Chapter 28: Contend

“Diplomacy is not an art of peace or a higher calling, it is the act of nations bartering what they disdain for what they desire.”
– Magister Haides Katopodis the Elder of Stygia

The sword came forward in swift thrust that I let come close, as Prince Frederic’s footing told me it was just a feint.

“My people don’t have a great opinion of royalty west of the Whitecaps, as a rule,” I said.

Or east of the Wasiliti, south of the Hwaerte and north of Daoine. Callowans were less than fond of foreign crowns in general, was the point, though it would be impolitic to belabour it.

“Not without reason,” the Prince of Brus replied.

I limped to the side, baiting an attack with an opening that was seized without hesitation – an opportunist, this one, man after my own heart – and the Kingfisher Prince’s sword came swiftly from the side. I spun, putting my weight on my good leg, and swept him back with a swing he easily avoided but set him up for a longer thrust with the tip of my staff. Leaning backwards and edging his head to the side by half an inch, he narrowly avoided the second blow. It ruffled his blond locks some, and I only partly managed to catch his own blow with the crossguard of my practice sword. He was better than Ishaq with a blade, I decided, but not as physically strong. That last catch with my crossguard would have broken my wrist if I’d tried it with the Barrow Sword. The Kingfisher Prince was quicker on his feet, though, and that was a lot trickier for me to handle given my limp.

“I like to think so,” I said. “Which means when even I say that I have doubts Gaspard Langevin of Cleves, whose lands are on the frontline of a war with Keter, would be enough of a fool to try something? A claim like yours begs an elaboration.”

Of course, he probably hadn’t meant a civil war that’d begin tomorrow. Even princes who despised Cordelia – and there were more of those than I’d once thought – wouldn’t try to start one in the Principate when it was under siege from the Dead King and swarming with foreign armies it currently required to continue existing. But if this was headed where I thought it was headed, then Cordelia Hasenbach’s envoy was going to make her position and intentions clear as spring water. And her offer as well, I thought, because if I knew anything about the First Prince it was that she always had one of those up her sleeves.

“Such a war would yet be on the horizon,” the fair-haired prince agreed. “Yet it looms tall there. Before I elaborate, if you might permit an insolence? It has been suggested by advisers to Her Most Serene Grace that you have become aware of what stirs in Cleves.”

He came in close, this time. Dropped under the swing of my staff, a half-step took him right out of the way of my sword’s sideways swipe and he aimed his own blow perfectly. Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t in the habit of playing fair: fingers abandoning my staff to stand perfectly still, I withdrew my hand and just in front of his face snapped my fingers. Eyes widening, he hastily withdrew with swiftness that was too smooth and sudden to have been entirely natural. I took back my staff, beginning to circle him again as absolutely nothing happened. I’d known for a while that the Pilgrim had given a pretty good accounting of my skills with Night, so I was not surprised in the least that the assessment had made it to the Principate’s sole royal hero.

“A bluff,” the Kingfisher Prince grinned.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged, keeping down a smile, “was it?”

I was, against my better judgement, enjoying myself. I’d always had a weakness for the pretty ones, especially if they could handle themselves.

“The Augur or the Thorns?” I asked.

“The Circle of Thorns,” the Prince of Brus said, “noticed a sudden rise in the antipathy of certain sigils in Cleves towards Cleven forces.”

The strength and weaknesses of the Firstborn in a sentence, that: skilled enough to spy on a hero, sloppy enough people who couldn’t even speak their tongue could read them. The Everdark had forged them into one of those blades of obsidian they so loved: remarkably sharp in some ways, remarkably brittle in others. Neither of us commented on the fact that we’d both been spying on allies, which was for the best considering neither of us had any intention of stopping. Gods, but what I wouldn’t do for spies as good as the Circle of Thorns.

The Jacks were, in truth, better than such a young and haphazard organization had any right to be. That they could operate outside Callow at all was damned impressive, all things considered, much less with the amount of success they’d had. But the Thorns were still several notches above even the best of what the Jacks could do. Imagining the kind of access their long-standing rivals, the Eyes of the Empire, must have back in Callow had caused many a worried night. Even after several purges and Scribe outing part of the network to me as appeasement back in Salia, I doubted we’d flushed all of them out.

Black and Malicia had spent two decades digging them in, it’d likely take just as long to dig them out.

“I got wind of Gaspard’s ambitions to expand the boundaries of the Principate,” I acknowledged. “And of how his daughter’s been spending some of her evenings.”

“The First Prince passes along her appreciation of how measured your response has been,” the blue-eyed man told me.

I went on the offensive, this time. Came in low, sweeping with the sword so he’d have to parry, and then struck with the staff. In an impressive display of skill, at the last moment he angled his parry so that my sword would get in the way of my staff, then without missing a beat tried to trip my bad leg. I managed to pivot on myself, Mantle of Woe fluttering and hiding away my body as he withdrew his blade and tried a downwards cut. I slapped it aside with the staff and gave ground, which he graciously enough allowed.

“Don’t thank me yet,” I said. “Sve Noc were livid, and I have visions to share of the kind of casualties the Empire Ever Dark has taking up north to drive home exactly what kind of an ally your man in Cleves is tempting to walk away.”

“Given the unpopularity of the current levies and taxes with the people, ordering Prince Gaspard’s arrest might result in the current riots turning into uprisings,” the Kingfisher Prince said. “I assure you, it is not apathy to the bad faith on display that has stayed the First Prince’s hand.”

“You know,” I mused, “I even believe that. Mostly. But here’s the deeper issue behind all this, Frederic of Brus.”

I touched my arm with Night and struck out, viper-quick: when the prince parried he found me significantly stronger than before, and in the misaligned surprise of his parry the tip of my staff hit his shoulder once and sharply.

“A Proceran prince is scheming, which threatens the war against Keter,” I flatly said. “Proceran politics prevent anyone from doing anything about it, which threatens the war against Keter.”

I struck out again, even as he gave ground, and when with Name-strength he turned aside my sword and staff I abandoned the latter and spun about. When I snapped my fingers he thought of it as a bluff, at least until dark light bloomed. A closer look at the purely decorative effect gave me the barest of openings to slug him in the stomach, though he rolled with the blow and so it was barely more than a caress to a martial Named like him.

“A Proceran heroine tries to kill Proceran royalty, which threatens the war against Keter,” I continued. “And then another Proceran hero snatches up a unique artefact forged through the efforts of several Named to kill the Dead King and begins making demands, which once again threatens the war against Keter.”

I ceased moving, even as he got back his footing and raised his guard.

“Do you perhaps begin to divine a pattern to our troubles, Prince Frederic?” I bluntly asked.

I wasn’t blind to the fact that the Dominion was having some growing pains of its own when it came to the Truce and Terms. It would have been hard to when I’d been forced to look those very troubles in the eyes through the Barrow Sword. Yet neither Ishaq nor the Blood were allowing their arguments to become a growing international crisis, so the way that Procer kept foisting its internal troubles onto everybody else was really starting to be a trial on my patience.

“That is the price to fighting this war on our lands instead of yours,” the Prince of Brus bluntly replied.

He’d begun to take me halfway seriously, so instead of the almost teasing spar before I got a glimpse of what he looked like on a proper field of war: with dexterity he struck, baiting my parries into overextending and then stinging like a wasp. Even with two weapons I found myself hard-pressed and forced to give ground.

“The Principate is crumbling,” the Kingfisher Prince said as he kept advancing. “What few of our youths are not needed in fields and mines are sent north to die in dwarven armour we went into debt to buy. Royalty are now forced to confiscate the necessary goods they cannot pay for, while no grain has been set aside in two years because massive armies must be fed. Horses in the fields go without horseshoes because the blacksmiths were conscripted; fish is taken from the hands of fishermen as far south as Salamans so it can be salted and put in barrels headed north.”

With a flashy snap of his wrist, he batted aside my parry and cut downwards at my wrist. I didn’t drop my blade, but it was a near thing and I was sure to get a bruise. If the sword had not been dulled, I’d be seeing bone. I chased him away with a swing of my staff, though he retreated at his leisure and without giving openings.

“What you condemn as our fecklessness is in truth the death rattle of a nation of millions,” Prince Frederic said. “And while I confess I know little of your people, Queen Catherine, I doubt they would fare any better under this strangling grasp than we have.”

“I won’t deny that Procer has been taking the harshest losses in a lot of ways, or pretend that our sending coin and soldiers and grain is a true replacement for what was lost,” I said. “But neither can you deny that your royalty has not been a constant thorn in the Grand Alliance’s aside at a time where we can ill afford that sort of foolishness.”

“I do not deny it,” the fair-haired man frankly said, “for it is the truth. Yet you have a reputation as a pragmatic woman, and so I expect you can recognize that regardless of what is deserved having Gaspard Langevin arrested is not a solution. It is a way to precipitate the collapse of the realm standing between Callow and the Dead King.”

