Chapter 40: Campaign

“A war is not always won with daring, but it is always lost without.”
– Florianne Goethal, Princess of Brus

When the First Prince left the Arsenal, it would be with a talking corpse in a locked box.

The work on my end was done, and it’d been exhausting enough that I slept fitfully for a few hours after returning to my rooms. Archer kept watch, and intercepted messages and reports before they could reach me. I woke up halfway to Afternoon Bell with a stiff leg, the undead Red Axe remaining as a little bundle of senses in the back of my mind I could look into if I so wished. I could snuff her out again with a snap of my fingers if I so wished, a precaution I’d judged necessary given who the heroine had made deals with when she still breathed. Let Procer have its trial, and Cordelia settle her princes. I’d made it clear it was the last favour I’d be doing her for some time, and that now it was her time to deliver.

Among the messages Indrani passed me was one from her, which turned out to be a good start on that. She’d officially ratified a treaty making the ealamal a weapon under the Grand Alliance, if not a weapon of the Grand Alliance. Yannu Marave and I were being invited to post up to three hundred soldiers each to stand guard over the weapon, with Procer itself promising to limit its own garrison at five hundred. Twenty slots for ‘scholarly observers’ were offered for each us, with access to the doomsday weapon, though if Named were to be part of that twenty it would require unanimous approval by a vote of the signatory members of the Grand Alliance.

All this we’d agreed over the Lord of Alava’s strong wine, but the added list penned by Cordelia’s own hand of all Named she was willing to grant access was an unexpected boon. As I’d expected Hierophant wasn’t on it, but both Roland and the Forsworn Healer were. Only a few villains were among them: the Harrowed Witch, the Forgetful Librarian, the Royal Conjurer and the Hunted Magician. Three out of four were Proceran, but honestly of my lot they were the most decent folk that’d be able to get something out of looking at the corpse. The Affable Burglar was the only Named she went out of her way to specify would be allowed under no circumstance, which honestly was fair.

Aurore was delightful, but she had the worst of Vivienne’s old habits paired with a moral compass to make a priest weep.

I penned a quick diplomatic thank you note for the First Prince, then a longer message for Lord Yannu mentioning I was still willing to back up his nomination of the Healer if he was willing to do the same with mine of the Rogue Sorcerer. I was willing to get it all going this very evening, if he was. Most of the other messages were minor, the only one of decent importance a formal confirmation that the war council would begin tomorrow through the Mirage. I’d already agreed to that, though, so it wasn’t a surprise. What was, however, was the official report I got from the Arsenal research council that a functional, usable Unraveller pattern had finally been made.

Mind you the estimated costs for one were still higher than I’d like – about the same as a good horse – but it’d be worth the coin if they worked as advertised. I’d spend a good horse’s worth of gold on an artefact capable of destroying a beorn or even a turtle-ship with a single touch without hesitation, considering how necromantic constructs tended to be the Dead King’s means of shattering shield walls. Hells, with a decent supply of those the Lycaonese would be able to hold Twilight’s Pass until the Last Dusk – they were a damned stubborn folk, and their fortresses would hard to invest without Keter’s monstrous siege engines.

“We’ve got Unravellers,” I told Indrani, grinning. “We still need proper field testing, but they seem to hold up. The Blind Maker had a breakthrough while we were busy politicking – apparently wood soaked in Arcadian water works just as well as that murderously expensive stuff we were bringing in from the Waning Woods.”

It was easy to forget that, for all the intrigue permeating it at the moment, the Arsenal remained first and foremost a research facility. That’d not stopped just because nobility had swarmed all over it.

“I want a full quiver,” Archer replied without missing a beat.

I snorted.

“Sure, if it comes out of your pay,” I said. “Even for your beast of a bow the size of the thing will be a little hard, though.”

I passed her the report, which included dimensions, and she looked disgruntled. Yeah, that was more a lance than a javelin. She might be able to throw them – scratch that, she’d definitely be able to throw them – but unless she had a bow made specifically for firing Unravellers she’d not be able to use them as arrows.

“Alexis’s silver bow will be able to handle them,” she reluctantly admitted. “It’s a Gigantes artefact, it can change its shape some.”

Huh, good to know. Just for that the Silver Huntress had earned a guaranteed place among the Named that’d be joining the offensive into Hainaut. Assuming said offensive was agreed on by the Grand Alliance, though I expected it would be. That bridge the Dead King was building didn’t leave us much of a choice. I had a few questions for Indrani – including whether or not she could spare the Harrowed Witch, now that her old band had been gutted – but we were interrupted by a messenger. The White Knight was requesting, firmly but politely, a moment of my time. I didn’t allow myself to sigh until I’d sent back an affirmative that Hanno could call on me.

“Want me to stay?” Indrani offered. “If you want a loomer, I can loom.”

“I won’t be needing a loomer, no,” I amusedly replied.

“I’ve been practicing this thing with the knives, too” Archer told me, “Where I’m carving away all casual at a piece of wood, but then I change the angle and it makes this sinister scraping sound-”

“You’re not going to intimidate the White Knight with sinister wood scraping, ‘Drani,” I told her, lips twitching.

“You can’t know until we try,” she insisted, then peered at me piercingly. “Good to have that chat alone, then? Shiny Boots is bound to be a little miffed over your latest bout of corpse-snatching.”

“He’ll have to get over it,” I said. “I broke no laws.”

“Because that argument always works with heroes,” Archer drily said. “I guess you haven’t had a polite and oddly preachy argument in too long, something’s got to be done to scratch your itch.”

“Out with you,” I grinned.

