Chapter 31: Pursuits

“The man who sleeps with virtue finds the bed has no room for a third.”
– Proceran saying

Fuck,” I said.

Ever eloquent in times of trouble, that was me.

“I thought that might be your reaction,” Masego noted.

I closed my eyes. Was there anything we could do about this? I wasn’t exactly overjoyed at the prospect of the elves getting their paws on the crown of Spring, assuming they hadn’t already. On the other hand, I couldn’t think of anything the Grand Alliance needed less right now than picking a fight with a power as strong as the Golden Bloom. I didn’t know anywhere near enough to be sure what to think about this. What did they want the crown for, how important was it to them? A decision on that scale couldn’t be made without at least a solid guess at the answers to those questions, and it wouldn’t be made by me alone anyway.

“Right,” I said, opening my eyes. “I need you to keep digging into this, Hierophant. It’s higher priority than Quartered Seasons, as least for the next few days.”

The ritual wouldn’t be happening anytime soon anyway: I doubted the First Prince would accept even the slightest unnecessary risk to the countryside of Procer. Not when the timeline to stacking the odds in our favour as much as possible was perfectly acceptable from a strategic view.

“There are limits to what I can accomplish,” Masego said.

“I want you to find out if they already have the Spring crown,” I said. “And at least check on the ritual sites, to guess at how much force they’ve actually deployed out there.”

Likely on Proceran territory, too, not that elves tended to be particularly concerned with any borders save their own. But of I was going to have to break it to Cordelia Hasenbach that the Forever King had sent agents into the Principate, I’d prefer to at least like to have some estimates to offer her about how many of those there were.

“The latter I can assure, if not the former,” Zeze said, pushing back one of his elaborate braids. “They’re likely to resist my probing attempts, however.”

The implied question there was, in essence, about how insistent he was allowed to be in the face of that resistance.

“Don’t harm anyone,” I said. “Try to avoid damage, if you can, and whatever you do avoid starting a fight. Other than that, you’re free to use whatever means you want.”

“It ought to be an interesting intellectual exercise, at least,” Masego mused. “The nature of their defences is unique, which will force a degree of unorthodoxy to my approach.”

“I’m sure you’ll figure something out,” I said, meaning every word.

I cleared my throat, after, hesitant to speak what I wanted to say.

“I don’t need to tell you to stay safe, do I?” I eventually asked.

He smiled.

“I’ll take precautions, Catherine, there is no need to worry,” Masego said.

“We might have other ways to get to that information,” I reminded him. “You, on the other hand, can’t be replaced.”

“I am fond of you as well, Cat,” the blind man easily replied. “Now do be off. I’ll not have you hovering about as I work, your presence alone is enough to disturb all my precision instruments.”

Probably true, though that didn’t mean that he wasn’t just itching to get me out of here just so he could get started on the latest challenging task I’d presented him.

“Take care, Zeze,” I quietly said.

To my surprise he placed a hand on my shoulder, if only fleetingly.

“And you as well,” Masego seriously said. “Hakram is wounded but you are not alone. We are here if you need us.”

I breathed out, since I was a grown woman and getting moist eyes over something this simple would be a little shameful. I left before another burst of that disarming earnestness could scrape me even more raw, returning to the cold halls of the Arsenal and the ever-increasing amount of troubles awaiting me.

When I went to relieve Indrani from her watch over Hakram’s bedside it was past Noon Bell, so I returned her earlier kindness and brought a meal with me.

Pork with garlic sauce, a loaf of brown bread and a large saucer of some strange mix of oil, vinegar and olives. They were all Arlesite staples, the mixture in the saucer meant for the bread to be dipped in, and I’d grabbed a pair of apples to round the meal out. Archer was carefully carving an arrow when I entered, eyes on the wood and the knife in her hand carefully precise. Back in Callow this sort of work tended to be done out of logs with an eye to making many and quickly, but Indrani was rather more discerning with her own arrows: she picked the branches herself, when she could, and saw to their carving personally. Considering the rarity of some of the woods she used, that was only to be expected. She tended to treat mass-made arrows with the same disdain Masego reserved for massed Legion sorcery, and for much the same reasons.

“I get to be served by a queen,” Indrani bragged, even as I began unpacking the meal. “How many people can boast that, I wonder?”

Out of petty spite, I left her half of the meal on the table and only arranged mine on a plate. I offered her a pretty smile.

“Not you, for one,” I sweetly said, and sat down with plate.

Huh, I’d been skeptical about the oil and vinegar but it was actually pretty good. Made the brown bread better than butter would have, for sure, and while I wouldn’t trust Procerans to make a halfway decent stew they were admittedly good at roasts like the pork one.

“You’re a terrible friend,” Indrani complained, rising to her feet.

“You taught me well,” I agreed.

She helped herself to her meal with a snort, the two of us settling comfortably in our seats. We were both hungry enough that conversation waited until we’d polished off our meals, though even as I tore into the pork I found my eyes drifting to Hakram’s unconscious body. I missed him even more sharply now that I needed advice. Him and Akua, I was forced to admit, as I’d come to rely on the two of them quite a bit in Hainaut. Bringing Akua Sahelian into the Arsenal would have been ill-advised, though, and not just because it’d strip the Hainaut front of its sole high calibre spellcaster – it’d been as much the number of heroes awaiting here and the rulers I’d be meeting as the strategic considerations that’d guided my decision.

“You look glum again,” Indrani said, licking the garlic sauce off her fingers.

“Quartered Seasons had a major breakthrough,” I admitted. “But it’s also looking very likely that the elves are trying for a fae crown.”

She let out a lot whistle.

“A nasty people, the elves,” Archer opined. “They never came after Ranger while I was in Refuge, but about a decade earlier a few of the Emerald Swords tried to ambush her in Bayeux.”

The Emerald Swords, huh? Hadn’t ever really given those any thought, to be honest. Their strength was quite literally legend, though there were rumoured to be no more than ten. Each was supposed to be worth a small army, the Forever King’s blunt instruments in eradicating what he could not stand. They supposedly rarely left the Golden Bloom, like most elves.

“I don’t know what they want the crown for, but it worries me,” I admitted.

“Also irks you something fierce, I’d wager,” Indrani smiled. “They’re scavenging power they had no hand in laying low.”

I did not answer, looking away. She wasn’t wrong. That the Forever King thought he could sit out the war against the Dead King and use the chaos to go grabbing mantles of power while we were busy fighting for Calernia’s survival was not endearing the man to me. If the elves had played a role in the end of the old Courts of Arcadia I would have kept my mouth shut, but they were just being opportunistic vultures.

“We can’t afford to push the Golden Bloom too far,” I reluctantly said. “They could make keeping what we still hold in Hainaut a nightmare with little effort and if they send out the Emerald Swords we’d have to pull our best fighting Named from the fronts to be able to handle them.”