That was a solid retort, I had to give him that. And all of it true, if not necessarily answering my grievance.

“I didn’t ask for Prince Gaspard in chains, or in a grave,” I said. “What I am asking for is for the First Prince to get her people in order, before my own hands become tied and I have to act on this.”

“Then the First Prince requests that you add your voice to the Red Axe standing trial before a tribunal of the Principate,” Prince Frederic reluctantly asked. “As it would send a stark warning to the House of Langevin, as well see justice done.”

Ah, and there we were. The reluctance told me this was more Cordelia than him, but nothing I’d heard about the Kingfisher Prince had let me to think he was a spineless lackey: if he was willing to pass along the request, then he at least saw the sense in it.

“So you approach me instead of the White Knight,” I said, “since I’m more likely to be willing to deal.”

It wouldn’t be impossible to sell to my side of the fence that I’d simply traded the Red Axe’s neck to Procer in exchange for concessions, if I could then distribute those concessions. And if she was still executed, then I genuinely shouldn’t get too much trouble over this. Hanno, though? Hanno wouldn’t bend the neck over this. He might be more inclined to consider if Procer goes to him with my signature already on the parchment, though, I thought, which explained with Cordelia Hasenbach was going to Below’s side of the Terms first. Unfortunately, she’d misread me on this. The Truce and Terms were to be the foundation the Liesse Accords were built on, so my bottom line wasn’t anywhere as flexible as she might have imagined.

“The White Knight has not ruled,” the Prince of Brus said. “I admire his principles a great deal, but it does everyone a disservice to pretend that his political judgement is infallible.”

“I don’t disagree with him,” I bluntly replied. “If the Red Axe doesn’t stand trial as a Named but as a criminal under Proceran law, it erodes the foundation of the Terms.”

“If Named are judged only by Named, then are two laws of the land,” Frederic Goethal said.

I took a swift step forward and struck out with the blade, pressing down on his parry when he caught it.

“Oh, don’t give me that shit,” I said. “You’re a prince of the blood, we both know that maybe in principle you get the same justice a peasant does but that’s not how the world actually works.”

“Yes,” the Kingfisher Prince agreed, to my surprise, “which is why I am wary of enshrining near as unfair a distinction into law.”

I was pushed back but slapped away his thrust with the side of my staff, losing no ground as we began circling each other again.

“You can’t regulate Named like you would other people,” I said. “It’s not like making laws about magic or dealing with fae, you’re basically dealing with wild horses – if you make the pen too small, they’ll burst out. That’s why the rules stay limited, not because more wouldn’t be a positive change. The point is to establish a foundation, a baseline that future generations can build on.”

“If Named do not answer to the same laws as even princes, not even in principle,” Prince Frederic said, “then they are by objective measure set above even royalty. That would birth an age of warlords, Queen Catherine. I do not believe Christophe de Pavanie is the kind of man who would use his strength to make himself a crown, but by would other Chosen and Damned not be tempted to seize power if they are above the laws of other men? You would make Named a kind of royalty standing above all the crowns of Calernia.”

“If I’d written that in the Accords, you’d be right,” I said. “But it isn’t there. You can hang heroes and villains alike should they break Proceran laws – so long as the law doesn’t simply outlaw being a villain. It’s the Truce and Terms that extend these protections, and those last only until the Dead King is dealt with.”

A feint with my staff, then I tried to whip at his wrist with the blade much as he’d done with me – instead he caught it with his crossguard and tried to flip my blade out of my fingers, though I withdrew before he could.

“The Terms are the predecessor to the Accords, it is openly known,” the Prince of Brus retorted. “What becomes common practice now is likely to remain regardless of what is put to ink. If Chosen and Damned refuse to enforce the parts of those treaties they mislike, those that go against what they have become used to, how are we to make them obey?”

“Force, if need be,” I said. “Even the most powerful of our kind can’t take on armies alone, much less armies backed by those Named who will respect the Accords as written.”

“What you describe is likely to lead to a civil war that would finish breaking apart Procer even should we defeat the Dead King,” Prince Frederic said. “The schemes of the Tower set our principalities tearing at themselves for decades, and now the weight of the war against Keter teaches us fresh ways to despise each other. We will not survive a third conflict, Queen Catherine, not as a single nation.”

He’d advanced and struck quickly, and at an angle where it was hard to drive him back, but I joined my staff to my sword and that forced him back a step.

“It’s a convincing speech you made,” I said, “but we both know that ultimately half of it is guesswork and predictions. If the Augur had predicted it, you’d have led with that. So we’re left to choose behind the danger I see looming, Named seeing the Terms and later the Accords as a tool for nobles to control them and so walking away, or the one you’ve described. One I can only see as avertable even should it come to pass.”

“Your reluctance is not unforeseen,” the Prince of Brus admitted. “Which is why I was asked to tell you that the First Prince is willing to sign the Liesse Accords as they currently stand should you concede in this.”

I’d been angling towards his side with my sword raised, but at his words I drew back with a start of surprise.

“Lady Dartwick left me under the impression that there were still months of negotiations left to be had,” I cautiously said.

“Yes,” Frederic Goethal said, “and on all currently contested issues, the First Prince will concede.”

Mhm. She couldn’t speak for the Dominion, though, so while this was a significant concession it didn’t end the negotiations outright. It’d still be a massive boon and one that put a lot of pressure on Levant to sign on as the terms were, or at least with minimal quibbling. And even should Hasenbach go to them in private to try to use them as proxy to continue negotiating – which I doubted, it’d be too starkly in bad faith – they were unlikely to champion points that favoured Procer without also helping them. It was damned tempting offer, which was nothing less than I should have expected coming from a diplomat of the First Prince’s skill.

“Something to consider,” I eventually replied.

There could be no serious expectation of my agreeing to this in the middle of spar, much less when I’d not spoken with Vivienne or had a recent look at the articles of the Accords still in dispute. But it was classic Hasenbach to use someone beholden to her yet on good terms with me to present her offer early, preparing the grounds before negotiations truly began – and well in advance of any rivals. Cordelia did like to win before the battles were had, when she could. I did not disapprove. Even her sort of battles could be messy and chancy things when started, no matter how well you might think the situation was in hand.

“A lot of this could be made simpler if you went out and asked for the Red Axe’s head,” I said. “Her attack could stand trial as both a breach of the Terms and Proceran laws, so we’d sidestep at least part of the troubles.”

The fair-haired prince studied me closely.

“The two of you are more similar than either cares to admit,” Prince Frederic said.

Ah. He’d gotten that speech from the other side as well, then. If Hasenbach hadn’t managed to sway him, I very much doubted I’d be the one to manage it instead.

“I’ll choose to that take that as a compliment,” I said.

“It was,” he said. “And other things as well. It is a matter a conscience, Queen Catherine. I will not ask for a death I do not believe deserved.”

His sword rose and I matched it with mine. Circling began again, my eyes lingering on his footing as he tested my defences with quick flicks. Looking for an opening to score a decisive blow and end this, I’d wager.

“That’s an interesting stand to take, considering what you’ve just said about the White Knight,” I said.

A deeper lunge, but I was low on my feet and in a swirl of my cloak obscuring my movements I pivoted and let him pass by me – though I wasn’t quick enough to catch his back as he passed. We were face to face once more before I could even mount a proper attack.

“On matters of politics, I can and will compromise,” the Kingfisher Prince calmly said. “But not on matters of integrity.”

And the thing was, I respected that. Admired it, even. But when principle got in the way of itself, a closer look usually gave away that the whole affair was really about pride. I tested his guard with a flick of my staff, found it slow and pressed on. It’d been a trap, and he tried to slide under my guard in the beat where I began to move and my bad leg slowed me, but I’d been waiting for it. Finesse wasn’t going to get me anywhere, so instead I bludgeoned at him as hard and quick a I could. It took him by surprise, enough that I drew back the staff and began to press him with both arms.

“I’ve lived most my life in the shadow of people that would use that rope to hang you twice over,” I told him, ending the sentence with a flourish of the wrist.

The strike I’d thought would bruise his shoulder was instead caught with the very end of his own blade, Name-strength compensating for the poor angle I’d forced him to parry in.

“That a principle can be used against you does not invalidate it,” Frederic Goethal fiercely said, “and decency is not made worthless for the use the indecent would make of it.”

Even with a touch of Night, the difference in strength allowed him to first force away my sword and then rip it out of my grasp. He did not get to take the opening that give him, though, as I spun around his back and elbowed him harshly. He gave ground just in time to avoid the strike of my staff, and before he could turn on me I’d retreated – bending to snatch my blade up from the sand as I did.

“If the exercise of a virtue is put to the service of evil,” I replied. “It is an accomplice to it, regardless of what else it might be.”

