter to spring is the Northern Crusade, Catherine is 19 at the time and turns 20 later in spring (either right before the journey to Keter or during it). She is 20 throughout Everdark, which lasts until winter that year, and Book 5, which ends at the end of the same winter.

            The projected end of truce with the Dead King is at around the same time as her birthday; she joines the fight soon after (but with enough delay that Otto has time to despair).

            Then there’s a two year timeskip (repeatedly confirmed in text as two years specifically), and currently is late May/early June: Catherine’s birthday has already happened, but the weather is still that of springtime (unpleasantly wet) (it makes sense for spring to be late in the north, which is where they are) and it has not yet been two years since Catherine’s forces entered the fray against the Dead King.

            Catherine is 23.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. caoimhinh

              Yep, that matches with the age I had of Catherine being 21. Then this timeskip happened (which I do not like), but yeah. She is 23. It was the weird 2-year skip what threw most of us off.

              P.S: So far it’s been detrimental, in my opinion. Important things of the current plot got stagnated (like the war, where they haven’t advanced the Proceran front lines in 2 whole years, despite the combined efforts of most of the continent) while a bunch of background stuff moved without actually having an impact except as supportive or secondary plot whose real meaningful repercussions will be felt just now. There were a lot of characters’ personal affairs reaching a climax before the timeskip (Indrani’s trauma with death, Masego’s answer to her feelings, Catherine’s promised talk with the Woe, the initial interactions of Heroes and Villains allying, Malicia’s reaction to Amadeus’s continuous rebellion, etc) and that was just skipped, and now we will have to learn about it inside one of Cat’s mental musings instead of actually watching it happen; all this, just to gain the ability to pull things out of a hat and say “this was built during the past 2 years”. I think it was a bad choice.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. I would argue that the timeskip was the best solution actually. I think Erratic came up with the timeline of events – how this war develops – first, THEN decided how to cover them in the actual book.

                I would not have minded getting detailed and extensive endless serial of daily life during this war up to now, yes, I love slice of life. But that’s what it would have been – a whole lot of routine and construction (like the industrial novels of the soviet times, which I adore shamelessly), approximately no actual plot.

                Erratic chose to skip forward to when the plot picks up the pace again, and I honestly support that decision.

                Masego and Indrani weren’t going to NOT get along; I’m glad Erratic chose not to milk that for drama and instead skipped forward to a nice cozy status quo. (I wonder if they actuall talked. I bet they didn’t tbh, Masego wouldn’t realize something is non-obvious and Indrani’s still skittish)

                The talk with the WoE? When was that promised and about what?

                Malicia’s reaction is absolutely going to come up yet. We don’t even know what it will be TO. I mean, we got her initial reaction, what more was there to see up till now?

                Indrani’s trauma with death was I think quite thoroughly finished and packed away during the Twilight arc. Any immediate further development would be fairly artificial and forced imho.

                At the end of Book 5, I was confused about what was going to happen next, and almost wasn’t looking forward to Book 6, except in the most abstract sense: things just seemed… finished. All the plot threads packed away, character relationships covered, even heroic reactions to Catherine encompassed in between Antigone, Hanno and Tariq – in the interlude where we got Hanno’s POV on the way to the trial town, the reaction after he got hurt, and Tariq’s POV in the Epilogue. It was all just… covered. Complete. It was slice of life steady whirr going forward, unless something went seriously wrong, and…

                Well, I’m really glad nothing went seriously wrong???

                And I expect GREAT things out of the Amadeus situation. Whatever the fuck it actually is 0.0

                Like

                1. caoimhinh

                  I disagree.
                  Why do people keep saying that if we hadn’t gotten the 2-year timeskip we would have gotten a bunch of boring daily life chapters? We have NEVER had one of those, the closest were those chapters where Catherine had conversations with Akua, and those were deemed “character development”. We always just get glimpses of their duties and daily lives only as a passing matter while they are carrying a greater purpose.