“But what about what’s right, Catherine?” Indrani said in a deep voice, looking at me stoically. “Have you thought about the children, or how this will make angels sad?”

I bit down on my laughter, since otherwise it’d just encourage her.

“Away, witch,” I said. “Go chuck terrible sculptures at Masego.”

“Heard that might get illegal soon,” she replied, cocking an eyebrow at me.

I let out a startled laugh. I’d forgotten my teasing promise to Zeze from when we’d been mopping up the last enemies in the Arsenal, but I shouldn’t have expected him to – or to have failed to inform Indrani of it.

“I’ll make you royal art thrower,” I promised. “Court title with a legal exemption and everything.”

“Make sure it sticks under Vivienne too,” Indrani requested, “I’m fairly sure the wench likes him better than me.”

I managed to keep a serious face at that, which was quite the achievement, and ushered her out before the White Knight could arrive. I was a lot more dishevelled than I would have allowed myself to be in front of Lord Yannu or the First Prince, but unlike them Hanno had seen me on campaign. Staying in a tunic and comfortable boots wouldn’t be taken as an insult by him. I poured myself water waiting for him, and before long an attendant was knocking at my door. I dismissed the young woman in question at the door and welcomed him in myself, gesturing for the salon in front of my room. The White Knight was dressed just as fancily as me, his tunic grey to my green, and if anything his boots were more worn than mine.

I found Hanno’s face hard to read as he entered and sat, though his continued silence save for simple courtesies did not bode well.  He sat and declined the water I offered, expression calm. I lowered myself on the seat on the opposite side of the table, raising an eyebrow to invite him to begin.

“You made the body of a heroine into an undead prop,” the White Knight said.

Calm, but it wasn’t a friendly kind of calm.

“Legally speaking, Procer did that,” I noted. “It employed my services in doing it, true, but I acted on its behalf.”

“I expected better of you,” he said.

“Oh, fuck off,” I flatly replied. “I wouldn’t have had to step in if you’d compromised with Hasenbach yourself. The way I asked you to.”

“What she asked for-”

“Was hard to swallow,” I interrupted, “but she asked it for a reason. Refusing her is fine, Hanno, but if you do then something has to be done to address those reasons. You can’t just call it politics and say it’s out of your wheelhouse, not when your heroes are half the reason we’re in this mess to start with.”

“There was no call to compromise, Catherine,” the White Knight said. “If the Principate is proving incapable of fulfilling basic treaty obligations it agreed to, it should not be further indulged with concessions. You are acting in a manner that will secure signatures for your Accords but destroy any trust there might be in them.”

“I’m acting in a manner that keeps Principate conscripts, food and coin flowing,” I said, voice grown cold. “You know, those things we need if we want to have any chance at all of beating Keter. What was done breaks no laws and did not interfere with the sentence you passed under the Terms. You have no grounds on which to complain.”

“You could have told me of your intentions,” Hanno said. “You chose, instead, to scheme.”

His eyes narrowed.

“I am not blind,” he said. “You pushed to have the details of the trial placed under seal so that word of the trial in the Highest Assembly will spread among the people of Procer long before the one in the Arsenal does.”

“Named will be able to ask about the sentence passed on the Red Axe, as is their right under the Terms,” I replied. “They will be told, if they do, that you personally executed her.”

It’d come out eventually that Procer had tried a walking corpse, that much was certain – there were too many Named for loose lips not to eventually spill the truth, and the Arsenal itself was not airtight – but by then it wouldn’t matter. Hasenbach would have had town criers all over Procer spreading her story first, an apparatus that no Named could hope to match in speed and scope. The people of Procer would treat is as rumours, not the true story, while Named would have the White Knight’s own word of having killed the Red Axe to count on. Hanno’s own reputation was being used to anchor this, which I suspected was part of the reason he was angry.

“You build your tower on a foundation of lies and confusion,” the White Knight said. “It can only crumble.”

“If this was about ten people, or even a hundred, you’d be right,” I said. “When it comes to a few hundred thousand, though, to millions, then all those stories in the back of your head stop mattering. The scope is just too large for a pattern like ‘the secret coming out’ to make a dent. Even if rumours linger, more rumours can be seeded to dislodge them.”

“More lies,” Hanno said. “Making a game of treaties can only lessens them, Catherine.”

His expression tightened.

“There was a moment, in that room where we had come to speak with the First Prince, where you decided I had become an obstacle,” the White Knight said. “Already you had it planned, suggesting that Procer to get custody of the corpse.”

“I’m not one of yours, Hanno,” I mildly said. “You got in your own way and it needed to be done, so I did it. If you want pretty ends, get them yourself. Below deals in much, but rarely that.”

“This has cost you trust, Black Queen,” he said. “From heroes, and from me. You made the choice to go behind my back instead of working together.”

And that was true, I wouldn’t deny it. But this pretence that I was just a scorpion stinging out of habit was infuriating me, because I wouldn’t have had to do anything of this if he’d godsdamned handled it himself.

“This has cost you respect, White Knight,” I replied, voice gone hard as steel. “Because the longer you speak, the more I can’t help but notice that for all your whining you haven’t given a single alternative.”

The conversation ended there, which was for the best.

Sometimes I thought about how much gold had been sunk into building the ‘Mirage’ and winced, but I had to admit that at least it looked impressive.

It wasn’t that the room itself was large, or all that richly decorated: it was a circle with a radius of maybe a hundred feet, and the place was aggressively bare of ornaments. Nothing had been brought into here that might interfere with the enchantments, and even we had been warned to keep our clothing simple. No jewelry, and no weapons were allowed in – and for me in specific, neither my yew staff nor the Mantle of Woe. At the centre stood a great table of stone, carved with small runes that could be touched to silently signal you were requesting the right to speak, and around said table twenty seats of stone had been assembled. Those seats were within boxes of clear glass, which would serve as the medium for the magic, but in truth the entire room was an intricate ritual array hid under the floor tiles.