The fair-haired prince had begun to use his Name more liberally, though he was keeping aspects out of this much like I was refraining from using workings of Night, so I’d have to adjust. I wouldn’t be able to force my way through his guard anymore, even using both arms. Bait and flank, I decided. My staff was too long, it’d get in the way, but there were ways around that. Better wait for him to close in on me, though: my leg was beginning to throb so now was not the time to dart about.

“To put evil means in the service of good ends is still putting out evil in the world,” the Kingfisher Prince replied. “We can quibble of lesser or greater evils as we wish, but averting harm is not the same as acting morally.”

I’d turned this on him once or twice, so he came in careful. I took it as a mark of respect, coming from a swordsman of his calibre. A quick half-step forward, baiting out a strike of my staff that I gave him – he flowed into a high parry as he used his backfoot to quickly shoot forward, already trying to turn the first movement of his blade into the beginning of a strike at the side of my neck. I abandoned the staff, spinning to the side, but I’d used that on him twice now and he’d been waiting for it. A sharp strike of his elbow into my flank pushed me aside, putting me back into the trajectory of his swing if he finished the full arc. I dropped low and instead of pivoting anchored myself at a steady angle, ramming by shoulder into his chest even as he barrelled into me. He was light on his feet, though, impossibly so. Like he’d somehow turned into mist as he reversed his momentum, my shoulder hit nothing at all and I was instead forced into a damned awkward parry to cover my neck.

“Not the same at all,” I agreed. “We just disagree on which is more important.”

I saw the muscles in the prince’s arm tightening as he put his back into the clash of blades and knew that in the heartbeat that followed my guard would give. So I gave with it, using the moment where he thought he’d gotten me to finally pivot around him like I’d already tried twice. I deftly flipped my grip and thrust under my armpit, though just before the tip of my practice sword could touch the ridge of his spine I found the edge of his own against my throat, ready to slit it. He must have begun reversing his swing the moment I began moving, to match my timing, and it was with a degree of admiration I realized that meant he’d read my movements without even seeing them.

“Draw?” Prince Frederic lightly offered.

“Draws are for suckers,” I replied, and tried to trip him.

He let out a startled laugh and turned around as I tried to tackle him down into the sand, dropping his sword to try to wrestle mine out of my grasp. We dropped down in a tangle of limbs, and perhaps I did not struggle quite as much as I could have to prevent Frederic Goethal ending up on top of me, holding down one of my wrists. His blond locks were a mess, he smelled lightly of sweat and not even those puffy sleeves were enough to take away from my enjoyment of the muscles under them. It would be bad politics to fuck a prince of the blood, I reminded myself as I looked into very blue eyes, and besides we were on sand.

I couldn’t even be sure that he was interested, besides, although… I wiggled my hips under the thin pretence of struggling and got confirmation I might not be the only one finding our position startingly arousing, swallowing a pleased gasp. That knowledge did nothing to curb the temptation, especially not when I could feel his broad chest against mine and his face was so close I’d barely have to lean up to nip at his lip.

“You could have just declined to put forward charges,” I said.

The tone came out more flirtatious than I’d intended, but I wasn’t exactly biting my nails over it.

“It wouldn’t have been as interesting,” Prince Frederic replied, voice gone slightly husky.

All right, I could at least be honest enough with myself to admit that if we weren’t out in the open – or at least not in sand – I’d be flipping him over and undoing his belt right now. Shit. This, uh, might end up being something of a problem.

“Maybe I’ll take that draw, after all,” I made myself say.

Best to make this about politics again, I decide, since I didn’t usually wonder about how politics would feel between my legs. Although he was a prince, so if I wanted to get technical about it…

“Of course,” the Prince of Brus agreed.

The fair-haired man released my wrist and then the rest of me, rising to his feet and gallantly offering his hand to help me up. I took it, still much too flustered and aroused for my own good.

“I get the feeling you’re no exactly enthusiastic at the First Prince’s method of solving this,” I made myself say.

He offered me my sword by the handle, having picked the blades up while I adjusted my cloak on my shoulders. Nonchalantly, he tugged his shirt back into a semblance of order. It still fit him very nicely, I tried not to notice and promptly failed. I reined in my gaze before it could get me into any more trouble.

“I recognize the dangers she speaks of,” the Prince of Brus admitted. “But while the necessity of staying them might be clear, it does not sit well with me that we have made a woman’s life into a rag doll for half the world to pull at.”

She’s Named, I thought. We’re all rag dolls for Creation to pull at, until enough gives we’re only fit to be thrown away. The lucky ones among us got to accomplish a few things. The rest died remembered only as their killer’s stepping stone.

“So what is it you’d do instead?” I asked.

The man was an idealist, but he wasn’t a fool. He’d know that mouthing regrets at a course without offering another was just wind. The Prince of Brus considered me silently, seemingly sobered by the seriousness of the question I’d asked.

“I would begin,” Frederic Goethal finally said, “by speaking with the Red Axe.”

I clenched my fingers then unclenched them.

Well, I supposed it’d make a change from all this talking about her instead.

95 thoughts on “Chapter 28: Contend

  1. Well, talking to Red Axe is definitely something that needs to happen – it’s not like that can realistically be delayed much longer.

    Precedents, both official and unofficial are tricky things.

    Procer needs to undergo long term cultural changes if it’s going to be allowed to survive after the war.

    Liked by 22 people

    1. Salt

      That Procer needs to change is as obvious as the sun in the sky. The problem, I think, is agreement regarding the nature and method of the change.

      Cat and Cordelia’s relationship is… startlingly similar to Black and Malicia’s at the start of their own careers. One politician, the greatest of her generation, who would preserve the nation and use or mend the flaws and rulers that exist. One warlord, the greatest of her generation, who is just so damn tired of those intertwined flaws and virtues both, and would like to rip them out root and stem. Both more similar to each other than either would like to admit, and for the moment solidly on the same time, but with surprisingly big differences in enough of the important principles to really matter.

      Hopefully, Cat isn’t blind to this and does better than her old teacher and accomplice did in the end.

      If Catherine and Cordelia work together now, only for Cat to be to Cordelia as Amadeus was to Alaya, 30 years later? That’s a tremendous waste of a once in a thousand year opportunity. Pairs of people like this – two consecutive connected generations of them – might never come again.

      Liked by 18 people

      1. Ninestrings

        Good pick up on the parallel.

        This universe is a particularly circular one, vengeance, justice and love forming an interlocking series of gears forcing our characters into the same paths, the same grooves.

        An ever turning clockwork nightmare, with the Wandering bard occasionally turning the key and lubricating the gears.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. Salt

          I think the key difference will be whether Cat will be able to handle doing what her adopted father and even the Wandering Bard couldn’t do in the end.

          Give up control. Build the foundation and let the next generations have…. agency. To that end, the Liesse Accords cannot, can absolutely not, be allowed to fall into the same old paradigm of principled Good versus practical Evil. The versus part needs to be worn away at, from the root.

          I suspect that, if she wants to build a foundation strong enough to withstand the weight of all creation trying to batter it back into the same old mold for decades, centuries to come? That can withstand those forces with out her hand on the scales, in the way of the Intercessor, fresh faces and names with their own visions and ideas? Catherine cannot allow herself to be the sole victor at the end of all this.

          She has to complete the monumental task of not just being on top, but willing to bend her own neck and snap her pride over her knee even when no one can force her to, finding long lasting Compromise instead of a satisfying but temporary Victory.

          Liked by 8 people

          1. This is a bit of a tangent, but I disagree with your analysis of Amadeus. Snapping victory over the knee and going for compromise is what he’s been doing since he won the civil war and acceded to Malicia’s request to not exterminate every noble house in the aftermath. Giving the new generation agency was exactly what he pushed with taking on Catherine and propelling her forward, and in fact enforced despite his friends’ and allies’ disageement.

            There’s a reason his reaction to Liesse Accords was “this is beautiful”

            Liked by 11 people

            1. ThatOneGuy

              While it maybe a chaotic mess to tear down the old ways… It is important to remember what is being torn down and what is being preserved.

              Callow had a few noble thorns and they were clipped to remove the threat even when it meant killing them through slightly underhanded but technically legal means. Callow is doing a bit better and may end up better once she leaves then when she entered.

              The tower? Old rules bent on new ways. Some turned out better… But the old chains just had new dressing. Black’s army? Brainwash and killed. Callow? City torched for a weapon. The nation? Killing their own allies to ensure they could not grow last what the old court wants.

              Porcer? Old rules? Nobles planning a new war of conquest when they are being killed by undead… And just after they finished butchering each other in mass.
              The laws? Procer nobles hiding behind their laws to break a treaty when it suits them, but used it to hang everyone else.

              maybe not all of it needs to burn… But you had the church try to kill the first Prince to crown themselves a puppet king and after in their own greed fueled self interest. They let some of those thorns and weeds grow far too long and gave themselves excuses while condemning other for the exact same reason.