                  This whole series of books has always used short timeskips to move forward without wasting time in meaningless things while focusing on the developments of the plot, but always showing us the causes and effects of things. For example, we always skipped the time of travel until something interesting happen during the trip. When Cat orders something done, constructed or prepared, we don’t see the process of it being done, BUT we do see what made Cat reach that point, her mental process for deciding to order it, and we actually see her making the order. Even when the thing was something secret, we still got to know something was being done. Never was it done as with the Arsenal now.
                  Imagine what it would have been like if we had never seen Cat carrying her dark staff, seen her putting Night in there, or Kairos mentioning it, and then Catherine had suddenly pulled that sword out of her Night and killed the Saint of Swords with it. Bad, right?

                  Now, we wouldn’t have been shown the construction of the Arsenal day-by-day, nor the organization of the Belfry and the Workshop and their menial task, that’s absurd, what makes you think that?
                  Have we ever been shown the Sappers working on their new siege engines, or the Legionaries while they are building the palisades for a fight? Are we shown their sparring session and their drills? No, but we know those things happen because we are shown when the orders are given and a glimpse from the distance as they are being done and the story follows Catherine while she does other things and orders more to be done.
                  And the construction of the Arsenal was not the only thing happening, they were in the middle of a war suffering casualties, not calmly sight-seeing. There were lots of hard battles, in some of them they even lost Named, so it’s not like there wasn’t any action to show.

                  We should have seen the first battles of the Allied counterattack after Callow and the Drow joined, the casualties and setbacks suffered, the realization that they needed more than just numbers and strength to beat the Army of Keter, ordering the construction of the Arsenal, facing the Heroes as allies for the first time, the reactions of the Heroes having to work with Villains, the first internal conflicts between Heroes and Villains, the first assassination attempts and Cat’s realization that hard measures had to be taken, etc.
                  And so many more things that happened during that 2-year timeskip that are just now mentioned as passing thoughts. That’s not a slice of life, nor boring daily menial tasks, that’s the plot!

                  This, though… it is just wrong.

                  Because this timeskip didn’t advance what was necessary and skipped what we needed to see. Timeskips are useful for giving the characters time to prepare for a challenge, yeah. But you don’t make a timeskip in the middle of a war and then say “2 years have passed, we haven’t advanced at all. But fear not! For with this new thing that wasn’t mentioned before the timeskip and was developed during it, we will finally be able to advance!”
                  No, that’s just… no.

                  The talk with the Woe?
                  Catherine promised Hakram that she would sit with him and the rest of the Woe to explain what had happened in the Ever Dark, what had changed about her, her deal with Sve Noc, the new situation with Akua, and also for Cat to know what had happened with the others during her absence. Plus pretty much just getting a get-together moment after all the mess they had been living. That was either skipped or never happened.

                  Malicia’s reaction ALREADY HAPPENED BECAUSE IT WAS 2 YEARS AGO. The Legions of Terror reaction to both Malicia’s mind control and Amadeus declared rebellion was also skipped. There’s been a civil war in Praes for 2 years, do you think nothing relevant or worthy of being shown in a chapter has happened? Not to mention the whole mess with the Goblin Federation and the traitorous High Lady Abreha. All that was skipped.

                  “Indrani’s trauma with death was I think quite thoroughly finished and packed away during the Twilight arc.”
                  Not at all. In fact, Catherine strongly got the feeling that such a thing would only be worse after Indrani’s actual death. She had constantly been saying that she would speak with Indrani when they got the time for it, and now 2 years have passed, completely disregarding that bit of personal matter.

                  “At the end of Book 5, I was confused about what was going to happen next, and almost wasn’t looking forward to Book 6, except in the most abstract sense: things just seemed… finished. All the plot threads packed away, character relationships covered, even heroic reactions to Catherine”

                  Not really.
                  Hanno, Tariq, and Antigone are among the most well-behaved Heroes. They have great self-control (though we have seen they are all capable of great destruction and death). Their reactions are important, but far from the only ones that would happen among the Heroes when they learned they had to work side by side with Villains. Even then, those were the initial reactions to meeting them, that’s a whole different thing to having to actually spend time with someone. Meeting someone in a business reunion is not the same as working in the same office as them or sharing an apartment with them. Hugely different things.