With all the glass and the strange table, surrounded by smooth walls of polished stone, the Mirage made for an unusual sight. I claimed my seat with a limp, letting a mage attendant close the glass panels behind me, and breathed out in surprise when within moments I began to saw around the table people that were thousands of miles away. The illusions were damned convincing, too: I could see the flush on Rozala Malanza’s cheeks, and the details of the folds on Itima Ifriqui’s skin. It was a shame that there would be no refreshments offered at this war council, given how long it was likely to last, but Hasenbach had suggested that after an hour we vote on taking a pause so at least I wouldn’t stuck in this box forever. It was going to get warm in here, I suspected, considering the openings in the glass were small and meant more to let in air than address heat.

There were too many commanders in the Grand Alliance for them to all fit in one room, much less warrant the expensive arrangements necessary to be connected to the Mirage, so it was only the very highest rung of command that’d been invited to this war council. For the front in Twilight’s Pass the Kingfisher Prince had come in person, while an illusion Lady Itima Ifriqui of Vaccei stood in for the Dominion troops in the region. For Cleves, an illusion of my old foe Princess Rozala Malanza of Aequitan had been conjured up while Lord Yannu Marave had claimed his seat in person. For Hainaut, grizzled old Klaus Papenheim has been brought in phantom form while the Kingdom of Callow had its representative in my person. Though not a general, the First Prince naturally had a seat of her own as the highest military authority in Procer.

Going by numbers Callow’s presence in the room was almost slightingly small, and in truth I’d been offered the right to bring in an Army officer from the Pass to even the numbers a bit, but I’d declined. Dragging Pickler or Kilian into this was unwarranted for essentially the same reason that neither Razin Tanja nor Aquiline Osena were in attendance even though they fielded troops in Hainaut. Hells, it was why General Pallas wasn’t here even though her Tyrant’s Own numbered more than the troops Lady Itima had brough up north. None of those commanders were of the highest authority in the front. If I told Razin to send out his foot, the boy did it. If the Iron Prince wanted the kataphraktoi to screen the flanks of Alamans skirmishers, screen those they did.

While all those people would be told of the decisions made, and participate to the planning of the campaign itself, the hard truth was that none of them were influential enough to warrant a seat here. And not all seats were equal in here, either. I spoke for the entire Army of Callow and was the informal representative for the drow as well, which meant my word weighed heavier than that of any single Levantine or Proceran save perhaps Cordelia herself. Their authority was diluted by their numbers, not strengthened: Itima Ifriqui could not speak for the captains under another of the Blood, and Malanza couldn’t speak for the Lycaonese holding the Pass. My army’s chain of command was fundamentally unlike theirs, when it came down to it. Theirs forces were a messy patchwork of personal noble troops and free captains answering this way and that, while mine had been inherited from the relentlessly professional Legions of Terror.

Given the difficulties Cordelia still had in getting her princes in line I might actually have more soldiers under me than she did, regardless of Procer fielding a significantly larger force overall.

There was no small talk, and barely even greetings. Once the spells were stable and the mage-attendants had made sure the links were matched silence was given without even needing to be called for. Everyone knew why they were here, and how serious the matters at hand were. It was the kind of weight that tended to make small talk feel like whistling in a graveyard. Hasenbach did not let the silence linger for long, opening the council with a few brisk courtesies and then getting us started in earnest with the unfortunate realities of our war.

“All of you have, by now, received the information that the Witch of the Woods obtained during her sally beyond enemy lines,” the First Prince said. “The Dead King is raising a bridge in northern Hainaut, in the flatlands known as Thibault’s Wager. Troops are being massed on the northern shore, and fortifications have been raised to harden the site against assault.”

Itima Ifriqui of the Brigand’s Blood rapped her knuckles against the table before her, requesting the right to speak and having it granted immediately.

“Did we get hard numbers on what is being massed?” the Lady of Vaccei asked.

“The initial report by the Witch estimated around two hundred thousand on the northern shore,” the First Prince replied, “but that was more than two months ago. We have not been able to scry the location since.”

“I mean no disrespect to the skills of the Lady Witch,” Princess Rozala said, “yet it occurs to me that the Hidden Horror might well have allowed her this vision. I won’t argue against the necessity of break that bridge, but it seems to me we are being provoked to battle on his time and terms.”

She was right about that much, in my opinion. While I honesty doubted Neshamah had given up the game with the bridge on purpose – he wasn’t infallible, we took him by surprise sometimes – he was aware that we knew about his bridge and couldn’t afford to let it stand. He knew a battle was coming in this ‘Thibault’s Wager’, and he’d be prepared accordingly.

“I’ve been sending native outriders and Helike cataphracts deep into enemy territory,” the Iron Prince told us after being given right to speak, “and the reports from the survivors all speak to the same truth: the Enemy is withdrawing deeper into Hainaut. We still get regular raids on our lines but the army Old Bones wanted to strike with while the plague ravaged our backs broke into smaller forces. We think at least half of them are headed north.”

I touched a rune on the table with my fingers, which drew Hasenbach’s attention, and she gave me the right to speak a heartbeat after.

“It’s a safe bet he’s fortifying the Wager,” I said. “The longer we wait to make our offensive, the more heavily dug-in the dead will be. Revenants, constructs, earthworks. He’ll make that place into a fortress.”