              Hunted Mage and Red Axe both betrayed everyone to Bard. Both are being put on trial for their crimes… The mage made a bargain to get a lesser punishment or for some support for his trial case.

              Red Axe plays hero and politics care to nearly get out of a trial.

              Now the only question is what she thinks… And if she is part of the mess or just caught up in it.

              Curious to see which judgement she would prefer… Or if she is also trying to play the cards to escape punishment for her actions.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Salt

                I’m gonna call it right now, the Red Axe is going to be perspective that no one has considered yet: the little guy.

                The average faceless commoner who only ever gets mentioned as a casualty statistic in the bigger games that Cat & co are playing. Even here, they’ve considered every political nuance and issue of greater principle but never once really thought of the victims of the Wicked Enchanter, and the Red Axe is a civilian-turned-Named who had her entire life ruined by that.

                Why should the Red Axe give a shit about the Liesse Accords, or the Black Queen’s games? What right does the Black Queen have – as Catherine herself raged at the Intercessor for – to “act as if she is the natural mistress of all (their) fates, and (they) do offence by pulling (their) own strings?”

                What, because the Black Queen “knows better”? Because she’s doing what’s “Necessary”? That was the justification of the Intercessor herself, for pulling on Catherine’s strings, and she didn’t think it was a good enough excuse. What makes Catherine any more justified in doing the same thing to the Red Axe and the Victims of the Wicked Enchanters work, when her own justifications are eerily similar to the Bards?

                Liked by 5 people

                1. Red Axe does not have any obligation to give a shit about the Black Queen’s games, yes. But does she care about the next Wicked Enchanter weighing the risks and rewards and deciding to continue their spree until hunted down, or coming to join the big boys and girls the minute they’re threatened?

                  There’s a reason all politically savvy heroes are onboard with the Truce and Terms and the Accords, and it’s not because they think Cat should be queen of the universe. It’s her project, but it’s not actually a project designed to put her on top: she’s already on top, all she’s doing is making use of that.

                  Yes, Catherine has paid less attention to the Wicked Enchanter’s victims than to, say, victims and potential victims of the undead plague – both because one of those is her immediate job and the other is not, and due to disparity in numbers. But everything she’s doing is ultimately designed to help “the little guy”, as abstract as that becomes on her level of power.

                  …So yeah, you’re probably right and I cannot WAIT for RA’s perspective to be brought into this ❤

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Salt

                    Oh yes, I don’t disagree with you at all.

                    I just think Catherine Foundling the seasoned and experienced Villain needs to take a step back and remember what it was like to be Catherine Foundling the freshly Named Squire – who would’ve initially felt very differently than the Black Queen today. I think we’re pretty much on the same page overall

                    Liked by 2 people

                2. thearpox23

                  >What makes Catherine any more justified in doing the same thing to the Red Axe and the Victims of the Wicked Enchanters work, when her own justifications are eerily similar to the Bards?

                  Because Catherine holds a political office, and doesn’t ignore the conventional governments when taking action. Because for all of her narrative juggling and manipulations, Catherine never once put herself above the theater she is trying to direct. And funnily enough, this specific moral quandary is entirely political and would have to be solved even if the Black Queen was an entirely conventional ruler.

                  The issue with the Bard were never her justifications or even motives. It were her methods, which made a mockery of the agency of others, and her lack of mandate bar that of Above and Below.

                  >Why should the Red Axe give a shit about the Liesse Accords, or the Black Queen’s games?

                  If a terrorist genie locked your friends in a bus and you have to choose between letting your friends die and pressing a button that would kill millions on another continent, are you obligated to give a shit about millions of people you know nothing about? Maybe not, but an army sniper is fully justified in shooting you down before you press that button.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Salt

                    Lol I’m not saying Catherine isn’t doing something good, I’m saying that if we put ourselves in the shoes of some know-nothing villager or the average small time Named, instead of omniscient reader-view into the innermost thoughts of one of the more secretive Villains who have an entire dark empire and a god shrouding her motives from view, it’s likely going to look like a very different story.

                    You can’t expect every random peasant that takes up a Heroic sword to avenge their loved ones to somehow know the intricacies of rule, and it would be remiss of Catherine to ignore their perspective and frustrations and fears due to convenience – the way Malicia, Cordelia, Pilgrim, Bard, and every other big name player did when Cat was that same faceless peasant orphan who took up the knife.

                    Catherine of all people should know better than anyone how angry and lost and frustrated the Red Axe might be feeling right now. There was a point in time where the Squire herself was in the same position, except the Red Axe doesn’t have the ear of the most influential calamity on the continent to forward her complaints to, one that would talk with her about it with all the patience of an adopted father.

                    Of course, cat can also understand the perspective on the ruler’s end now, now that she’s more experienced and been through all the difficulties of those responsibilities. This doesn’t, however, mean that she should repeat their mistakes, the ones that frustrated her so badly when the shoe was on the other foot.

                    Isn’t the point, after all, to be better than them, not more of the same?

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. thearpox23

                      And I fully sympathize with the Red Axe as it pertains to the Wicked Enchanter. In fact, I would have probably done the same in her place. (Bard’s intervention and her attempt on Kingfisher aside.) I’m just not sure what difference it makes to the final decision.

                      I still think that it is important to talk to her, both to learn why she tried to kill Frederic and because I fully expect the conversation to lead to something new. But if just taking into account the things you brought, she’d have to bring up something more for it to have any difference as to what the correct course of action is.

                      Like

      2. MoNa

        More established is the parallel between Malicia and Cordelia:

        Two bigger purpose people with plans that involve screwing Callow over as a step. Check.

        Courting WMDs. Check.

        Fighting their struggle against each other across the continent. Check.

        Babysitting the nobility. Check.

        Knowing that negotiation need not always be from a position of strength. Well, check enough.

        Yes this leads to your points, but I feel it’s heading more towards Cordelia(the figurehead for Good country) pulling off a judgement bomb. The Malicia that couldn’t be. I don’t feel there is enough weight between Cordelia and Catherine for their to be anything of the sort of relationship as was between Malicia and Amadeus. Theirs was a relationship of two childhood friends with platonic attachment who rose to power and tried to forge a new Praes. Their was *weight* to the pairing between Malicia and Amadeus. Cordelia, I feel, just isn’t an equal in weight to Catherine like Malicia was for Amadeus. Cordelia is however an equal in weight to Malicia.

        Catherine and Cordelia’s is a relationship of animosity (Cordelia bankrolled the rebels, then she indirectly funded the Doom of Liesse, then she waged a crusade on Callow) that has now become more pleasent due to a common enemy that is threatening to swallow Calernia. Somehow Cordelia has become romanticised by the readers because she knelt to beg Catherine’s aid. The only thing that is evidence of is Cordelia being in a bad enough position to kneel. She remains the woman who refused Catherine’s offer of abdication. Just because she recognizes the accord’s usefulness doesn’t make her the Malicia to Catherine’s Amadeus.

        I feel the story retains an overarching narrative between Catherine and Amadeus. That implies mirroring yes, but I don’t imagine it will take any such form as this. Malicia seems to be posturing to pull a dread empress and Cordelia is preparing to pull a judgment bomb. And she probably will because Intercessor is getting serious and she has *weight*, and besides we have to see the impending WMD from the side of Good be set loose, and by parrallels – Akua pulled of her Doom of Liesse for Evil, it’s time Good does its own disaster- I feel it needs to happen. If Malicia pulls of her Dread Bomb (and by the weight behind her it will be BIG), then it follows that, seeing as Good got denied at first Liesse, and it’s not done anything comparable to the Doom of Liesse, whatever Cordelia does might just end up being bigger.

        I won’t be surprised if the judgement bomb is something of the following magnitude: “What is the sword of judgement without the judgement” – Mirror Knight. That Hanno’s coins without the judgement is just a coin. What I’m getting at is that judgement bomb could just be an indescriminit coin flip with half a chance to kill the dead king. How far its range extends is the question. I can’t speak for how disastrous what Cordelia will pull of will be, but I imagine the magnitude of sour tasting would be comparable to the example I imagined.

        I think the parallel could be either Amadeus and Catherine preventing the thing or killing the culprits: Malicia and Cordelia.

        TL;DR: Cordelia is in parallel with Malicia. She doesn’t have the *weight* or the pleasent history with Catherine to make the kind of pairing Amadeus and Malicia had. She does seem to be preparing a Judgement bomb to rival Malicia’s Dread bomb; which probably will be let loose because of Intercessors *weight* and the fact that Good Bombs have been denied up to now and their is momentum here since Good also deserves some fireworks of its own when Evil is getting to do it’s Dead King invasions and Doom of Liesse’s. I feel the parallel we are far likelier to see is Catherine mirroring Amadeus slaying Malicia by slaying Cordelia.