                  The plot threads were pretty much open, as I pointed out before, because there was A LOT of things happening in the personal life of the characters besides the big plot: Hanno had to learn to live with the Seraphim being silent; Masego and Indrani were supposed to have a personal talk about their feelings (I highly doubt Indrani is still skittish about it after 2 years, as you suggested); Pilgrim had to clear his name from doubts about him being partial towards -or being influenced by- the Black Queen; those are just the big ones. 2 years have passed, people keep living, which means they interact with others, relationships are formed and ended, people grow and mature, every single relevant character still alive is continuing their life in ways we don’t know, and every single one of them is facing the horrors of the undead army of Keter, which means a good portion of them is traumatized now or dealing with it in some way, which is a thing that affects the army at large and has to be dealt with by the leaders.

                  All of this was just… skipped. And we will just learn of the aftermath and conclusions of all this, instead of seeing it develop.

                  Also, the current of events was moving EVERYWHERE, not just in the North of Procer.

                  Praes had a civil war brewing with many factions involved; Procer was dealing with unrest, political reorganization after the attempted Coup, refugees and hunger; the Dwarves were expanding in the lands of the Ever Dark and making commercial deals with the Grand Alliance, while watching for the moment to join the military offensive; Callow apparently had to deal with civil unrest after Akua’s revelation; the League of Free Cities is at war, with General Basilia maybe on her way to become new Tyrant of Helike; and who knows what else was happening that will be revealed as just another afterthought in one of Catherine’s musings.

                  Not to mention that apparently both Catherine and Amadeus have been Claimants for over 2 years without making the transition.

                  Like

                  1. > We should have seen the first battles of the Allied counterattack after Callow and the Drow joined, the casualties and setbacks suffered, the realization that they needed more than just numbers and strength to beat the Army of Keter, ordering the construction of the Arsenal

                    You think they didn’t immediately during first strategic planning realize they needed the Arsenal?

                    Some things just… don’t need drama.

                    > facing the Heroes as allies for the first time, the reactions of the Heroes having to work with Villains, the first internal conflicts between Heroes and Villains, the first assassination attempts and Cat’s realization that hard measures had to be taken, etc.

                    But nothing much changed – we get all the same dynamics now! We’re not missing anything.

                    > The talk with the Woe?
                    > Catherine promised Hakram that she would sit with him and the rest of the Woe to explain what had happened in the Ever Dark, what had changed about her, her deal with Sve Noc, the new situation with Akua, and also for Cat to know what had happened with the others during her absence. Plus pretty much just getting a get-together moment after all the mess they had been living. That was either skipped or never happened.

                    Look, I like recap chapters too. But most people actually don’t, so uh no I don’t blame Erratic for this )=

                    > The Legions of Terror reaction to both Malicia’s mind control and Amadeus declared rebellion was also skipped.

                    Most of the reaction will still be ongoing now. I do not consider a chapter with a no-name character’s perspective on an antagonist’s actions to be particularly valuable no.

                    > Hanno had to learn to live with the Seraphim being silent; Masego and Indrani were supposed to have a personal talk about their feelings (I highly doubt Indrani is still skittish about it after 2 years, as you suggested); Pilgrim had to clear his name from doubts about him being partial towards -or being influenced by- the Black Queen;

                    We are still getting answers to all of those, in person.

                    > All of this was just… skipped. And we will just learn of the aftermath and conclusions of all this, instead of seeing it develop.

                    Yep!
                    ‘Slice of life’ is not an insult. I love slice of life. It covers the exact kidn of thing you’re talking about.
                    It’s not the genre that PGTE is.

                    > Praes had a civil war brewing with many factions involved; Procer was dealing with unrest, political reorganization after the attempted Coup, refugees and hunger; the Dwarves were expanding in the lands of the Ever Dark and making commercial deals with the Grand Alliance, while watching for the moment to join the military offensive; Callow apparently had to deal with civil unrest after Akua’s revelation; the League of Free Cities is at war, with General Basilia maybe on her way to become new Tyrant of Helike; and who knows what else was happening that will be revealed as just another afterthought in one of Catherine’s musings.

                    Yep, and all of these things are not our main plot!