“I figure the prick out in the Bloom thinks the same, Cat,” Indrani said. “Remember, the Dead King made their king’s son into a Revenant that you put down at Third Liesse. There’s no love there, and the elves have to know that if the screw with the Alliance too much they’re helping along ‘Ol Bones.”

“They’re elves, Indrani,” I said. “Their take on foreign policy is shooting even the birds that come within a mile of their forest. I’m not saying they’re idiots, but I’m honestly not convinced the Forever King wouldn’t be in favour of a few million uppity humans being eaten before the Hidden Horror is driven back.”

“They haven’t brought their lands back into Creation, so maybe you’re right,” Archer said. “Mind you, there’s at least one upside to that.”

My brow rose questioningly. I couldn’t really see one, to be honest. The Grand Alliance had neither the leverage nor the strength to spare to do anything about this, while just letting it happen seemed like a mistake.

“Might be Duchess Kegan won’t be so eager for Daoine to go independent, when she hears about this,” Indrani said. “Elves were bad enough on their own, but elves with a godhead? I don’t care how large the Watch gets, it’ll be like fielding as shield wall of goblins against a pack of ogres.”

I mulled on that a moment, even as I chewed on the bread. The Deoraithe were masters of defensive and irregular warfare, but as a rule they tended to be weaker on the offence. Restraint and their isolationist streak had still earned them an impressive military reputation, but the era where a duchy’s army could stand up to those of the greater powers of Calernia was coming to an end. The Conquest had proved that massed mages and siege engines combined with heavy infantry could crush armies in the mould of the Old Kingdom’s, and the rest of Calernia hadn’t lain asleep in the decades that followed. Procer had fielded large units of priests and mages with its field armies during the Tenth Crusade, a significant departure from their old way of making war, and the years of fighting against Keter were further refining their methods.

Even the Dominion was starting to change its doctrine, using its limited numbers of Lanterns and Binders to crack open enemy lines much in the same way that the Legions of Terror used scorpions and goblin munitions.

That was the death knell of Daoine’s military relevance, whether Duchess Kegan realized it or not. Putting together the Army of Callow had taught me how damned expensive an army of that kind was to raise and keep in fighting fit, and it simply wasn’t a financial burden that the Duchy of Daoine’s revenues was capable of supporting. The Watch were devils on the field, and arguably some of the finest foot on Calernia, but you couldn’t win a war with them. House Iarsmai’s historical military prudence was, at least in part, flowing from that realization. The issue was that, when everybody’s military doctrine was done with its growing pains in twenty years, the Watch wouldn’t even allow Daoine to win battles. Throw in that the enemy whose destruction was at the heart of their culture might raise its ruler to a form of lesser godhood, and Indrani could very well be correct.

The Grand Duchy of Daoine might just find the world outside a lot colder than expected, after leaving the Kingdom of Callow’s protective embrace.

“If we can keep Daoine in the fold I won’t complain,” I said. “Though that should be Vivienne’s situation to handle, in the end.”

If we weren’t all dead, by then I was likely to have abdicated. Besides, if Vivienne could begin her reign with the diplomatic feather in her cap of having kept the Deoraithe part of the kingdom she’d have an easier run of things going forward. I’d taught the last remains of Callowan nobility the dangers of trying to go against a popular queen backed by a powerful royal army.

“She seems to have a handle on things so far,” Indrani shrugged. “And if we win against the Hidden Horror, it’ll be a long time before the shine of that wears off. Hells, we might actually get a few decades of peace.”

I was not nearly so optimistic. Too many parts of Calernia had only heard of the Dead King without ever catching sight of his armies or his monsters. The League of Free Cities hadn’t even bothered to stop warring against itself as thousands of soldiers from an large coalition died to hold the defences to the north, and Praes was knee-deep in a civil war being prosecuted at what I could only call a languid pace. The rulers who’d seen the worst of the war would come out of it reluctant to war against those who’d been their comrades in the face of annihilation, but that’d only go so far. One of my hopes was that the construction of Cardinal would sap interest in resuming old skirmishes, given the many opportunities it represented, and that the city-state’s territory would serve to settle at least some of the people whose lives had been upended by the wars.

“We’ll see,” I replied. “Even the peace years ought to be quite a ride, after a war like this one.”

The afternoon passed slowly, after that, as the two of us sat and talked. Several messengers came to find me over the following bell, as I’d made it clear that the infirmary would be where I stayed, but there was nothing truly urgent to see to. Some concerns about the current tonnage of water that my rank obligated the stewards to inform me about, then a bold request for funding by a Proceran mage that I sent to Roland after skimming and finding the idea worth investigation. The closest thing to a crisis came an hour before Evening Bell, when I was informed that someone had been caught trying to enter one of the restricted zones of the Arsenal. It turned out to be a young couple trying to sneak off for a tryst, and I was informed they were very apologetic when they learned they’d triggered an alarm ward in their attempt to find a dark corner.

Their pays were docked, and in a fit of mercy I spared the two men the necessity of having to explain themselves to me in person. I sent written note warning that a repetition of the mistake would see them suspected of espionage, which should have them thinking twice about where they sneaking off.

“You’re enjoying this,” Indrani accused, afterwards.

My lips twitched treacherous.

“It’s been a long time since I was asked to weigh in on things so…” I trailed off.

“Easy?” she suggested.

“Straightforward,” I corrected. “The lower stakes are a relief.”

The knowledge that the worse I courted if I made a mistake was passing embarrassment instead of the usual lives lost by the hundred. I enjoyed the calm all the more for the knowledge it was soon to come to an end. While the Arsenal might be its own little hermit kingdom, isolated from much that went on beyond its walls, the broader world was coming towards it. Tomorrow would bring the First Prince and the White Knight, and with them a great many troubles that for now still seemed on the horizon. The Painted Knife was nearing, too, and the envoys of the Titanomachy. Any of those visits would have been an event, but all of them in swift succession promised to be more of a circus. While I lost myself in thought, Indrani groaned and rose to her feet.

“Headed somewhere?” I asked.

“Having supper with Masego,” she said. “You’re welcome to come along but I’ll be carving and he’ll be reading.”

“When you put it like that, how could I resist,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Go on, have fun.”

It left a strange taste in my mouth to say that. It wasn’t jealousy, it’d essentially be the same as getting jealous Vivienne was having dinner with Hakram, but it was… odd. The ease she’d said that with, the way she’d not needed to check he’d be there or even just inclined to have dinner with her – all those things spoke of a habit. It wasn’t the first time they were doing it, and they’d been doing it for long enough they considered it a given it’d happen. It was oddly domestic, given who they were. I waved out Indrani, and idly wondered if perhaps I was a little jealous after all. Not of either of them, but perhaps of what they had. It’d been a long time since I’d had that level of intimacy with someone.