        Like

      3. Zggt

        The difference is that Cat does not see people as cogs in a machine. As opposed to Black, she does not need a Malicia to override her when she ignores the people for the plan. That’s why Malicia could stop Black in the first place. Surprisingly enough, I see more of Black in Cordelia; that call for a Crusade with all the death and destruction that entails due internal issues was pure Amadeus, and something Cat just isn’t. Cat learned a very painful lesson about the limits pragmatism like that imposes on things like “basic trust”.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Well, nearly everyone is rather turned on by Catherine and vice-versa.
      And the Kingfisher Prince is almost like the Shining Prince – Exiled Price in levels of beauty.

      It was more inevitable than Thanos.

      Liked by 16 people

    2. I love that it apparently strained Catherine’s self-control more to not transition to erotic activities with Frederic right in the fighting pit (WHICH IS IN PUBLIC, THEY ONLY DON’T HAVE AUDIENCE BECAUSE NOBODY HAPPENED TO BE THERE AT THE TIME) than the entire conversation with Mirror Knight. We didn’t hear “made myself say” there at any point ;u;

      Liked by 10 people

    3. NerfContessa

      Agreed.

      Especially since his views can offer a good base for cat to ground herself in not going to far.

      I ship it. And I rarely do. 🙂

      Like

  2. Yeah, I’m wondering how many twists (probably mostly expected, but still twists) are going to come out of a conversation with the Red Axe. There’s been a *lot* of set up around her and her story.

    And finally, outright confirmation that this is a spicy romance story between Kingfisher and Cat, and not just sport flirting. No guarantee it goes anywhere, and there’s even been some hints that it could become a love triangle with the First Prince (Kingfisher did propose to Cordelia, and Cat’s made it obvious that she’s not blind), but hey, romance is romance.

    Liked by 15 people

  3. Ninestrings

    They would make beautiful and intelligent children.

    Just a little cluster of pretty antiheroes and antivillains.

    Everyone absolutely confident they are right.

    EE here is your sequel series, you’re welcome, no charge.

    Liked by 20 people

  4. Yes talk to her, for starters she posibly has information and we still need to know why she tried to kill him too since i think it was aluded she is inmune to magic, at least to illusions.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Salt

      I don’t think her motivations for trying to kill Frederic were due to anything as fragile/frivolous as magic. This is a working of the Intercessor, not some Praesi whelp of a mageling – she cuts to the heart of what makes people tick.

      Most likely it’s as simple as pushing on her buttons regarding what was actually done to her and her friends/family before she became the Red Axe. I suspect it is nothing short of horrific, the kind of horrid mess that the Saint of Swords used to clean up back in her day.

      If you are a heroine who is a heroine solely because of a particular trauma, one bad enough to put you into the role of a gritty avenging hero all on its lonesome, it probably isn’t too difficult for someone with the savvy of the Bard to nudge you into thinking that anything (even temporarily or possibly) protecting the Villain who did such a thing to you is an evil in itself.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. Salt

          Oh I wasn’t disagreeing on that one, I just have a strong theory (personally) about why. I think if we put ourselves in the Red Axe’s shoes it becomes quite obvious:

          I mean, she was some ordinary person who turned into a Hero because the Wicked Enchanter mind-controlled and did some things to her and her civilian loved ones that apparently even Indrani thought was pretty sick. It was bad enough to sit ill with -Archer-.

          One day after becoming named, you happen to have a chat with a passerby named Marguerite, a quite reasonable girl from a town called Ballions. It happens to come up that this awful “Wicked Enchanter” is now protected by “greater powers”. The Black Queen and the First Prince and all those other high-and-mighty puppet masters would deny you the justice you deserve, not giving a whit about the suffering you went through. They want to protect and excuse this piece of shit out of mere political gods-damned convenience.

          You don’t know much about the Liesse Accords, what Catherine’s game is, what the political situation is, and honestly you don’t much care. Whatever else Truce and Terms are, they’re protecting the same man that tortured and massacred your friends and family for fun and profit. So when Marguerite suggests that maybe it’s about time someone brought these assholes back down to earth, you don’t even question it. She’s right.

          Why shouldn’t you be angry? Why should you care about these “great” rulers and their politics and plots when none of them gave a shit about you and your old dad and ma? What gives this Black Queen the right to do these things? Because she’s powerful and somehow knows better?

          No. You give the Wicked Enchanter what he damned well deserves the first chance you get. They throw you in a cell to stew in your own anger, for the crime of caring about your now dead loved ones instead of seeing them as numbers on a paper. And when you find out that this kingfisher prince was sent by the “Black Queen”, that even this so-called Hero is one of them, the people who would let Villains like the Wicked Enchanter trample over common folk for their own cold designs?

          You see red, and take a swing.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Only problem with that theory is that Red Axe didn’t take a go at Kingfisher Prince right after he said he was working with Cat.
            Red Axe waited until after Kingfisher Prince had successfully talked down the mundane guards, and additional Named had arrived.

            She waited until after it was clear that there was no imminent violence, with Kingfisher Prince having his back to her and his weapon on the ground, and talking to other Named – including other Heroes.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Salt

              You make a good point! It seems much more premeditated than impulse in hindsight.

              Although it’s worth mentioning that she didn’t exactly wait long after the very first opportunity presented itself – he only put his sword down a moment before nephele arrived to break the illusion. There was a gap in time about five or six sentences long between him laying his sword down and her attempting to behead him.

              Liked by 2 people

          2. I like your analysis overall!
            Nitpick:
            > did some things to her and her civilian loved ones that apparently even Indrani thought was pretty sick. It was bad enough to sit ill with -Archer-.
            Indrani’s childhood consisted of being groomed to be a sex slave, and the first part of her first interaction with Ranger was wondering whether she was paying attention to her because she liked kids in that way and whether she would submit or try to run and get herself killed if she pays enough to get her owner to agree to that.
            I think it doesn’t take much more than “yep, he’s a rapist” to be personal for ‘Drani, here.
            It also doesn’t take more than that to be a major trauma obviously, making this a nitpick lol

            My suspicion about the attack on Frederic was that it was an attempt at suicide by cop: note that first she was trying to talk him into abandoning her / giving her up, prompting his thoughts on quality of callowan wine. When it became clear that wasn’t working and she was about to be thoroughly protected, she took the one action she could think of that would definitely set off all the 20+ crossbows aimed at her at the moment and not have her subdued before she comes to any harm.

            Why?
            – Bard told her it would be a good idea;
            – she doesn’t want to cause trouble for the T&T and is under the impression that getting killed before the trial would dissolve the issue;
            (note that Cat considered the Sinister Physician’s offer to do just that, and it came down to sheer principle and personal precedent – practically speaking Red Axe dying in that encounter WOULD help)
            – she feels bad about breaking her word to Archer and Co and never intended to survive the attack anyway;
            – has a pathological fear of trials and judges;
            – insert your own version here.

            It’s just the one way I can reconcile her behavior around Frederic without assuming she is a fantastic actress or mind controlled.

            There’s probably other explanations out there too, but currently I’m seeing this one as the simplest.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    in swift thrust > in a swift thrust
    Dropped under > Dropping under
    bluff,” the > bluff.” The
    know,” I shrugged > know.” I shrugged
    strength and weaknesses > strengths and weaknesses
    has taking > has been taking
    Alliance’s aside > Alliance’s side
    as well see > as well as see
    explained with Cordelia > explained why Cordelia
    then are two > then there are two
    but by would > but would
    It was damned > It was a damned
    middle of spar > middle of a spar
    matter a conscience > matter of conscience
    quick a I > quick as I
    ramming by > ramming my
    you’re no exactly > you’re not exactly

    Liked by 4 people

  6. laguz24

    Oh so finally we are finally going to talk to the girl who started this whole mess. Also in response to what was above, “in addition to the cardinal school sequel”. I do enjoy romantic subtext in my fights.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Big I

    I’ve been wondering if the Red Axe becoming a Villain would be the compromise that gets her out of this alive since this mess started. I guess we’ll see soon enough.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Interesting thought, but I don’t think that would help. A Villain killing another Villain is still something Catherine needs to punish to maintain discipline in the army – she can’t allow a precedent of Evil backstabbing Evil. And a Villain attempting to kill Proceran royalty is still something that Procer needs to see punished.

      I suppose saying “The legal system can treat a Hero as a Villain if their actions merit it” might make the Mirror Knight think twice about starting a rebellion, but I don’t see how that saves the Red Axe’s life.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Abrakadabra

      I had similar thoughts. If it is a bad idea that the Red Axe is judged by Both sides, maybe she could be judged by Sve Noc instead. Or even sent to the drow to the norther front as a punishment.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. magesbe

    This is not helping my shipping goggles dangit. I actually don’t think that Cat’s story is going to end with her in a relationship at all, but in the meantime, I can hope.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. dadycoool

      She seems too focused on her work to have a solid relationship, but the same could’ve been said of Captain and Black’s Orc general. Cat also seems to have the type of story that ends with her corpse, but it’s just as likely that she would in fact retire to exile. She could follow a Napoleon Bonaparte ending, a Yoda/Obi-wan ending, or any number of others, including diplomat, headmistress, mother, sentinel,…

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Salt

        There is still that old dream of going with Indrani in the far future, when after the end of it all she wanders off into the next great sunset, like they talked about before. I’m sure someone like Archer wouldn’t exactly mind having more eye candy tag along.