                    I have had an allergy to “side character #14 is not getting the spotlight they deserve” since late homestuck discourse. There are many stories to tell in the world for sure; the specific book is telling THIS ONE. The rest is what fanfiction is for.

                    > Not to mention that apparently both Catherine and Amadeus have been Claimants for over 2 years without making the transition.

                    Yep, and I expect that to pay off.

                    (I never did like the idea of Amadeus becoming DE. The fact that that’s not what happened so far fills me with unholy glee)

                    Like

      1. caoimhinh

        Hmm, I don’t think so, I think it’s just half a month compared to the Prologue, as evidenced in this line:

        [the aristocrat seemed to make it a point of pride to remain nobly groomed even when out on campaign as we’d been for half a month now.]

        The part of “almost two years now” probably refers to the amount of time that has passed since the start of the Dead King invasion.

        Otherwise, it seems weird that they are barely starting to adjust the war doctrine and improvising after 2 whole years with the armies still learning to cooperate, while being still in the outermost territories taken by the Dead King (Northern Brabant and Southern Hainaut).

        Besides the attitude Cat shows over Razin and Aquiline shows that they are still getting used to being supervised by her, and the conversations also show that they are just getting started with the advancements.

        Liked by 10 people

        1. Crash

          I personally took this 1 month of campaign to be referring to this specific spot they’re fighting at instead of the full time elapsed in the Dead King campaign simply because the wording didn’t make sense otherwise

          Altought I am catching up now so hopefully the timeline is back to making sense on the next few chapters.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. caoimhinh

        Also, notice how Catherine was explaining the troops from Tartessos and Malaga to Captain Leisberg, how they fight and why they wear leather armor instead of steel. Something that would not happen if Captain Leisberg had been familiar with them. Considering Leisberg is one of the members of Klaus’s personal team, if they had been fighting together for nearly 2 years then she would be familiar with the Dominion’s troops sent to their front by now.
        This time skip is of only about half a month, and the timeskip between last book’s Epilogue and this book’s Prologue being close to two months.

        Liked by 6 people

  3. Gunslinger

    Is that a two year timeskip? Not complaining, definitely smooths things out in terms of packing.

    It also looks like the war against the dead king will be the backdrop for a while as Cat deals with other issues. Again, really promising stuff.

    Like

    1. caoimhinh

      He’s one of the Named disciples of Ranger (5 in total if I recall correctly).
      Indrani mentioned him way back in Book 2, during their first encounter with a Demon.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Correction: Indrani mentioned him in Book 4 Chapter 24: Invitation (Redux), when they were considering options of allies for Callow, right before they decided to go to Keter.

        “I could go to Refuge,” Archer offered. “Most pupils will be gone, especially the heroes – last I heard Silver signed up with the White Knight – but there’s bound to be one or two left I can beat into joining. Lady Ranger probably won’t care enough to get involved.”

        I worried my lip with my teeth.

        “Even by gate, it’d take most entire preparation time to get there and back,” I finally said. “I wouldn’t sneer at more Named, but I doubt they’ll be enough to turn the tide unless some real powerhouses have been keeping quiet.”

        “They probably wouldn’t be frontline material,” Indrani admitted. “Beastmaster might qualify with the right mount, but he’s not a pushover I can bully and he doesn’t really give a shit about anything going on outside the Waning Woods. Also tends to disappear for months at a time, so he might not be there at all. Concocter’s the only one I can be sure will be there, but her thing is potions and she uses ingredients from the woods for most her brews.”

        Liked by 9 people

        1. caoimhinh

          It could be anything at this point, honestly.

          Most of the fandom is supporting either the Name of Dread Empress or a brand new Name related to being a Guide. I’m one of the latter, but it could be anything, Tariq mentioned a Name starting to take shape in the end of last book, but that was at Catherine’s statement of “I will get the east in order the hard way.” if Praes sallies forth against them, yet it could still come to nothing, like what happened with the Name of Black Queen, even if the Name takes shape and presents itself, it can still be refused or the process interrupted (like Cordelia and the Name of Warden of the West).