Possibly literally. The flatlands would become even more strategically valuable after the bridge was built, should we fail to stop that, so it would be a sound use of resources to raise a fortress there. The right to speak passed back to Lady Itima.

“A surprise strike through the Twilight Ways is the answer,” she said. “A strong force with Bestowed can shatter the works and retreat.”

“And the moment the dust settles on that raid, the Dead King will begin raising a new bridge,” Frederic pointed out. “It would be worthwhile for him even only for the forced attrition – how many elite troops and heroes will we lose with every attack?”

“The work can’t be done in a day,” Princess Rozala disagreed. “It will slow him down enough that we’ll get breathing room to muster a proper answer.”

“Your theory rests on the Hidden Horror’s means to build staying the same,” Prince Klaus retorted. “They won’t. The longer this goes on, the more bodies he can mobilize.”

“If we strike at all, it should be to win lasting gains,” Lord Yannu said. “There is only so much blood we can afford to spill over that bridge.”

“The strategic reality is that a raid is just pissing away lives,” I bluntly agreed. “We have to be able to hold the region, or we’ll be doing this again and again. Even if we make this Wager impossible to build in, what prevents Keter from starting work on a bridge a hundred miles upriver?”

“We would be committing to a major offensive entirely on the Dead King’s terms, Queen Catherine,” Princess Rozala replied. “And if a severe enough defeat ensues, it seems likely that the Hainaut defensive lines will be unable to withstand the counterattack.”

“If Ol’ Bones gets two hundred thousand of his finest on the south bank, we won’t be able to withstand a plain attack,” the Iron Prince grunted. “Your instincts are good, Malanza, I mean no slight to them. It’ll be a nasty piece of war to slog through, for sure. But I don’t see that we have a choice. The Black Queen put her arrow in the eye: this is going to keep happening until we secure the shores of Hainaut.”

“It would make the principality easier to defend,” the Kingfisher Prince noted. “Barring disaster, having a moat between Hainaut and Keter should offset the casualties taken winning it.”

“A plan that accounts for victory but not defeat is not a plan, it is a daydream,” Lord Yannu said. “If disaster does happen, how does Hainaut hold?”

“I will be bringing reinforcements from Callow,” I said. “The Duchy of Daoine has agreed to send six thousand men, under condition that they are used purely for defensive warfare. Lady Dartwick will hold the command.”

Duchess Kegan had been willing to shake loose some of her soldiers, if they were used only to man the defensive lines. I didn’t even grudge her the limitations, considering those lines were going to have to be manned regardless: skilled as Deoraithe fighters were, on the field I would rather have more legionaries in the ranks. I would have liked some Watch, mind you, but Kegan had been understandably unwilling to let any of them near the greatest necromancer to ever live. I didn’t want Neshamah to get his hands on that mass of souls the Watch got its powers from either, so I’d live with the disappointment. Besides, if they stayed in Callow then they were for Malicia to worry about – and given how few troops were left to defend my borders I wanted her to worry as much as possible.

“Six thousand will not hold back the tide, Your Majesty,” the Princess of Aequitan said.

“Neither will hiding behind our walls,” I flatly replied. “And even if we suffer a defeat, the Ways mean there will always be a path of retreat the enemy can not follow us into. That will mitigate casualties, and the defeated force could then retreat to the defensive lines faster than the dead can march and replenish its ranks with the reinforcements from Daoine.”

“Companies of volunteers are also being raised from the refugees in Brabant,” the First Prince said. “Though they will not be ready in time to participate in a summer offensive, they can at least serve as a strategic reserve.”

“Starvelings in dwarven tinpots,” Lady Itima snorted. “How many of those poor souls are you raising?”

“Between ten and fifteen thousand,” the fair-haired princess replied.

A pretty number, especially when you added my six thousand Deoraithe to it, but no one here was fooled. How many of those ten to fifteen would truly be fighting fit, instead of sickly elders or children too small for the breastplate? If it was even half I’d count us lucky. Procer was at least a year past scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came to recruitment, these days it was digging into the floor under the metaphorical barrel. Still, warm bodies with spears could hold the defenses we’d raised. Not well, but long enough for reinforcements to arrive. And with Named to stiffen the backbone, we should be able to avoid a general rout the moment the volunteers first saw what an offensive by Keter looked like.

“Ten thousand starvelings can hold a wall, Itima, if they have a Callowan backbone spread through their ranks,” the Lord of Alava said.

“Might be,” the Lady of Vaccei grunted back.

“Though our hand is being forced, there is another reason I’m in favour of an offensive in Hainaut,” I said. “The Hierophant is close to a breakthrough on a weapon that would make an attack on the Crown of the Dead feasible – and reclaiming Hainaut would be necessary before such a step.”

It was good news I’d given them, and it was treated like it. Only Hasenbach knew of Quartered Season in any depth, though both Malanza and Marave were aware that I’d had Masego working on something since the foundation of the Arsenal. Klaus Papenheim, in particular, had finally traded that grim Lycaonese scowl for a distinctly wolfish smile.

“Within three months we should have the artefact itself,” I continued, “and though the time required to make it a fully functional weapon is uncertain, it would be ready for use by next summer.”

Meaning if we took back Hainaut this year and dug in over the winter, we could attempt to end the war in a single stroke the following year.

“Might we expect a fuller understanding of this weapon soon, Your Majesty?” Princess Rozala asked.

“Once the initial trial is complete, in three months, a briefing will be arranged,” I said. “Before that I will only fully inform the First Prince herself and a designated high officer for Levant.”

The Levantines shared a look.

“I will be that officer,” Lord Yannu said. “It will be confirmed by the Majilis before the end of the day.”