Not since Kilian.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted that, and I knew I simply didn’t have the time to afford something like it these days. Yet the easy way that Indrani had displayed a sort of intimacy I’d have not believed her capable of when we first met had me uneasy. My friends were changing and making lives for themselves while I swung my sword at the world trying to make it a little more like I wanted. My eyes moved to Hakram’s, his chest rising and falling in steady rhythm as the spell took care of keeping his lungs going. Sometimes the changes weren’t for the best. A knock on the door – too respectful to be Archer’s – caught my attention and I invited in the messenger. A report from the captain of the garrison, I noted with a raised brow, and one that bore his official seal.

I cracked it open and as I scanned the lines I had to forcefully keep my fingers from clenching. The Mirror Knight had tried to enter the Red Axe’s cell, insisting even when the guards refused to let him in. It’d come close to violence before he walked away. I folded the parchment, ignoring the messenger’s nervous gaze. Someone had informed Christophe de Pavanie that I’d gone to speak with the Red Axe with Prince Frederic, I decided. This was not a coincidence. It also meant the Mirror Knight had friends within these walls that were willing to stretch the bounds of propriety to help him. I put away the parchment and dismissed the messenger without sending an answer to the report. I’d been warned of the incident, and since it’d not come to violence for now there was little I could do.

Not, that wasn’t true. There were more than a few things I could do, but there was nothing I should do. At this point, overreaching would be dangerous. Restraint now could be used later to make the point to the White Knight that I’d tried patience only to find it ever more stringently tested.

Restless at the inaction, I rose to my feet and after patting Hakram’s shoulder took to the halls. I had no precise destination in mind, though that parchment was burning a hole in pocket. I’d not been the only one to go to speak with the Red Axe, I considered. Maybe I should mention this to the Prince of Brus as well. I’d already been headed vaguely in the direction of the Alcazar, anyway. Halfway there I forced myself to admit that I wasn’t going there to tell him about that report, or at least not only that. It’d do me no good to pretend otherwise. There were risks, although it wouldn’t be difficult to weave an illusion around myself that’d ensure I wasn’t seen going there. And if I was going to do this, which the way my teeth were worrying at my lip were telling me I was, then now would be the time. Before Hasenbach got here and the Arsenal was swarmed with guards and watching eyes.

I felt myself reach for the Night, beginning to weave an illusion, and admitted to myself I’d already made my choice.

I made sure to be seen returning to my rooms before backtracking under veil of Night, remembering the way to the Prince of Brus’ quarters well enough from the last time I’d visited. If I’d been a few years younger I might have hesitated before knocking on the door, but in that sense Indrani had been good for me. A few moments passed and I felt a little like a fool. He might not be there at all, given that it was not so late. Perhaps it might be better if I left. Then the door was cracked open and Frederic Goethal curiously looked out, blue eyes slightly widening in surprise as he saw me. His blond locks were slightly dishevelled, and above the belt he wore only a loosely buttoned white cotton shirt that did nothing to hide the kind of muscles that came only from a warrior’s life.

“May I come in?” I asked, doing nothing at all to hide the way I was looking at him.

Frederic of Brus’s eyes darkened with something that I was rather looking forward to seeing unleashed.

“Please do,” he replied.

The door closed hurriedly behind me and I came closer, noting he was just tall enough I had to lean up to kiss him. His hand found my hip, but it was my lips that found his in a soft, tentative kiss as I tiptoed upwards. A brief thing, and I withdrew to find his eyes still closed.

“You’ll do,” I decided, pushing him back against the wall.

There was nothing tentative at all about what followed.

I woke up not long past Midnight Bell, pleasurably spent and sweaty. Frederic, still deliciously naked under the twisted-up sheets, was still asleep at my side. It’d be a mistake to spend the night, given the risk of being seen, so reluctantly I wriggled out of his embrace and sat up on the bed. It was enough to wake him and he stretched out in a way that pleasantly captured my interest for a few moments. Getting my hands on his body had done nothing to damper my appreciation for it. Much the opposite, as it happened.

“Restless or leaving?” he asked, voice still husky from sleep.

“Leaving,” I said. “As soon as I can find my clothes, anyway.”

Where they’d ended up had not been a priority around the time I was taking them off.

“How soon you dispose of me,” Frederic teased. “Did I disappoint?”

“I was vocal enough with my opinion you shouldn’t need to fish for compliments,” I drily said.

“One enjoys hearing those anyway,” he grinned.

It’d been a while since I’d been with a man, but I’d definitely enjoyed returning to that brand of diversion. Thinking of it was enough to stir my interest again.

“Considering you’re Alamans, I expect I won’t have to mention that this is best kept under wraps,” I said.

He looked rather amused.

“This is hardly my first tryst, though it has certainly been a… vividly memorable one,” Frederic said, sitting up in the bed as well. “I understand that some passions are meant to remain discreet. I’ll not moon after you like a green boy either, if that is your worry.”

“I’d tolerate a bit of mooning,” I grinned. “It’d be rather flattering. But only a bit.”

“I’ll see what I can arrange,” he quietly laughed.

It really was shame it’d be genuinely terrible politics for even the suspicion of an affair between us to fall on either, I mused. I’d have thoroughly enjoyed more than one visit to this bed. Safer to cut this after one night, though, I knew. I’d taken risks enough already. On the other hand, I mused as I tossed aside the sheets and pushed him back against the headboard and got on top of him, the night wasn’t quite over yet.

“One more for the road,” I suggested.

The gasp that followed was not one of disagreement.

The following day, the First Prince and her escort arrived several hours before the White Knight and still Hanno set foot in the Arsenal before Cordelia Hasenbach.

With the wards back in order scrying relays to Creation had been established again, so the Procerans had known in advance that we’d had not only a fae incursion but several demons running loose not so long ago. Considering that the First Prince would be a great deal easier to kill than Hanno and the that magnitude of the political crisis that’d followed would be… significant, I’d not been offended when her personal guards had not taken me to my word when I’d told them the Arsenal was secure. A company of mages and soldiers had swept through the attainted areas with a fine comb, though I doubted that any mundane mage out of the Principate would able to catch something that the likes of Masego or Roland hadn’t.

While I debated heading to the Arcadian waystation where the First Prince was awaiting the word to go on ahead from her people, I ultimately decided against it. Hasenbach liked her ceremony, and I might as well ensure I had her in as pleasant a mood as I could before the negotiations started. There was precious little of what I wanted to discuss with her that could be spoken about in such a public place, anyway. To my disappointment I learned that Vivienne would only be arriving tomorrow, having been slowed on the march by sudden rains that’d flooded the roads, but I’d lived without seeing her for several months already. A day more or less wouldn’t make much of a difference.