          That said, EE has made a point through the last couple of books that having Catherine as a Named in all but name is kind of the thing now.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. caoimhinh

              Yeah, kind of.
              I mean, for all that talk about not having a Name meaning you have “no strings attached”, Catherine pretty much still lives and acts the way a Named does.

              She is still personally and directly affected by stories, which forces her to think in those terms if she wants to win and outright survive even when having a conversation with a Hero; she still gets into Patterns of Three with Heroes; can be part of a Band of Five; Callow as a whole is still tied to her by Story, and the Heroes still see her as a Villain.

              There hasn’t been much difference except that she no longer has the boost of strength and agelessness of Villains, and even then Cat found a way to circumvent that by having a Fae Title and now being First Under the Night. She has periods now, though.

              The only supposed advantage was that the Intercessor couldn’t get to her directly and influence her the way she does to other Named, yet we already saw that such is not exactly the case, as we have seen the Bard appear and talk to others so long as there’s another Named present, and Cat’s mere mention of the Wandering Bard was enough to get her caught in a Time Bubble for a private chat with the Intercessor.

              So what exactly is the difference?
              Even her approach of “without Named rulers, countries won’t have to fight each other for their battles” that’s still what happens with Nameless rulers, Named simply have more personal involvement in such things. As long as rulers exist there will be whole countries affected by their decisions and armies dying when fighting their battles.

              So it kind of defeats the purpose of avoiding a Name if she still is pretty much a Named, just without the official tag. And the rest of Calernia doesn’t care either, they still treat her as if she had a Name.

              Like

              1. I think she trailblazing the precedent of participating in the Plot without having a Name. Because everything you said is true. She is as important as a Named, and yet has no Name. So what sets her apart from “common folk”?

                Liked by 1 person

  4. Cat’s working out a Mom-mode for wrangling Razin and Aquiline.
    Though Razin has disappointed me with this dueling nonsense. I thought he’d learned better.

    Yes, the Lycaonese are going to be way more practical and pragmatic when it comes to warfighting than Levantines.
    The Levantines are all glory hounds first. Even the smarter ones.

    Liked by 8 people

      1. Agent J

        Guy and Girl? In the same room? Do you think my shipping so feeble a thing it requires such senseless limitations?

        I happily ship Indrani x Agnes, thank you very much. We all know the Augur is a sweet and kindly girl that needs a bit of wildness in her life. Someone to playfully pester her out of her shell.

        Liked by 10 people

  5. Ok i need to know how they managed to get the Beastmaster to come, it seens a lot happened between books, last i remember Idrani dismissed him because he wouldn’t want to help them or something, although i wouldn’t be surprised if The Raned ordered those in refuge to help, or maybe the prospect of this war was enough to entice him to come out? I mean many people have mentioned how this whole business would make the old monster come out and all (monster being people/beings with power).

    Also what is the Workshop?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. caoimhinh

      Indrani said Beastmaster wouldn’t help Callow fight against the Crusaders, fighting against the Dead King is a different matter.

      As for the two organizations named this chapter with only the barest of context, I would say the Belfry is the group of Priests and the Workshop the unified mage/alchemist troop of the Grand Alliance. That’s my hypothesis, anyway.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. erebus42

    If she ends up surviving this story, Cat should really consider becoming the principal at the Academy of Cardinal. It sounded like she was five minutes away from giving those two detention.

    Liked by 15 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Also because Amadeus already got a phrase like that when he said “This is inevitability” to the Chancellor and the Court of Praes at the start of the Whore’s War.

        Like

  7. Wonder

    I can only imagine the Workshop will turn into the R&D department for the academy .