I inclined my head in acknowledgement.

“In light of what I’ve said, I’d like you all to reconsider how you’re looking at the offensive ahead of us,” I said. “While it’s true that Keter will be expecting us to attack, at this time I don’t believe the Dead King will be expecting an all-out and sustained offensive to reclaim all of Hainaut. This could be an opportunity for us to do real damage.”

“You’re suggesting we destroy the Enemy’s forces in Hainaut,” Frederic said. “Bold.”

“I’m suggesting that if this is to be our last offensive before we move against Keter itself, it’s in our interest to destroy as much of the Dead King’s armies as possible,” I said. “Better to face them on the field than behind the walls of the Crown of the Dead.”

That siege would already be hellish enough without Neshamah being allowed to pull back his armies in good order and turning his capital into even more of an impregnable nightmare.

“We don’t have the numbers for that kind of campaign in Hainaut,” Prince Klaus pragmatically said.

“The Firstborn forces under General Rumena are willing to participate to that offensive,” I said. “And I’d like for commanders on the other fronts to consider sending reinforcements.”

“The defense of Cleves will be made significantly harder by the absence of the Firstborn,” Princess Rozala said.

“Perhaps that will remember Gaspard Langevin the realities of his situation,” I said, tone gone sharp. “Sve Noc’s patience is not without limits. Besides, it is Twilight’s Pass I would expect more soldiers from.”

“Holding the grounds we’ve taken is not leisurely, don’t let the stalemate fool you,” Lady Itima said. “Your raiders ought to have told you this much.”

“You believe the Unravellers will stabilize our front enough we can afford to thin the ranks,” the Kingfisher Prince said, eyes narrowing.

There was some undisciplined talk at the talk of the artefacts, since to my surprise the news hadn’t made it everywhere. Lady Itima had held no idea, and to my surprise neither had the Iron Prince – he must have been away from reliable scrying relays.

“I wouldn’t take my mages from you, but Special Tribune Robber and Sapper-General Pickler would both be of great use on this campaign,” I said. “Not to mention a few hundred Lycaonese foot.”

Prince Klaus looked a little flattered, I saw from the corner of my eye. Well, he knew what I thought of his people as far as soldiering went. Lycaonese fought fierce and rarely broke, there were few better men to field against the dead. Frederic’s horse was famous as well, but they were mostly retinue troops and Hainaut was already well served in cavalry by my reckoning. Between my knights, Lycaonese cavalry and the kataphraktoi we had a fine array of heavy horse, while Alamans horsemen made for fine skirmishers and outriders.

“If the Unravellers prove reliable, I would agree to lending troops to the offensive,” the Kingfisher Prince said.

Not that he could keep Pickler or Robber from leaving if I recalled them, but it would be undiplomatic to withdraw my soldiers without first consulting the commanding officers of the front.

“You don’t need my lot, not when you’ve got Tartessos screamers,” Lady Itima noted. “I’ll send Moro and a company of sworn blades, but no more.”

“I would be willing to contribute Alavan captains,” Lord Yannu said. “Should the campaign be soundly planned.”

More heavy foot, these, allegedly the finest in Levant. I nodded in thanks at both Levantines.

“If the Firstborn leave and our Levantine friends split their forces, I do not believe I can spare much men,” Princess Rozala said, tone faintly regretful. “And of that little no horse, if the drow no longer screen the coasts.”

“Setting aside the details of the offensive,” the First Prince said, “I now ask formally: is this is council in favour of a summer offensive in Hainaut?”

The vote was unanimously in favour.

88 thoughts on “Chapter 40: Campaign

  1. Yep. Hanno’s not happy about what’s happened with Red Axe’s corpse. We all saw that coming.
    And I expect that most of the other Heroes aren’t going to be happy about it when they find out either.
    Villains might be amused.

    On the other hand, Cat’s right – Red Axe’s actions caused problems, and Hanno wasn’t considering the larger picture of problems that Red Axe contributed to and Cordelia needs to deal with.
    There weren’t any good solutions, far less any that could be considered Good.

    Also, this is basically confirmation that Cat and Cordelia were interested in being able to confuse, blur, and spin the details and timing for public consumption, rather than truly keep secret the sentence.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. dadycoool

      I half expected Cat to threaten him with something like “Would you like me to tell my people that the Heroes are getting upset that dirty work got done?”

      Liked by 3 people

      1. caoimhinh

        I expected Cat to remind Hanno of what she told him 3 chapters ago when he admitted he had no solution to this issue:
        “Then pray, hero. And I’ll see what I can get done down in the mud.”

        I thought she would say something along the lines of “I warned you. Did you expect a clean solution down here in the mud?”

        Liked by 8 people

        1. I don’t think Cat would appreciate if HE reminded her of her snappy one-liner either. Remember how flustered she was when he brought up what she said to the Choir of Endurance? Yeah, what you’re proposing is high key not Cat, bless her self-conscious dramatic soul

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Shveiran

            That is comparing apples and oranges, I feel.

            She was embarrassed because that one-liner was spoken from a version of herself she no longer aligned with, not completely.
            This time, I’m pretty sure that she stands by what she said; even more now than then, in fact.

            Liked by 2 people

              1. Shveiran

                I do not disagree, but there is a lot of difference between a snappy one-liner thrown at enemies she no longer wishes to antagonize, and something she still believes but could maybe, possibly have been phrased a bit more placidly.

                I’m not totally convinced that even that isn’t exaggerating, to be honest: this chapter saw Hanno talk about how she “lost his respect” for solving a problem anyone else refused to address, and I can’t imagine Catherine being emberassed because she sharply reminded him he was washing his hands clean of the matter and leaving it in her lap.