Besides, I kept busy: while security was an issue for Hasenbach the White Knight breezed right past her after a few greetings and proceeded straight into the Arsenal. I dragged Archer with me to watch my back, leaving as a lookout as I limped my way down a long set of stairs. The White Knight came out of the translocation ritual in the same wide room where the Mirror Knight had nearly drawn on me less than a week ago, a single mage in Arsenal livery at his side. Hanno looked tired, eyes pulled tight, and was leading his horse by the reins. He’d ridden hard, I decided, after hearing about the attack. Even odds he’d even ridden through the night on the last stretch, for him to be visibly tired: it wasn’t something that came easy, in Named of his calibre.

“Black Queen,” he greeted me.

“White Knight,” I replied. “I’m pleased you came quickly.”

“I can only wish I’d been there when the attack happened,” Hanno frankly said. “None of the affairs that kept me from travelling with you were even near important enough, seen in retrospective.”

“Hindsight’s no cure for bad luck,” I shrugged.

A sharp whistle sounded from the heights above, a sign from Archer we were about to have company. Indrani wouldn’t have bothered for guards or diplomats, which meant Named.

“I’d wager that’s my latest headache trudging towards us,” I said. “I tried my hand at handling it and failed, White Knight, so it’ll be yours to deal with.”

Hanno’s brow rose.

“I thank you for your assistance,” he said, turning to offer the mage a smile.

She blushed, much to my amusement, and replied by espousing the virtues of duty before scurrying away. However nicely phrased, it’d very much been a dismissal. I eyed him speculatively. Heroes tended to be popular with women – and men, when so inclined – but I’d never know him to keep company. I didn’t believe him to be like Masego, disinclined towards the act, but neither did I believe him so discreet he would have been able to keep a bedmate quiet.

“I received some interesting missives from the First Prince, when I passed by a scrying relay yesterday,” Hanno said. “Including a subtle but rather firm request that I take Christophe of Pavanie ‘in hand’. I’ve rarely known you to be in such swift accord with Cordelia Hasenbach, Catherine.”

Well now, wasn’t that interesting? Frederic hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d said that the First Prince saw the Mirror Knight as a potential threat because of his closeness – and occasional nakedness – with the House of Langevin. If she was willing to start putting pressure on the White Knight to intervene before he’d even gotten to the Arsenal, then she was serious about curbing dear Christophe. While I’d only extend so much trust to Cordelia over much of anything, I was rather pleased at the notion that for once she might be entirely on my side – if largely for her own reasons.

“He still has the sword, and now he’s making demands,” I grunted.

“I’ve never known him to be prone to overstepping, only clumsy in expressing himself,” the White Knight calmly said. “As for the Severance, while it should be temporarily returned to the Arsenal I can see no better wielder for it.”

I could think of several, including the very man speaking to me. Those two had shared a front in Cleves, I recalled, before the Salian Peace and Callow joining the Grand Alliance. There might be a degree of trust there, the sort earned in battle. It didn’t worry me overmuch, in truth, considering that Hanno was remarkably clear-eyed when it came to most things. Still, a warning was in order.

“Be careful with him,” I said. “I don’t think you’ll find him all that pliable.”

“Pliable is something a lord wants in a vassal,” Hanno said. “I am not one, nor he the other. All I need of him is reason and a willing ear, neither of which he’s ever failed to offer.”

Our little chat was interrupted by armoured boots on stone as the Mirror Knight, in full armour and with the Severance at his hip, briskly began to make his way down the stairs. Looking rather uncomfortable and noticeably unarmed, the Blade of Mercy followed behind him. Christophe de Pavanie’s green gaze was distinctly unfriendly as he took in my presence, though it stopped short of a glare and he began to pointedly ignore my presence. The boy at his side looked away from me when I glanced.

“White Knight,” the Mirror Knight began the moment his boots reached the bottom of the stairs. “Your presence gladdens me.”

A long moment of silence followed when Hanno did not reply. The White Knight eventually cocked his head to the side.

“I had assumed,” Hanno slowly said, “that you were not done in your greetings. Was I incorrect?”

Huh. I threw him an appreciative glance for that even as Christophe’s cheeks reddened.

“Wouldn’t be the first lack of manners from him,” I idly said. “I doubt it’ll be the last. We’ll speak later, White Knight.”

“Until later then, Queen Catherine,” Hanno replied with a slight bow.

I began to limp away, without further ado, and though the Mirror Knight began to say something that might have been a belated greeting I did not turn to hear it or bother to lend an ear. I was almost hoping he tried to pull something of the sort in front of Proceran diplomats, who’d be genuinely appalled at the sight. They were known to be polite to even people they despised, after all. Archer was awaiting at the top of the stairs, leaning against a wall. She’d kept the room below in sight the whole time, taking her duty of watching my back just as seriously in this place as she had in the tunnels of the Everdark. Different dangers here, perhaps, but barely fewer.

“So?” I asked as she pushed off.

“They were hurrying,” Indrani said. “So they weren’t just coming to greet Shiny Boots, I’d bet.”

That soured the pleasant mood the night’s exertions had left me in, even after this little interlude. They’d hurried because they’d heard I myself was there to receive Hanno, then. For them to have been forewarned, it meant they had more friends in the Arsenal than I’d hoped they would have. Not necessarily Named, as the Mirror Knight’s slaying of no less than seven demons had earned him a great deal of admiration with soldiers and mages from the rank and file, but I wouldn’t dismiss the notion outright either.

“With Hasenbach joining us tonight the number of soldiers in here will swell,” I said. “We’ll be able to spare some for more private duties. Reach out to Lieutenant Inger, Archer. I require some eyes.”

With the First Prince’s arrival, I finally had a pretext to meddle with the garrison without raising an eyebrow – given that Hasenbach would have a soldier escort of her own, it’d raise no eyebrows if I arranged one for myself out of garrison troops. I didn’t intend to use mine guarding doors, though. I wanted to know who the Mirror Knight would speak with, and when. It would be imprudent to begin acting on anything before making sure how much support he had, exactly.

“I’ll take care of it,” Indrani said, pushing off the wall. “While you were down there a messenger came by for you, though. I took the message for you.”

She fished out of her coat a small folded parchment, handing it over.

“And what’s inside?” I asked.

Neither of us bothered to pretend she wouldn’t have opened that without the slightest hint of hesitation.

“The First Prince of Procer is inviting you to dinner,” Indrani said, waggling her eyebrows lasciviously.

Considering I could no longer claim to have never slept with Proceran royalty, answering that insinuation with even mock indignation would have, uh, weaker foundation than I might be used to.

“Well,” I said, “I suppose I’m about due to have an exquisite meal spoiled by politics.”

106 thoughts on “Chapter 31: Pursuits

    1. Patrick Herke

      Honestly everytime I see the vote comment I’m just reminded of how glad I am that I wrote a little python script to do that for me. No need to worry about forgetting or messing with it

      Liked by 7 people

    1. Yet I feel a strange worry that this romance is some prelude to the redemption story that the heroes think Catherine is heading into, and that for that purpose Nephele would have been better for her, and the romance both more supportive and less likely to blow up in her face.