    I also spotted this typos

    the Bind that’d let the pack. ” led”

    by one of mine of the Tyrant’s but instead by the Lord of Alava. “or the tyrant’s”

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Exec

    Great chapter, good to be back!
    TYPO THREAD:

    the side of skirmish
    – the* skirmish

    one of mine of the Tyrant’s 
    – or* the tyrant’s

    had slowed to a half,
    – halt*

    could afford toss a fifty thousand
    – to* toss
    – unnecesary ‘a’?

    had ever willing let
    – willingly*

    emerged form the wilds
    – from*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WealthyAardvark

      More typos

      whistles where sounded
      -> whistles were sounded

      looking, tough, I noted
      -> looking, though, I noted

      that’d let the pack
      -> that’d led the pack

      Like

      1. Onos

        Depends. If the years from her not-a-sword count (I think 11?) she’s 34. If the 2ish years she spent as Winter don’t count she’s either 21 or 32. She’s probably also spent long enough in Arcadia or thereabouts to throw things off slightly between her physical and chronological birthdays, but I wouldn’t imagine by terribly much yet.
        She did note that her not-a-sword didn’t seem to affect her so hopefully we get an Interlude with someone musing on her age/appearance soon.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Well, everyone outside herself are counting years strictly by the calendar, and Cat knows that. So from their point of view, she’s 23, no matter whether she looks like a 20-year-old (most likely) or a 30-year-old.

          Like

    1. Fayhem

      Basically, the war against the dead has started popping up new Named and the Beastmaster has been scouting out when they show up so they can be properly incorporated into the war effort. He just reported that he found one to Cat, and she’s mad because the new Named she has to go recruit into the army already sounds like a pain who will probably start fires she’ll get blamed for.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. caoimhinh

        And that would also mean the guy is most likely a Villain. A Hero coming to his Name during the war on Keter would need no encouragement to join their campaign against the Dead King.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Fayhem

          Well, they wouldn’t need any encouragement to fight the Dead King. Doing so as part of an organized campaign where they take orders from other people (where leadership’s a mix of Heroes, Villains, and non-Named to boot) is where it tends to get sticky with Named.

          Liked by 3 people

  9. > sometimes I felt more like tired old Klaus Papenheim than the woman of twenty-three I truly was.

    I’m sorry, when exactly did MORE THAN TWO YEARS manage to pass since the moment in Everdark when Catherine wasn’t twenty-one yet?

    Wasn’t it a single winter, and then three more months?

    Liked by 5 people

  10. Daniel E

    Something occurred to me upon the introduction of Beast Master here (not counting the 1-line mention from way back). Every single Villain we have seen thus far has been a main character, or otherwise directly affiliated with one, whereas random Heroes are popping up all over the place. Are there no minor Villains in the realm? I imagine there have to be at least a few people who get their powers from the Gods Below, but simply aren’t in the spotlight. Like a Villain equivalent of Painted Knife and all the other newbies from Camps.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Ghastly Marauder and an unspecified villain sorceress were mentioned by the Pilgrim and Black during ‘Peers’.

      Apparently the Marauder refused to get involved in the war out of fear of the Saint, while the sorceress was killed by the Tyrant; purely because it amused him.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Fayhem

          It’s been brought up in canon that Saint and Pilgrim between them were doing to villains in the rest of Calernia what Black and the Calamities were doing to heroes in Callow. I.e., snuffing them out pretty damn quick.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. One might think that Praes would produce a decent share of villains, but it may very well be that Black dealt with most of those to prevent challenges to his order, the same way that he and Wakesa both challenged their predecessors. It may also be that the Empress Malicia, First of Her Name, has such a strong hold of the goings-on inside her empire that few even get the chance to become Named in the first place — the noble mentioned in the last Epilogue who had been “only a few moves away from becoming Chancellor”, being a possible example of that, if we assume that Chancellor is a Name.

            Hg

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Fayhem

              Well, Praes did produce a decent share of villains – the Calamities. All the traditional Praes Names (bar Chancellor ofc) were already represented – Black Knight, Dread Empress, Warlock – with a handful of supporting Names as well, meaning Captain, Assassin, and Scribe. And good ol’ Heiress, tho she obv was not part of that power structure.

              I don’t get the sense that individual nations tend to produce huge number of Named, at least at any single point in time – the Crusade only managed to scrape so many together by adding up practically the whole continent outside of Callow + Praes. With so many casualties in the Calamities it seems possible there could be new claimants to those Names in Praes now though, which could be interesting.

              All that said, it is also true that being Named and unaligned with the existing power structure/regime might not be… *amazing* for long-term health in Praes. So that’s a fair point as well.

              Liked by 3 people

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