                Liked by 1 person

          2. caoimhinh

            Nah, that time she was embarrassed because apparently there’s a pun somewhere in there. Something to do with bottom-feeders, if I recall correctly. She even states that to Cordelia “I didn’t say it because of the pun!”.

            Cat always stands by what she says, and it is not “high key not Cat” for her to remind people of what she has said before. We have seen Catherine remind Malanza, Tariq, Akua, and Cordelia about their previous conversations and invoke parts of it, particularly the parts when she made offers that were refused, which is pretty much what happened here: Hanno refused to take Cat’s offer of compromising in something, so she had to do things on her end without his help.

            Liked by 4 people

    2. Insanenoodlyguy

      Yeah, i withdraw my previous concerns though. I thought Cat was walking into a villian mistake, but she accounted for it. This story’s biggest point of vulnerability was it’s discovery. If she is letting it be discovered this easily and accounting for that instead of trying to suppress it, it can’t form into the crashing wave and will but dribble at her feet. The hurting of the relationship with White Knight is unfortunate but survivable.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Indeed, though it seems to me that Catherine handled her conversation with Hanno quite poorly.
        She reacted with harshness and coldness to his complaint when she could have calmly explained the necessity of her actions. Not an excuse nor a justification, but a reasoning, and Hanno would have listened and made his peace with it even if he wouldn’t agree to such course of action.
        Heck, she knew this was coming, she should have prepared for that conversation, she had time to think of what to say and how to say it. Hanno did not need to agree with her by the end of that conversation but there was absolutely no need to go about it with such rudeness.

        That whole conversation, Catherine was all “shut up, I got it done, suck up your complaints”

        This is not the first time they have argued and disagreed over a subject, nor will it be the last; but it was the first time that she spent the whole conversation being rude to him.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. hakureireimu

          I disagree; Hanno already knows about the necessity of her actions and her reasoning. They are simply have a disagreement over their *values*, and that’s not something mere words can gap, similar to their previous disagreements over the pray vs act dichotomy.

          Liked by 9 people

        2. Hanno knows the reasoning and they’ve had this conversation several times already.

          What Catherine could have addressed and didn’t was Hanno’s complaint about the breach of trust on her part – she didn’t just do this, she also did it behind his back.

          Of course, the breach of trust results from a lack of trust of HER in HIM – she expected that if she gave him the veto right (which she’d effectively be doing by not tricking him), he would be obstructive.

          And it’s… not unreasonable, given context.

          I think Hanno has a lot more to reflect on from this than Catherine does.

          Liked by 5 people

        3. 'Ladi Williams

          Actually, this was a conversation they have had times without number. He was coming with the same complaints without have an alternative to put forward. She was tired of saying same things over and over again.

          Liked by 4 people

  2. dadycoool

    “Excuse me, Cat. This wool is uncomfortable on my face.” Too bad he really didn’t have any alternatives to give. Indrani’s a treasure.

    Ooh, a war council, complete with holograms for those not physically present. It’s good to see how they manage all this.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Named don’t hold battlefield command, they’re flatly subordinate to battlefield command they’re attached to. Hanno handles his own assignments of who goes where, sure, but so do Razin, Aquiline and others Catherine has brought up as examples of who DIDN’T make it to this council.

        Hanno’s not a general and he’s not pretending to be.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. IDKWhoitis

          I think even if the Named are theoretically not included in battlefield command, they are important assets that must be accounted for. A front could do more with less troops if Named are a part. Therefore, when looking at how many troops are being strategically redeployed, keeping the Named in mind must be done. In not only quantity and positioning, but also condition and favorable groupings.

          At the same time, from a political standpoint, the villains have a non official representative at the table making important decisions. In a different context, this isn’t too much of a probelm. But in the context of Hanno being tricked and cut out of decision making process, it sets a Trust trap for the future where the Heroes cooperate less than they do now. The heroes either ignore what strategy is laid out in front of them by the committee (arguably the best case) or actively propagate the perception that Cat is controlling the Grand Alliance (worst case in my eyes, as it breeds hidden poison for future endeavors).


          1. Everyone’s keeping them in mind already. Information bits are taken care of, the point of the war council is to make sure the politicians are on the same page. Named stay out of mundane logistics by choice – unless it directly concerns their Name, it’s not their problem and they’re not going to think about it.

            Actually, I think you’re right, not including Hanno IS an oversight. If he’d been present for these, maybe he’d have a better appreciation for how goddamn important keeping Procer whole behind their backs is.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. On the one hand, that assumes that they didn’t offer to include him, only to have him refuse – probably something along the lines of he’s not a general or ruler, and therefore has no place in discussions concerning non-Named policies, politics, and other matters.
              Or that he was invited and decided not to show for this meeting because of what Cat and Cordelia have done with Red Axe’s corpse.

              On the other hand … this appears to, at least on the surface, be an entirely secular meeting – the principals or designated representatives of the primary battlefront commanders and the member nations of the Grand Alliance.

              We should also keep in mind, Hanno was pretty clear in the infamous Hero meeting that Heroes should not have sway or influence over the Grand Alliance members and their policies solely on the basis of being a Hero.

              There’s doubtless going to be another meeting, likely between Cat and Hanno, it isn’t clear who else might be an appropriate attendee, concerning the Named response and reallocations necessary for the threat.

              It’s also possible that they are dealing with the non-Named stuff first, and Hanno will be brought in to discuss coordination between mundane policies and decisions and Named/Heroes.