      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        Nah, that’d be Hanno. Kingfisher is specifically somebody she likes, and she might make it a more than once things, but for now and as long as she stays cautions he’s clearly a FWB type. She should be safe from that sort of trap. Though the blowing up part is valid; always a risk of a scandal.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. Mirror Knight is a problem … and he’s only going to get worse.

      And I’m not sure Hanno truly realizes, recognizes, or understands the kind of problem Mirror Knight is and is becoming.
      Which itself could easily become another problem.

      Liked by 8 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          Also the change in perception. Even if they got the sword away from him (and it’d find it’s way back anyhow), he’s on a different story now. The kind of story where people rally behind him, so he’s become a more rally-able figure.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. Salt

          Hopefully not too much of an effect. That thing is the Crystallization of Laurence de Montfort. The old bat earned her stripes, sure, she was respectable in her own way. It doesn’t change that she was neurotically paranoid of all things black cloaked, no matter how understandably so.

          If it actually imparts her outlook on life to the wielder, it might as well be a cursed sword rather than a holy one.

          Liked by 4 people

        3. I wonder if there is a chance of him transitioning into the Saint of Swords, considering he is holding 1/3 of the name in his right hand…..
          It’s definately influencing him, like Moonless Nights affected Catherine “No more than the mantle of [her] Name.”

          Liked by 1 person

  1. dadycoool

    I can now say that Cat has slept her way across Calernia. Only laterally, east to west, since she hasn’t slept with anyone from the southern countries, but still.

    Liked by 8 people

  2. I don’t know if it’s been pointed out or not, but Catfish is an entirely viable ship name for Cat and Kingfisher. Just saying.

    Also, I am so glad to see Mirror Knight get a little extra dose of humility from White Knight. I genuinely wonder if there might not have been a demon of pride or some related concept in the seven he slew

    Liked by 14 people

    1. Ninestrings

      If this relationship turns out to be an evil plot and Cat was Catfished that is some crazy long set up for a bad pun.

      I absolutely wouldn’t put it past EE either.

      Liked by 18 people

  3. Mirror Knight is a problem … and he’s only going to get worse.

    And I’m not sure Hanno truly realizes, recognizes, or understands the kind of problem Mirror Knight is and is becoming.
    Which itself could easily become another problem.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Salt

      I think the Mirror Knight has a clearer read on his character than Cat, to be perfectly honest. Christophe handles himself like an absolute ass but his POV showed that he’s mind-bogglingly awkward and insecure instead, and is also super sensitive about being used instead of respected.

      Hanno’s methodology, from what we’ve seen so far, is to somehow empathize with the kid and genuinely treat him like an adult or a peer instead of a vassal or a tool.

      Hanno might actually be the perfect fit for the problem here.

      Christophe has the best of intentions, ruined by his being a colossally awkward moron, and has a frightfully shallow understanding of what “justice” means.

      Hanno can usually empathize with people like some sort of telepath (probably because he’s been in so many dead people’s heads), is endlessly patient/understanding in the face of insult, and spent years under the wing of the choir that likely has the one of most nuanced, complex views of “justice” out of any entity on the continent.

      Liked by 13 people

      1. Shveiran

        Although I agree in pricniple, I’d point out that Hanno has been aware of this issue for three books now, and still failed to address it.
        The current problem is, if not is fault, something he failed to fix for a long time.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Salt

          I mean, he’s only been in charge of the kid for half a volume to be fair. It isn’t like a garbage understanding of politics and morality mattered much prior to that, when they were just collaborating to kill endless waves of undead. His whole schtick at the time was “I do not judge”, with the Pilgrim having a near monopoly on the Heroic mentorship Role prior to the Terms.

          Cat did mention that it was an oversight that no one ever had a proper chat with the Mirror Knight after the Truce and Terms were established though, that is fair. I believe she mentioned it in passing at the start of the Arsenal arc.


  4. Miles

    >Considering I could no longer claim to have never slept with Proceran royalty, answering that insinuation with even mock indignation would have, uh, weaker foundation than I might be used to.

    And now Archer knows

    Liked by 10 people

      1. Salt

        Archer insisting that this is important, with Masego patiently explaining in the background a list of all the things that are objectively more important

        Liked by 2 people

    1. dadycoool

      I’d actually been thinking about that before. a) She’s too careful for that, b) I’m pretty sure pregnancy among Legion soldiers is forbidden, so she’d have to take herself off the war effort in any meaningful way, having to account for the kid and all, c) the scandal for sleeping with him would be light compared to the scandal of a pregnant Cat, and d) a lesser reason is that Cat having a child would give her an heir other than Vivienne, which would splinter the line of succession, even if the child spent its whole life in Freddy’s territory.

      So yeah, I’ve formed a storyline in my head, tried to address these points, and found my addressing to be unlikely. Not to say EE won’t go the Royal Bastard route, but every head-story I’ve ever come up with while reading PGtE, trying to predict the future, has been off the mark.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. thearpox23

        Between Masego and literally any other skilled mage or healer found in the entire grand alliance, the chances of not performing a successful abortion are nill. Your ‘c’ point might still be relevant, and I would put it past the spy network to notice something is off, but Catherine isn’t nearly emotionally driven enough to implode everything because of an unborn kid. Would cause some mood swings though.

        Don’t expect the story to go there though.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. dadycoool

          I wouldn’t expect Cat to go full “I’m a mother now, which means I and my spawn are made of glass”, nor would her magic suffer very much, but thinking about the physiological aspects of pregnancy and young motherhood, for 6-10 months she’d be forced into a non-physical role and, let’s be honest, when a woman is pregnant, she’s at her most vulnerable by far. I suppose she could hand the kid off to a wet nurse so she could go off murderizing, but while I don’t see her as actively going out of her way to collect a family, I don’t believe she would reject one. She never asked for the Woe, the Gallowborn, or the Legions that adore her, but she would and has given everything for each of them. I’d actually expect her to drag around a crib alongside that comfy chair if our theorized plot pans out, just so she could keep an eye on the kid and keep it close.

          Addressing the abortion option, you’re right. Masego amputated AN ASPECT when it got corrupted, back when he was the Apprentice. If Cat were to decide that abortion were the way to go and it doesn’t spark a nasty Story, that’d be downright easy for him. If nothing else, he could Wrest it from her, but that might not be a good idea, for multiple reasons.

          Not that we expect her to actually get pregnant.

          Liked by 2 people

      1. MagicalContraception

        Given their level of technology/magic, I doubt she’d be on magical contraception if she hadn’t been with men… since before Chapter 1 of Book 1.