        Really the only way for her to have a peaceful life in the end would be to let go of political control and old stories, that act as both a sword and chains at the same time. Let Vivienne pick up the political slack, whichever next generation of Named to build on her foundation. Grab as many loved ones as she can and take a hike, maybe make another cameo later on as a deus-ex-machina wise advisor from the previous generation, in their successors time of greatest need.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. DreadChord

          Her talk with Hakram about wanting to rule Callow for *herself*… That plotline might have for a while looked like it was thrown out of the window with Vivienne but the return to the Hakram roots with his being relevant enough to get a sleeping beauty treatment seems to imply that their whole warlord relationship and the story ending with Catherine being a ruler of Callow or more is back on the table. Also, that prophecy about Hakram growing into being a real terror in a few years, implies by extension that Catherine’s not sailing off into any sunset.

          The story has skirted around Catherine’s desire for power, but there have been elements of Catherine’s want for it even while the Hakram talk moment was left lingering in the back. Her anger when Juniper+Vivienne had Catherine checked for fake had an element of pride being trespassed. Her desire for rising in the ranks “for Callow” had tones of justification for power talking. She may not be spending power on luxury, but she wasn’t raised for it. She appreciates power for her means to end thing, but she’ll likely have to stick around for her accords to hold, which means retaining power to solidify it for long term.

          Hakram may claim to follow Catherine the girl, but no, he’s the Adjutant, and he follows Catherine because she enables him to be the most he can be as he likes to be. He wouldn’t be following her if she sailed into the sunset or decided she was gonna be a fisherman.

          The story might have been two-timing the “sailing of into the sunset” and the “wanting power” narratives but I feel at the end the people she loves are Praesi and both the “girl who climbed the tower” and the “her being more Praesi than she realises” thread lead me to believe it’s the “wanting power” narrative that will get commited to. When the “man I loved most in the world” (Hakram) is involved in the “wanting power for herself” thread, that makes me believe she will be Queen or Empress or something of a major authority.

          This isn’t and hasn’t ever been a Lord of the rings sailing of into the sunset kind of story for Catherine. The point of that was that Frodo didn’t get recognition for his deeds and sailed of without the deserved recognition into the sunset to heal. From Juniper and Aisha’s memoirs to the Drows yet to be written holy book, Catherine gets mentioned proudly. It’s fine if you want to squeeze and match Catherine’s story into LOTR pattern, but it isn’t thematically Catherine’s story, because as I say, if Callowans are boasting about Catherine’s espionage at Keter(as is told to us in Aisha Bashiras memoirs, is a common thing), it means that contrary to that scene where Juniper and Catherine talking about them being remember if not necessarily remembered fondly, they’ll be both remembered and remembered fondly. It doesn’t fit the Frodo mold.

          Catherine at some point said stuff about not wanting to rule because she wouldn’t be a great ruler is easily contestable. She’s become the best one for the job. If that thread about wanting power for herself is getting picked back up as I believe it is; then that means she is going to be both highly capable at it and also someone who wants it.

          Archer *may* yet fit the Frodo mold and sail off into the sunset, but she isn’t injured, has the woe and Masego to anchor her in Calernia, and might have grown out of her restlessness. I think the Frodo treatment will be Rangers thing. Maybe Amadeus dies, and seeing as her mother has left for the elf country, she follows because there’s nothing for her left in Calernia and she wants to fight the strong people on the other continent(s).

          This is a strange romanticism to demand, that Catherine not wield power and let others take the reigns. She wants it. She is the best at it. None of the “new generation” have shown to be even remotely capable of wielding it. Why wish she leave the reigns for the tired cliché of the old dieing so that the new may grow? That cliché is worn out to bits, and I feel gladly left with Tolkien’s twig descriptions and other tired tropes.

          Like

          1. Salt

            She doesn’t want to keep power though, or at the very least she very clearly understands that she’s a necessary evil but still an evil, and cannot allow herself to remain in power.

            She’s repeatedly, plainly mentioned that her crown ever sat ill on her brow. She had plans to abdicate as far back as the tenth crusade, and we know for a fact that those convictions only grew stronger by the very recent conversation she had with the ghost of Good King Edward Fairfax when she came back from the Everdark.

            > I inclined my head.
            >“One should not confuse striking at evil and doing good,” I quoted.
            >“Lest good become the act of striking,” the Good King completed, tone approving. “You understand, then. That when your evil is no longer necessary, Black Queen, to linger would be to stray from the narrow path you have tread.”
            >My fingers clenched. “I know,” I croaked out.

            Everything she’s done up till now has been for the express purpose of making sure it won’t all fall apart when she’s gone. When she talked with Hakram after the crusade about how their foundations are weak, how if she dies then everything falls to pieces. About how she’s trying to make the Liesse accords outlive her. When she spent several volumes intentionally grooming Vivienne to be her political successor, and publicly proclaiming it in front of every major power on Calernia at the peace conference.

            The story repeatedly screams that Catherine needs and wants to let go of the reins at the end of it all, while mentioning as a side note that it’ll be difficult, so I’m not sure where the idea that she’s going to be a Forever-Queen comes from.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. DreadChord

              “She doesn’t want to keep power though, or at the very least she very clearly understands that she’s a necessary evil but still an evil, and cannot allow herself to remain in power.”

              This has never been a story rooted in platitudes as such. Amadeus and Catherine’s personal moments and individual reflections on the heros both show that neither are ones for platitudes. “She’s a necessary evil, but still an evil”. That’s a platitude if I ever saw one.

              Why would you group her as evil that needs to go in the first place? Because her methods of enforcing law are brutal? The often and not entirely silently worded difference between Catherine and the stock heros in the first place is that the heros would doom large amounts of people on matters of moral behaviour and principal, yes. The underlying theme of Catherine/Amadeus brand of evil is that they’d rather hang/kill potential troublemakers than risk rebellions and conflict that leads to costlier ones in the future. To call this Evil in the first place is unfair and a thing of branding, because this is merely callous decision making. Why is killing a dozen to prevent thousands dying evil and necessary to be removed? When did matters of life and death even become the criterion for what is better or worse? It is easily arguable that a handful of people dying is worth lower taxes for a nation. Why do you assert that she’s a necessary evil that needs to go? I believe she’s the only in place inheritor of Amadeus practical evil legacy(their is no evil of the new generation of the Amadeus brand practical if Catherine sails off to Valinor).Their established practicality of the Amadeus-Catherine brand of evil hasn’t been challenged in any remarkable way except Amadeus’ little midlife crisis where his selective protectionism of Callow-Praes interests compelled him to burn down Proceran granaries and starve thousands; something that comes from his selectively protective nature. It’s hardly an argument for Catherine having to leave.

              The only fault we have to particularly attribute to Catherine’s “Evil” is her aggressiveness and her shortsightedness, both of which she’s grown out of. The aggressive/shortsightedness component even being one that is partially attributable to the Squire persona (cock worship all that).

              There I should have established why Catherine has no major internal fault that makes it necessary she leave.

              Now for external. We have for that:

              1) The hero’s boner for taking out the villain queen, being a potential problem for Callow that it could do without. Handled to a fair amount with Catherine’s improved rep. Also, the Truce+Terms and Liesse Accords should see to them getting a collar on the neck at that.

              2) Grey Pilgrims claim that her Evil presence makes those around her Evil. Grey Pilgrim is hardly an objective person, having proven that time and time again with Intercessor that to justify his protectiveness he’d go through all sorts of Mental Gymnastics. It’s probable that to justify his Black like stomping of the villains of the west the guy has been inventing for his convenience all sort of storys(and believing them to) such as this: that Evil, like a drop of ink or a horde of zombies somehow infects all those it touches and leaves the water forever tainted.

              When he was making those claims and Catherine was dilemmaing about it she was under the influence of a combination of the guys old man manipulative charm+Choir of mercy Tattletale manipulative powers and her callowan preconceptions of the inherent rightness of hero’s. She’d still not made her peace with the practical side. She still hasn’t but she’s less deluded.

              Catherine has a pretentious habit of arrogating claims to personal fault wherever she can find opportunity to do so. Talbot and the Callowans want to do operation bonfire. ‘No it couldn’t possibly be the Callowans ingroup nature’s and the simple fact of the crusade being an existential crisis. No it couldn’t be that Callowans aren’t really all that heroic. It must be my special aura that makes people be villains, thank Tariq for finding me yet another way to blame myself. I was having some trouble pretending I personally executed the Doom of Liesse; some of the 15th legion kept asserting I couldn’t take credit for that.’