                1. IDKWhoitis

                  Although if that were the case, I feel like Cat would have mentioned that or it would have been conveyed in some other manner. This meeting is obviously important enough that any absences would be noted immediately by Cat or the other members.

                  Although thinking of it further, this could be one of those things delegated/shrugged off by Hanno earlier on when Cat was taking all the responsibilities.

                  I think Cat should push for him to be present at the next of these meetings, for the sake of perspective. And because I think Hanno is going to be sensitive to the appearance that Cat is withholding information.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Yeah, that’s what I mean. I figure he established that he wouldn’t be present for those two years ago, so there’s nothing Cat feels like she could note about this one.

                    And that’s what left him oblivious to the actual urgency of Cordelia’s request I think, so yeah, I agree Cat should demand he come.


  3. WuseMajor

    I feel like, if Hanno had come back with a counter offer or something, or at least some kind of assurance that Cordy could take back to her people, that might have solved things. The Red Axe and the Bard set up a situation that the treaties really just…didn’t take into account. I feel like, if they had all agreed that the treaty wasn’t perfect and things needed to bend a bit, things might have resolved better.

    But then the Bard’s Broken Tower was still going most likely. Hopefully, it’s run it’s course by now and they’ll be able to work to regain trust after this, but who knows.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hanno has a good point in that what Procer was asking for went specifically and exactly against the treaty it signed – it seems Terms directly specify that yes, a hero attacking whoever will definitely and explicitly be ONLY tried under the Terms.

      Hanno doesn’t have a good point in that the flat answer of “I don’t see what we possibly could” when Catherine said they needed to give her something, did not exactly inspire the kind of confidence Catherine would have needed to bring him in on the plan (thus effectively giving him a right of veto, as all he’d need to do is specify what would be done to the body during the trial).

      He really needs to pick what part he’s complaining about, the solution or the not being told about the solution. Because both together only serve to weaken each other.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Abrakadabra

        By not telling him she also protected him. He can honestly claim He did not know. Which is better than furthering the doubt among heroes that Hanno got corrupted somehow. As for Catherine, they did not expect better from her. The side benefit might be some mild respect from the villains for being clever.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Ninestrings

    This is gonna be a god damned bloodbath.

    A quarter million undead at least, being commanded by the wiliest and most powerful mage on the planet.

    That bridge is gonna burn for a thousand years.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. JJR

    “And now that we’ve discussed the plan in great detail we can expect it to go off without a hitch.”

    -Literally No One

    Probably not going to happen because non-named tend not to play to stories like this, but it would be kinda funny if Princess Rozala actually did sent a large group of soldiers to swoop in at the last second but not tell anyone.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Jack Reader

    The thing is, Hanno wasn’t complaining that what Catherine did was wrong and morally repugnant, though it was. Our boy Hanno is much too canny to try and argue that to the Black Queen, which, if we were to contrast with Taylor Hebert’s “Queen of Escalation”, could be called the “Queen of Pragmatism”. What Hanno was complaining about here was that Cat chose to cut him out of the decision-making process, and went behind his back to get things done instead of even trying to bring him into her plan. And he is correct in that, if he and Cat are to work together in their roles as representatives under the T+T, they need mutual trust, which Hanno had so far actually given to Cat, before she broke it. In an interesting reversal of roles, Hanno is the one that came in talking about the relationship between Hanno and Catherine, and Cat was the one to turn it into an issue between Above and Below.

    Of course, Cat wasn’t wrong to go over his head, because if she had brought the plot to him, in the best case scenario he would have had to sign off on it, which would have dirtied his hands and put his position as Representative of Heroes in jeopardy if it ever came out (which obviously would in the worst possible moment); and in the worst case scenario he would have refused to cooperate and actually made things more difficult. Neither of them was wrong, but neither of them can afford to be right either. It just goes to show the ugliness that is politics.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. Xinci

      Yeah, the mutual trust part being broken is a bad pattern to get in to. We have sadly seen it ruin things at the most tenuous of times, in multiple instances. Hopefully, Cat will work to avert such a thing but Creation does love to retread its tragedies with different actors.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Shveiran

      She didn’t really go behind his back, though.

      They had a talk where they discussed that concessions were needed or Procer risked collapsing. Then Hanno said “I don’t think we can do concessions”, and Cat said “Then pray, White, and I’ll see what can be done here in the mud”.
      Then they had a talk with Cordelia, and Hanno doesn’t give an inch. Then he leaves and the two of them stay.
      Was there any doubt she would have done something to address the issue? She straight out told him. Then he refuses the compromise, leaves them, and acts surprised that there was further discussion on the subject?

      I’m kind of disappointed in you, Hanno.
      How could you expect anything else? In fact, I dare say you didn’t expect something else, or in refusing that compromise you’d have likely condemned Procer and everyone else.
      It’s kind of convenient to indulge in idealism while relying on someone else to fix the practicalities, but heroes will be heroes… at least don’t bitch about it afterward, though.
      It’s kind of embarrassing.

      Liked by 6 people

    3. nimelennar

      “What Hanno was complaining about here was that Cat chose to cut him out of the decision-making process, and went behind his back to get things done instead of even trying to bring him into her plan.”

      She didn’t cut him out of the decision-making process. Hanno did that to himself when he categorically refused to discuss the sentencing of the Red Axe. If you make it clear that you can’t even allow yourself to hear what theoretically might need to be done if a “guilty” verdict is returned and the likely sentence imposed, you forfeit any right to complain about what people have to do to mitigate the obvious political damage that would result from that sentence.

      Liked by 5 people

    4. Honestly, Hanno’s wrong in how he mixed complaints here. He complained that what Catherine did was morally repugnant… AND that she didn’t bring him in on the plan. Yes, White Knight, she was treating you as an obstacle, are you saying you wouldn’t have been?