        1. While I’m in no way an expert on contraceptives, my understanding is that every culture that makes the sex=pregnancy connection figures out a way around it, regardless of technology level. It may not be as reliable as modern methods, but there will be one. Now this particular culture may rely on magic for it, but Cat could potentially figure out something with the Night for that

          Liked by 2 people

    2. Insanenoodlyguy

      Her patron god came about by the act of stealing life from the unborn. The night in it’s weakest, unshaped form could do that. What do you think it can do now? Even assuming she didn’t use whatever they regularly use in the legion to prevent that sort of thing, or assuming the story makes sure it doesn’t work, I’m quite sure Sve Noc can make sure she doesn’t get shunted into that highly dangerous story. That kid could literally kill their entire coalition after all, if fate decides it’s worth letting them all die just so this child can grow up in the Calnerian post-apocalyspe and rise to destroy the Dead King and avenge all his ancestors.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Abrakadabra

        Now, that is an interesting thought. If the child does Born, probably will have access to night, despite not being drow. The implications of that can be tremendous.


    3. Salt

      Extremely unlikely I’d say, mostly because it would narratively just be really weird. Suddenly bringing in new experiences of motherhood and family relationships into the eve of a climactic war with ancient, terrifyingly powerful entities is rather jarring.

      I mean it definitely wouldn’t be off the table to make an absolute banger of an arc looking into the foundling line and see if she falls into that old trope of amazing people being terrible parents, but the timing is just all wrong.

      The main character getting partially taken out of a continental level brawl in high fantasy by bad contraceptives? Bruh

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Abrakadabra

        I bet Masego can put a stasis on it, to delay it from being Born. Because magic. It will born after the dead King bites the dust.


        1. Salt

          Feasible only if Catherine does not go near the Dead King or any of his undead for the remaining duration of the war, I’d wager.

          The risk of putting an enchantment inside your body is… rather high, when the monster you’re fighting invented the system of magic that arguably the most magically advanced nation on the continent uses.

          Putting a spell inside your body in the presence of the Dead King is like swallowing a bunch of sharpers just before getting punched in the gut.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Abrakadabra

            Eh, no. Because on that note she shoud Just aviloid DK altogether, Because she has night in her body, and using any artifact, for example the severence in the vicinity of DK would be Just as dangerous if not more.


            1. Salt

              Night is something entirely different from sorcery in the first place, it’s not a type of sorcery.

              A stasis spell on the other hand, especially one casted by someone like Masego who specializes in Trismegistan sorcery, would be insanely vulnerable to the Dead King who is quite literally the original Archmage Trismegistus.

              It’s a situation where you make yourself reliant on a method that originates from the Dead King in the first place, and one he’s mastered more thoroughly than anyone currently alive.

              It would be not unlike fighting Malicia while being reliant on political plots, or getting into a sword fight with the Saint while being very vulnerable to being cut.

              The Severance isn’t sorcery either. It’s an Aspect pulled out of one of the most narratively stubborn, uncompromising Heroes that ever lived. The entire reason it has weight is because the Saint was, by every measure we’ve seen so far, completely incorruptible when facing The Enemy.


    4. RoflCat

      I’m pretty sure Named can’t accidentally get pregnant unless a Story makes them to.

      Which admittedly the memento child where the father die soon after the one night stand is a thing…

      I sincerely hope Frederick doesn’t end up dying to prevent MK from becoming Saint 2.0.
      Not so soon after Nephele :<

      Liked by 2 people

    5. Cicero

      Huh… that’s… actually possible.

      If being Named (and a Villian in particular) makes it unlikely to get pregnant (a likely possibility) it’s possible that it might have slipped Cat’s mind that she actually isn’t Named right now.


  5. Death Knight

    Alright, Christophe needs to die. Here’s what I’m thinking, Cat, Masego and Sve Noc gate the Mirror Knight to Keter. Mirror Knight uses his shiny sword of Severance to kill everything in Keter or dies trying. Win win all around. Cat then uses her political clout with Hasenbach to smother the situation in the crib. Boomshitaki, war over or a lot more winnable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ninestrings

      I think this is shaping up to a hero showdown between the white knight and the mirror knight.

      MK overwhelmingly powerful,at the peak of his ability and wielding a sword that can cut anything


      WK, a humble hero with no magical gear and deprived of most of his powers.

      WK would tear him apart.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. thearpox23

        Usually in that story the hero with fading powers is conceited and publicly goes for a direct confrontation while also trying to rig everything behind the scenes. Then the up and coming hero pulls through anyway while also revealing everything, intentionally or unintentionally, and signals the turnaround of a corrupt system.

        I need not explain how the above script is off, and I think the diplomatic side of how this gets resolved will be more interesting and have more weight to it than whatever duel might happen.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ninestrings

          Yeah but there’s no way Hanno tries to rig it, so it becomes a straight up “underdog versus the monster in a one on one match” Hanno either wins, or dies and inspires someone else to kick MKs arse.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. thearpox23

            Hanno makes for a poor underdog, and MK still doesn’t quite cut it as a monster either. There’s no narrative weight here, and there’s not even any inherent weight to the duel itself because neither of them are Levantine.

            So like it or not the path I outlined is the closest to what the Mirror Knight has to follow to succeed, at least it would conform to his vision of the situation if nothing else. But the part with rigging the duel is just one of the five things that are obviously wrong with the script, which leaves it lacking in weight as well.

            A duel in and of itself is a specific story trope. For it to happen at all a storypath is desired. For it to be inevitable even more so. For it to be effective, triply so, and Bard isn’t around at the moment to exploit everything, so Hanno can maintain his position even after losing. Once again, they’re not Levantine or Villains to crown the one with the biggest stick, so while showdown of some sort is coming, things would have to change for a duel to be the biggest factor.


            1. Salt

              Agreed, underdog stories don’t tend to hold well for someone like Hanno who has historically been in the superior position. If anything, a fight might become disaster, as the narrative could easily become the culmination of the Mirror Knight’s own underdog story – growing and finally surpassing his previous superiors.

              Politically the fight itself would also create divisions between Heroes that agree with one or the other, and start a precedent for challenge of leadership by force – which would be terrible.

              If a fight was forced though, it would be best for Hanno to lean hard into the role of a wiser mentor and try to leverage a conciliatory position instead.

              Something along the lines of a ‘strong but unskilled youth vs experienced master past his physical prime’ type of trope. This kind of story would be bolstered if he attempted a non-lethal takedown with greater skill (which Recall gives him plenty of access to) instead of aiming to cause real harm with force, since it further specializes him into the role of a wiser veteran teaching a harsh-but-necessary lesson to a promising talent. Go for one of the classics, like putting more importance on how you use your power than how much power you have, which both fits the situation and their respective personalities.

              In a mundane sense it would be an easy way to defuse any anger and make him more receptive, if Christophe starts the fight and Hanno extends an olive branch after winning the fight. Moderation/kindness extended from a victorious position tends to take the edge off animosity, and that line of action would be in-character for him anyway, avoiding the same kinds of suspicions that came out of Catherine’s abrupt change in attitude when she tried her hand at reconciliation.