              More importantly, while its probable magic auras as such might exist due to this world’s story nature, wheres the evidence that Catherine’s aura is turning them into Akua’s instead of say Catherine brand practicals? I have already asserted that I believe that Catherine’s evils are simply better than Goods platitudes because believe net benefit and surplus trump’s matters of principle not only in tangible trigger buttons like trolley problems, but other practicalites such as a handful of life traded for food surplus for a few thousands being a good trade(Not that Catherine is brave enough for the latter example).

              *On a sidenote: would that the plotline of bloodsacrifices wasn’t abondoned as it was with Amadeus’ handwave of “they(the nobles) continue to practice blood sacrifices even when they don’t need to”. The natural direction I feel was to get into what happens when the population of Praes-Callow has reached the equilibrium with food production… that Catherine’s whims of not using the life’s of men fated for the gallows to fertilize the field be challenged. That she grow out of her callowan hypocrisy. Instead not only is that thread forgotten, in matters such as the Drow war of chains(averted) and the Twilight ways original blood sacrifice to use ticket(averted), Catherine fortunately and conveniently gets the easy way out of getting character growth through actually tough decisions that actually challenge her preconceptions.*

              3)Most importantly, would war magically up and pack away if Catherine leaves? If it was possible to stop conflict through posturing Vivienne Darthwick as successor, Calernia must really have been blundering with their rich history of countries like Procer’s frequent civil wars that didn’t involve named. Wars will happen despite it. Vivienne is neither weighty nor as competent as Catherine. Their will be conflict as there ever was no matter how many leashes Catherine puts around the Nameds necks. Catherine has surfed the waves of the economic and social struggles that result in war, but they didn’t come to be because of her. They would therefore not cease to be despite her.

              The external factors done with, all that leaves us is with Catherine, competent and charismatic, qualified as Cordelia in politics. She’s caught up well to the job.

              “The crown ever sat ill on her head”. Maybe she should try scotch tape. Once it didn’t. But I think I’ve already done the arguments for why Catherine is no longer an amateur at rule.

              On Edard Stark the Seventh, let’s forget my arguments that Catherine’s brand of practical evil doesn’t need to go and is infact better for Calernia to stay. Why is the undead Callowan king been treated as the wise all-knowing man? Good kings… More like all the Callowan kings should be called Kings of Platitudes. Callowan kings are somehow convinently the voice to ever affirm Catherines Callowan beliefs on Good and Evil. She gets challenged on them, sidesteps the matter, and occasionally and convinently a wise Grey Pilgrim or Good King comes over to affirm her echo chamber. I feel, by momentum,it’s time, in book 6, that Catherine will finally have to face the wall of truth. It’s been hinted at too long. She needs to be challenged on her Callowan qualms and her belief+justifcation complex that she isn’t fit and doesn’t want to rule because behind the veil of excuses I see that see is both very competent at it and she appreciates what power can do for her desire to enforce her will on Calernia’s natural state of intra-continental conflict.

              Setting up heirs and institutions is also a royalty practice to solidify ones reign. Catherine may have set it up because she wanted out to go adventuring with Archer, but the thread also goes down the path of rulers in real life history who established actual dynasties that lasted. I’m not saying necessarily Catherines child becomes king dynasty is the one that will happen. I’m saying any ruler than wants to rule long sets up a list of heirs and institutions to back him up.

              I think I’ve gone at significants lengths to highlight that Catherine has in her both a vieled but present desire for power and momentum that implies she’s not sailing off to Valinor but is gonna rule instead. I won’t belabour that point since I think it clicks into place with the points I’ve stated above in this reply anyways.

              Like

              1. Salt

                Bruv, when I’m the one quoting the character Catherine Foundling and you’re the one talking about how everyone including the character is wrong about her motivations, I think at that point I’m not one who’s putting forward some pretty wild fan-theories here. Lol.

                Liked by 3 people

            2. Hakram is the Adjutant, who is there when Cat needs him, and can help her do what she cannot at any given time. Cat also needs to transition away from fighting; she is far too valuable to be on the front lines. Therefore, being at the back and doing paperwork and diplomacy is EXACTLY what Hakram needs to be doing for her.

              Like

    2. Ninestrings

      I hate to be that guy but a hero seducing a villainess gets the villainess killed about 90% of the time.

      This could be a genital based assassination attempt.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. dadycoool

        Hero and villainess falling in love, villainess either sees the error of her ways or has an “Enemy of my enemy” moment after her superior scorns her, and the villainess dies one way or another, which spurs on the hero to save the day.

        Fortunately, not only does Cat not have any superiors, her entire worldview is based around what she learned from Black and subsequently confirmed with her own experiences, which included a better Above religious education than she got from the House of Light. There’s also not the classic “Ice-queen that has never felt true love before” because not only has she lost Winter, she’s had several lovers that we’ve known of, two of which either were or are within her closest circle (thinking of Killian and Indrani). Finally, her hesitation was essentially “This is politically awkward, we’re in the sand, anyone could walk in on us, and my baby is getting strangled. Maybe later.”

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Her what?

          But yeah this is the ‘promiscuous warrior queen has a fling with a passing hero that either lasts until first serious disagreement or for the rest of their lives on and off extremely non-exclusively’ trope, if any, not that one.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. dadycoool

            Hesitation was probably the wrong word. Reluctantly setting it aside, maybe? Or putting it off until later?

            Or were you asking about my “her baby” comment? That’s essentially what the T&T are, right?

            Yeah, this has the fragility to either collapse immediately or get fortified to an absolute amount. It’s kinda funny how Cat has had one of each on-screen.

            Liked by 3 people

    3. LaconicLoris

      It’s worth noting that a relationship between prominent partisans of above and below has implications, especially considering that Cat’s end goal is the accords. It has symbolic weight, especially considering that Hanno is liable the be replaced, and Frederick might be a leading candidate.

      Liked by 4 people

  9. On the one hand, the politics of this was fascinating and the sword and wordplay was brilliant. I also love the explicit recognition that harm prevention and performing morality are different things, and that much of the difference between Catherine and the best heroes is rooted in that.

    On the other hand this was hot as hell and Cat wriggling against Frederic just about goddamn killed me. Cat being all lust drunk on the pretty prince’s skills and feeling his hardness was some good damn content.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Salt

      I think the best of Good aren’t blind to that, to be fair. Just that the best of them aren’t necessarily the most powerful of them, too often. What was it that the old Wizard of the West used to say? A hero should not confuse striking at Evil and doing Good, lest their Good become the act of striking.

      It’s telling of the crucible that Catherine was forged in, that she takes to that so easily. She spent so much of her own upbringing fighting it.

      But a subtle nuance here is that Catherine has her own blinders, and is too focused on making sure the principle of doing good does not become the act of striking evil.

      Frederic here is a mirror along the same vein – focused on making sure that necessary evil actions do not become confused with the principle of being good.

      Liked by 11 people

    2. The problem lies rather in the “preventing short-term harm” vs “preventing long-term harm” dichotomy here. Guide has been pretty heavy with themes of trust and how necessary it is and how destructive the lack of it is, and ultimately “performing morality” is a lynchpin on that – someone who can be trusted to always do that, well, can be trusted.

      Frederic does not only stand for himself, here. On the break of eras like this one, his behavior can set precedent for what is acceptable/appropriate/honorable/expected of Proceran ruler Named, like how the Levantine founder band set precedent for all Blood going forward. The stakes on him maintaining his integrity are actually VERY high, on par with the stakes in the precedent for how exactly Red Axe is handled that Catherine is looking at.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. One further thing that I’m surprised Cat hasn’t considered, and why I’m surprised she is so resistant to “Named are subservient to non-Named justice”: hasn’t she been fighting for the position that Named shouldn’t be rulers? This seems like a fantastic compromise, that while Named can rule a nation, they have to enforce the judgment of lay courts.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. caoimhinh

    Proceran bullshit once again making a mess of Procer and the countries around it, yep.

    It’s interesting that even Frederic is affected by the stubbornness of Proceran Heroes that prevents them from accepting the evils of their people and calling them for what they are. They find excuses to justify themselves and blame others for Proceran actions.

    The Prince of Cleves is scheming to betray his allies, and Frederic calls it a sign of a crumbling Principate. but no it fucking isn’t, that’s just good old greed and ambition of nobility, not an act of desperation.

    That even now he calls the Great War something that was “a scheme of the Tower” instead of recognizing the fault of Proceran royalty, lowers my stem for him. That was a bunch of idiots burning their country to the ground until they were so beaten they couldn’t move, getting more and more in foreign debt to continue killing each other until Cordelia got all Lycaonese to practically conquer the rest of Procer. That civil war was over 90% due to the princes’ ambition with just a bit of Praesi prodding to keep it going.