              Politically it would potentially turn a danger into a boon, if he managed to reconcile this way. The precedent would then change to show that duels for leadership are foolish and shallow, and that the whole thing was an exercise in youthful immaturity that was well-handled by the current leadership.


      2. Salt

        I’d honestly prefer if Hanno was successful in talking Christophe down, and pointed him in the direction of the elves or something.

        What I wouldn’t give to see the showdown of the insufferable: the Mirror Knight vs an Emerald Sword. They’d both offend each other instantly and look so far down their noses at each other that their necks would be in danger of snapping.

        The Emerald Sword would be incensed at human vermin daring to be so arrogant, and Christophe would somehow rationalize the elf as a Villain before the first verbal joust is over.

        Liked by 9 people

      3. Hanno has not been “deprived of most of his powers”! He’s lost his coin-flip aspect yes, but he still has Recall to learn the secrets of essentially every hero before his time (and IIRC duplicate their light-shaping). And Ride to provide Light to shape. But as I’ve said before, his greatest powers are tongue and heart, and he’s a lot smarter than Christophe! to boot.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Is the Coin of Judgement even an Aspect?
          I thought it was a very specialized artifact provided by the Titans.

          Though, with the Coin presumably nonfunctional, he can’t flip it for the bonuses riding the Judgement train. Which is, admittedly, a definite downgrade, although the Coin wouldn’t necessarily help him when dealing with Mirror Knight, and he almost certainly wouldn’t invoke it upon Mirror Knight even if it were fully functional. Ditto for Bard, probably.
          Although, he most likely could’ve used it on the Dead King, but I’m not sure how much that’d actually help.


          1. Salt

            Definitely not an aspect, it’s basically an ordinary coin right now, without the angels on his shoulder. He flipped it to demonstrate this to Cat, when they were chatting about what it was like to be cut off from the Seraphim. I was also under the impression that he’s still the White Knight as far as Role and aspects go.

            The coin isn’t really a weapon though, as far as Hanno is concerned. For him it’s just how he figures out whether the Seraphim consider an action/person Justified or not.

            I suspect he’d flip it without hesitation on literally anyone and anything – including any Hero, any Villain, any civilian, the Bard, Rulers, Countries, or even inanimate ideas/decisions – that he considers to be questionably ‘Just’.

            After all, we know from the Kairos POV when he viewed everyone with Wish that nothing quite matters to Hanno as much as “I want to be Just”.


          2. Bard said it was an Aspect, she called it a “formulaic Aspect”. He had a different gift from the Gigantes, the shapechanging sword that Black destroyed, but that was basically a convenience to help out with his Recall aspect.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. JJR

      If Mirror Knight fails this task the coalition gets to face him as a revenant, possibly still wielding severance. It depends on whether Dead Kings ability to usurp magic is stronger than Saint of Swords lingering essence’s ability to perceive such an attempt and self destruct. I’d put my money on the Dead King though. There’s also the issue of his Dawn aspect. If DK gets his phalanges on Mirror Knight with that intact, then it’s just a matter of waiting a little bit (from an immortal liche’s point of view) and he has an unstoppable warrior. One that story might not even be able to step in to stop. It would be a story of the alliance’s chickens coming home to roost after all.

      It just seems like a bad idea all round.


  6. LizAris

    I am ridiculously happy that Cat finally got to bang Fred (They would make a cute couple politics aside, ngl)

    YES HANNO way to have Cat’s back…to think I didn’t even like White when we first met him

    Mirror boy needs to seriously back off— I hope we get to see lovely Cordelia destroy him with some polite conversation real soon

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wonder

    I am willing to do whatever it takes to be a fly on the wall or anything else ,just to see Cat sweaty and spent and hear her vocal opinions of the Fisher .

    Of only we come some exclusives on this kind of things that Cat gets up to.

    That sweaty scene is not getting out of my head anytime soon.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    But of I > But if I
    wager,” Indrani > wager.” Indrani
    if the screw > if they screw
    fielding as shield > fielding a shield
    far,” Indrani > far.” Indrani
    from an large > from a large
    sent written > sent a written
    hole in pocket > hole in my pocket
    anyway,” he > anyway.” He
    mooning,” I > mooning.” I
    was shame > was a shame
    the that > that
    that’d followed > that’d follow
    leaving as a lookout > leaving her as a lookout
    luck,” I > luck.” I

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Big I

    So does this make Cat the femme fatale of the Kingfisher Prince’s story? Or vice versa?

    I anticipate this liason is going to be used to sour the Mirror Knight on the Prince. I remember him saying “you’ve broken the Gray Pilgrim and fooled the White Knight”, and now she’s seduced the Kingfisher Prince. In his mind I’m sure he’s the lone voice of reason in a world gone mad.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. thearpox23

      It’s such a beautiful reasoning lock, one of the most beautiful we humans have. Consider a target to be a vector of corruption, and you can immediately discredit every person who have come into contact with the target and considers them reasonable. Meanwhile every person who didn’t come into contact with the target yet is ignorant, and can be discredited just as well. It’s just so hellishly difficult to disprove.

      I am rather forgetful with terminology, but it strikes me that English likely has a term for this.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. Salt

        The funny thing is that Christophe would actually be half correct.

        The Pilgrim and the White Knight both saw it – Tariq called Cat a “thresher”, which Hanno describes as having a pull that pulls people into her orbit – either as followers or as wreckage. They actually fourth-walled her character archetype there.

        Her current pulled-into-orbit count consists of: all the Woe, Juniper, most of the legions, half the goblins (who volunteer for the Army of Callow just because of Catherine), the sisters, all the drow, Cordelia, the Pilgrim, Roland, Talbot, Akua, the entire grand alliance, nearly all the Villains under the Truce and Terms, and a shit ton of side characters. Am I missing anyone?

        The half he’s wrong about would be Cat having a nefarious master plan underneath it all that viciously… undoes her own life’s work. I guess.

        Kind of a big thing to be wrong about, but the first part at least is a pretty spot-on read of her from Christophe,

        Liked by 9 people

        1. dadycoool

          I kind of want a confrontation where she’s accused of trying to rule the entire continent and she says something like “Yes, I am on my way to ruling the world. By proxy, with lots of advisors able to keep my head on straight. I WILL bring this world into a new era of peace and prosperity, under the direction of the rulers that know what’s best for their people.” I think that sidesteps a lot of the pitfalls such a Glorious Villainous Authoritarian Speech would have for the one giving it.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. Cicero

        Isn’t it just a form of “begging the question?”

        In other words, you assume the conclusion, which assumption then provides the evidence supporting the conclusion.


        1. thearpox23

          We know the Black Queen is a dangerous schemer, because many people support her?

          I suppose that kind of works, but MK is actually ready to answer the question of “How do we know she is a schemer?” with “She is a Villain and isn’t trying to murder us directly.” which is actually a good answer considering his world-view. And the nature of villains is explained by his scriptures and cultural knowledge.

          Considering that “begging the question” seems to refer to a specific argumentation tactic, this seems a tad more complicated than that. More of a cult mentality, but that seems more of a general concept than something specific.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Salt

            That seems rather severely biased towards Catherine. Christophe’s evaluation of her as a “dangerous schemer” is, if anything, understating it. The part he’s actually wrong about is something else entirely – that she necessarily must have bad intentions, or that it’s impossible for them to be anything but enemies.

            Otherwise though? Of course you treat the Carrion Lord’s successor as a potential danger. Of course you consider her an insanely competent schemer, given her impressively long list of publicly known victories by scheming, since the Everdark arc.

            She’s not the squire anymore, and the color of her cloak is no longer the only reason to be wary or outright afraid of her. She’s already become the kind of entity that can squash armies by stomping her foot. Anyone but very strong Named, heads of state, and literal gods should worry about her potentially ending you faster than you can say “high priestess of a murder-god worshipping Drow religion”.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. thearpox23

              You’re missing the forest for the trees again.

              My post wasn’t an evaluation of Catherine, it was an attempt to phrase it using the Begging the Question fallacy, which I found lacking. I could’ve found a couple better matching words, but that wasn’t going to fix the overall issue of using that fallacy.

              And even my first reply wasn’t about what Mirror Knight’s perceptive is. It was about the kind of circular reasoning that could be potentially used to discredit anyone who disagrees with him. Used in real life as well.


  10. Hellspirit

    Mmm, I’m not sure whether the Mirror Knight is justified in his behavior on the larger scale, but to my eye he’s very much the Protagonist Hero in a typical story.

    I just hope it turns out well. I really want to see him grow into someone I can like in This story.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Salt

      It would actually be a fantastic redemption story if he eventually grew into the person the Saint could’ve been, if her Role wasn’t a purely Avenging type that was always too late to save anything.

      Could you imagine how much of a boon the old terror granny could’ve been in this situation, if she hadn’t had every speck of kindness purged out of her with decades of losses and horrors? It would’ve been amazing watching her trade barbs with revenants before swiftly chopping them in half.

      Liked by 5 people

  11. jalexanderb

    I hope Cordelia will bring up the point about the Severance that I haven’t noticed Cat even thinking about, which is that they (collectively) own the damn thing. They paid for the resources and funding, and there is no way in hell Cordy is going to let “but I picked it up so its mine now” be the whole reason MK gets the sword.

    Obviously Cat trying to pull something like that would’ve got her slapped down Narratively but that’s what we love about about an unnamed ruler. God, I hope Cordelia just obliterates the idiot verbally.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. dadycoool

      As the kind of person that rejects Religious/Named morality for mortal Law and Order, that would absolutely be in character for her. “Um, excuse me. We made that sword to be used in a fight against Keter, not in a civil war with doom on our doorstep. It wasn’t commissioned for you or anyone else. And picking it up out of the armory doesn’t make it yours any more than if a foot soldier picked up a lance he had neither the training nor equipment to properly use.” She’d say it far more elegantly, of course.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Salt

        The Principiate must honor alliances and be honest to its faithful allies (we can’t afford to break alliance right now, idiot), and acknowledges the Empire Ever Dark’s efforts in keeping the Enemy at bay (especially not with the Everdark). The Crown would like to recognize the Black Queen for her faithful service in the war effort (I have like, ten irons in the fire that I need to draw on her influence for), and would like to extend invitation for further negotiations, as to further mutual interests under the fairest of terms (I need to negotiate, stop weakening my bargaining position)

        All of which would promptly fly over his head, greatly saddening him that even the First Prince isn’t immune to the Black Queens treacherous corruption.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. agumentic

      “Unnamed” doesn’t mean “Exempt from the narrative”, as we’ve seen in Book 5. Anyone just trying to take Severance away from Mirror Knight would fail, I think. If he is to lose it, that would be by himself, either by willingly relinquishing it or by losing his head to the power of the sword.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Salt

        I think it’s a moot point, honestly. Christophe’s identity as a person is so classically Proceran – the peoples who are generally appalled at even the notion of not following the letter of the law, even while ignoring the intent of it – that it’s virtually impossible for him to even want to ignore the First Prince.

        He might consider her tricked by Villainous treachery at worst, but he’s still the same kid who got awkward at the sight of Catherine the ~royal~ breaking etiquette around him.

        If Cordelia Hasenbach actually got pissed off enough to openly denounce him, the boy would likely cry himself to sleep out of shame, and we’d get a half a chapter of him being very upset at once again proving himself unworthy of the mantle.

        Liked by 2 people

  12. Salt

    Also wait, did we just get a hint about Black’s overall plan in his civil war with Malicia?

    Cat mentioned that it was proceeding at a languid pace. That probably isn’t an accident, that’s Black intentionally taking it slow, knowing that the civil war itself is a form of containment. He’s essentially a sword at Malicia’s back for as long as the civil war is ongoing, and she can’t go full throttle at Catherine until he’s dealt with.

    If that’s the case, then he might be narratively tightening the noose around Malicia’s neck, by just sitting there and dragging it out. He knows Malicia, knows her well, that she tends to tunnel on trying to win every fight. She said it herself at the end of the peace conference – that she always, always wins. Does that sound similar to you, like a certain Light-clad mirror to the good ol Hellgods?

    If Black allows Malicia to slowly choke the life out of this Dread Empress Sepulchral that he’s set up as a rival, but achieves one of his goals anyway by buying Catherine time? Then he puts himself in a narrative where Alaya always wins, but Amadeus always gets his due. He shapes the narrative so Malicia is adopting Above’s methodology whole he adopts Below’s, in a war over who gets to be Below’s favored champion.

    He’s letting her walk right into that Sepulchral tomb he prepared for her by taking yet another page out of Catherine’s playbook and very patiently, very slowly… surrendering the battle to win the war.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. ninegardens

      I mean… him taking things slowly means that Alay-bells isn’t going to mess up the grand alliance, true… but it also means the Legions can’t show up to HELP the grand alliance… which is something of a problem.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Salt

        Logistically true, but narratively there are advantages of being late to the party anyway. Rushing to an ally’s aid in their hour of greatest need is a pretty big gust of wind in your story sails.

        Works better as a Hero, but leaning on the father rushing to save an adopted daughter line is arguably even stronger, albeit one with more death flags attached.

        Liked by 5 people

      1. Sparsebeard

        I thought it was relatively common knowledge.

        Still, I do think it’s the reason they want the crown rather then just a grab for more power. If that’s the case, there is a parallel to be made with the drow.


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