    And again, he is still a stubborn idiot who wants Cat to solve the problem for him. He claims he doesn’t want the death of the Red Axe so he won’t press charges, so better have her on trial by Procer… which would still get her killed, just with a mess for the T&T.
    Like Cat said, that’s not an act of principle, it’s a thing of pride. Which for a Hero shouldn’t matter more than the good of the majority.

    That aside… yep, this is quite a mighty ship.
    He got a date right after meeting her, and now got to second base with Catherine in 4 days of knowing each other, and it’s only their 3rd conversation. Smooth.

    It would be a what, a Royal Armada Galleon? A strong and fast warship.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. dadycoool

      Huh. I hadn’t thought about how it that way. Sure, Malicia was the one to poking the Jenga tower, but there were still a couple dozen Proceran royals trying to hoard blocks. All she really did was a few occasional nudges, not attach puppet strings. And people absolutely *will* stab allies in the back over pride, greed, or any of the big seven, with death staring them in the face, crumbling Principate or no. But I guess a Proceran is a Proceran, no matter how much we all adore him. And of course, everyone runs to Cat when they’ve got a problem that they either made or are too hung up on their own pride to deal with, and then likely as not “Surprised Pikachu face” when she either tells them what it takes to fix it or does it herself and leaves them reeling. Not to be That Guy, but that last bit reminds me of how the rich kid came to Jesus and walked away sorrowful.

      Anyway, I’m pretty sure Cat would screw anyone that caught her eye, no matter where they were from, so long as their personality didn’t grate on her too much. So far, it seems like Indrani and Killian are the only ones to have had both qualities. This date could be considered Cat working on the second with Frederic.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Mm, but Frederic does outright acknowledge Cat has reason for her low esteem of Proceran royalty. His points about actively crumbling country are about why everything is on the verge of going to shit IN THE MIDDLE OF FIGHTING THE DEAD KING. That one of the reasons is because it’s normal for the Principate is obvious to both him and Cat and they acknowledge it, which also makes it irrelevant to the conversation at hand.

      And the thing about principles here, Frederic’s actions right now are setting precedent for how heroic Named Proceran royalty acts. His choices on this pivot have no less story weight than Cat’s and Hanno’s, and might echo even longer – unfortunate legal precedents can be walked back a lot easier than unfortunate story precedents, and both can impact trust of everyone they need to buy into the T&T > Accords very strongly. Frederic’s integrity is less of an immediate short-term issue, but then so is the crumbling of the Principate. There’s a reason he admits that he doesn’t really agree with Cordelia’s approach.

      He HAS a better idea. Why would he go with a worse plan over a better one?

      Liked by 4 people

      1. caoimhinh

        But what kind of precedent is he setting here?
        Not doing what is good for the bigger picture, but instead satisfying his own sense of conscience?
        Not taking the best route that causes less complications, but instead causing a political mess and then asking for others to solve it for him?
        Not going through the T&T, but instead asking for a trial in Procer?
        Not enforcing the agreement Villains and Heroes have signed for, but instead bargaining with political chips and trying to bribe(and seduce) a high officer of the Terms to agree to Proceran justice?

        That’s a shitty precedent he is setting.

        Also, he does not have a plan. He is simply asking Cat to gain more information in hopes she can find a better solution.

        Like

        1. He’s not “causing a political mess”, he’s just refusing to be tapped to clean up a pre-existing one in the way most convenient to his superiors.

          Not all First Princes and villain representatives are going to be Cordelias and Catherines.

          Like

    3. Salt

      The princes scheming when they can’t afford to IS a sign of the Principiate crumbling. It has been crumbling for decades. The Intercessor good as admitted that she allowed this to happen so that Cordelia would pushed into a corner and become Warden of the West, and take up her Judgement-corpse weapon against Nessie.

      Not to mention that oftentimes, the petty scheming of the princes ARE just as much of a Praesi plot in reality, not just paranoia. It goes BOTH ways since those kinds of plots are how Cordelia and Malicia are fighting. Some of the Praesi highborn plots were base proceran intrigue too, with Cordelia plainly admitting to Cat after the Everdark arc that she accidentally bankrolled the Dook of Liesse in the process. Is it that much of a stretch for him to suspect that an indisputable genius like Malicia is matching Hasenbach blow for blow by using her own princes against her?

      The part that Cordelia is right about is that the principiate was shaped to be the ruin that it is today, and not entirely as a fault of their own people. The thing she’s wrong about, and that Catherine needs to hammer into her head, is the exact same thing that Black told Malicia about Praesi culture.

      “There is nothing holy about our culture, it needs to be ripped out root and stem as matter of bare survival.”

      The same way that the Praesi consistently “blunder so badly that (they) need to rely on demons to stay off destruction”, the Principiate consistently blunders so badly that they need to rely on crusades to stay off ruin. What Cordelia needs to see here is that while she’s right about the unfortunate reality of the Principiate and that it isn’t necessarily wrong in principle, that isn’t an excuse for allowing the state of it to continue. It’s gone far past the point of acceptable losses.

      Liked by 6 people

    1. trashdragon

      Lol why would she want to talk to Red Axe? It’s not like interviewing the key suspect in a massively politically thorny murder case is a priority or anything.

      I mean, what’s the worst that could happen in the time it took her to meet up with the Prince for sparring? Her memories of the incident getting muddled? Her constructing an alibi? A third party getting to her and trying to coerce her into doing what they want or even assassinating her? Lol as if. Just ploughing ahead with the trial with minimal investigation or prep work and assuming that it’s a foregone conclusion is totally fine.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. agumentic

      You are saying this like she spent a week lounging in her chair mopping or something. She went to sleep beside Hakram after what might have been the most exhausting day of her life, woke up, talked with Indrani who passed a message that Kingfisher Prince wanted to have a talk, which Cat understandably prioritised. She didn’t exactly have a lot of chances to talk with Red Axe before now.

      Like

      1. It’s been four days.

        > Past dawn, then. This would make it the longest night of sleep from the four I’d had since the culmination of the Bard’s plots in the Arsenal.

        No, she didn’t spend a week moping in her chair. Only half a week, apparently.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. agumentic

          Ouch, that is an egg on my face. At least that still leaves her actions as understandable – she just shut down for a while after her inadvertently sending her friend to maiming and it took the situation itself developing to rouse her.

          Though, Red Axe herself might have been asleep from her wounds for most or all of those four days, so Cat might have not missed anything.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. caoimhinh

            That makes a lot of sense, actually.
            Since it was said that only now after 4 days did the Physician let the Kingfisher Prince leave his bed, and he only got that non-lethal wound on his neck. I mean, sure, a lot of people would be dead from that, but he is Named and got both magical and priestly healing. He should have been up and about by the next day at most.

            The Red Axe got two dozen crossbow bolts on her. So being in a coma for a couple of days wouldn’t be surprising.

            Like

  11. Cap'n Smurfy

    It occurs to me that the various Heroes went about killing Cat the wrong way. Forget redemption based stories, Pilgrim should have just thrown attractive, scantly-dressed Heroes at Cat for ‘Hero seduces the Evil Queen’ story. Would’ve been guaranteed to work.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dome Zasrekh

      No. When Cat knows you are an enemy you are done. Those heroes would have been converted before the crusade reached The WhiteCaps! It is the ‘Evil Queen turns the sexy heroes into her boytoys’ story.
      Or they would have died in a fire, who knows!

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Cap'n Smurfy

        In any other given scenario I’d agree with you. In a battle of romance or seduction? Cat had shown herself to be remarkably rubbish at seduction. Every single relationship we’ve seen has had the other party being the instigator. The closest she’s come to anything resembling seduction is in this chapter, where she wiggled her hips suggestively when a hot guy had already pinned her down. Not exactly expert level stuff.

        Liked by 3 people

  12. I just got stumbled across this line from another story: “As if principles mean shit if you only adhere to them when they come without cost.”

    And it strikes me as a really good distillation of the difference between Frederic and Catherine. They both grew up in circumstances where they had to learn to play an ugly, awful game to survive. And both learned to compromise principles to do what need be done. But as they grew into heroic (small h) figures, that early life lesson developed into two different philosophies.

    Frederic learned that principles cost. That this is a truth of having principles, and so the act of declaring oneself to have a principle includes steeling oneself for and taking responsibility of the inevitable cost. Principles don’t mean shit if you throw them aside when they cost you.

    Catherine learned that principles cost. Therefore, best to not hold any too close. Better to hold in hand a scale, a goal, and knowledge of when the costs you’ve taken don’t justify the costs you’ve yet to incur. Principles are best thrown aside when they cost you, so they don’t mean shit in the first place.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agreed.

      I’d add that difference in their origins would have played a role here, and I don’t mean Amadeus’s intervention: I mean that Frederic grew up in an environment where the cost of principles was something princes and princesses could still theoretically choose to bear and survive, while Catherine grew up, while safe herself, surrounded by the poorest and lowest struggling against starvation.

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