      For all of his love of trials, he doesn’t really get how adversarial process works, does he?

      You don’t get to both insist that you will not discuss the sentence ahead of time AND complain you weren’t told the discussion about it that other people held ahead of time AT THE SAME TIME, honey.

      Liked by 6 people

  7. Xinci

    Hm, I do wonder how true Cats’ statement on “the truth comes out trope” would be. Information propagation between small and larger groups doesn’t change that much, so how well the true events would come out may depend on where the Heroes/major dispersals are located. That is what gives Cordelia the advantage in putting a proper spin on things here.
    I do suppose perception is really the biggest part here rather than the pattern actually not being viable to larger sample sizes.
    Cat not finding a method to keep trust with Hanno is rather unfortunate, and hopefully not a recurring pattern. As trust keeps being one of if not the most important underpinning factor for averting disaster as it strikes attempts to create better institutions.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Okay, we’ve been teased on Cat’s coming Name for a while now, but I seriously do not see how this attack goes well without her coming into it in full. Either she’s the Named leader of this host, or she earns her Name as she stumbles out of the remains of the thousands she committed to the attack. Considering too many story threads are saying that we have a year to wait for the final offensive, this is just feeling like too big of a pivot.

    Liked by 5 people

  9. edrey

    Well, Hanno mentality is the problem but that is heroes for you.
    As side note i was half expecting the spell for that weapon would come from the scorched apostate, that kid was talented.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. So what do you think DK’s plan here? I think either it’s a bait for an all-out assault to strike at other fronts, or it is some kind of a ritual that would benefit from having near hundred thousand living bodies being near it.

    I mean, no way it is JUST a bridge.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. mamm0nn

      *Cat arrives at the bridge*

      Cat: Oh no, it’s actually an aqueduct. The Dead King is stealing our water!

      *Meanwhile at the dwarven side of the siege*

      Dwarven soldier #14325: Darn, me socks are getting wet again. Makin’ me grumpy and slightly less inclined to charge.

      Dead King: Trading two hundred thousand on the surface for a mild inconvenience to the dwarves is definitely worth it.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. thearpox23

        The Dead King’s armies are basically Shrodinger’s armies at this point. He can simultaneously afford to throw away a hundred thousand troops for a minor advantage, but also get his defensive potential for Keter reduced if the Grand Alliance gets a couple efficient victories.


        1. Frivolous

          Not sure I agree. The Dead King knows how to create a permanent gate to a Hell. Diabolist was only the second person known to do it. Neshamah was the first.

          If he ever runs out of zombies, he can always open another gate and use the devils that pour forth as troops.


          1. thearpox23

            I was addressing the way characters (mainly Cat) think and are strategizing dealing with Neshamah’s fighting potential, not his actual strategic options.


          2. Opening a permanent Hellgate, or a Greater Breach, isn’t that complicated in terms of skill/knowledge by Praesi High Lord trained mages.
            The problem comes in the form of needing a massive amount of power to do it (which also means massive amounts of wasted power radiating out creating massive amounts of magical fallout), and devils summoned via hellgate are more complicated to control.
            Also, once you open a Greater Breach/permanent Hellgate … it’s there forever, and you can’t decide you want to close it … which means it’s going to be letting out demons for the rest of time (or until some Hero drops an Angel on it – and you).


            1. mamm0nn

              Unless of course you conquer the entire Hell and fill it with undead and supposedly people to prevent there being demons and devils on the other side of the Hellgate to come out. (The only living person we saw that told Cat about there being people living in the Serenity turned out to be a Malicia fleshpuppet. Technically we never saw anyone alive native to the Dead King’s lands, so we cannot say for sure whether he actually has human farms in his Hell.)


    2. Letouriste

      I have this weird conviction DK want to bring back Dread Empress Triumphant from the hell she probably conquered. A metaphysical bridge fueled by the death of tens of Named and hundreds of thousands of soldiers could do the trick


      1. Dead souls don’t actually go to Hells, as was firmly established fairly early on. The Triumphant saying is just a saying that survives on tradition + narrow spread of actual knowledge of how Hells work. There’s a reason Masego rolled his eyes every time someone uttered “may she never return” early on too.


        1. thearpox23

          The bitch dropped her own tower on two opposing armies and two legions of her own soldiers in a gigantic conflagration. If she had a plan to go to hell post-defeat, she could’ve pulled it off. And no mage or spiritualist would be able to trace the ritual afterwards because of the above-mentioned conflagration erasing any and all evidence. That Masego rolled his eyes at the idea speaks more to his narrow focus on the specifics of the legend than on the much more important question of ‘Could Triumphant have actually gone to a hell?’

          For the record, I don’t particularly anticipate Triumphant’s appearance, and even less that the bridge is in any way related. But I would not discount it entirely.


    3. Frivolous

      You know how the city in the old Transformers cartoon movie turned into a giant Transformer?

      This could be a bridge that transforms into a colossal Revenant with a footprint capable of squashing an entire town at once.


  11. 7ime1ock

    So we have the Red Axe, a heroine (specializing in anti-magic and presumably able to use Light) brought back from the dead against her will, restrained, and with a long-ranged death switch held by none other than the Black Queen herself, is now going to the heartland of Procer to take part in a second execution. This second execution that one could argue to be extremely cruel and unjust, given that Hanno, the Sword of Judgement, was deceived in what nefarious purpose they would use the corpse for when he passed his sentence and was understandably upset when he found out.

    Oh, and the First Prince and the Black Queen have, as step three (or at least four if we include transporting Red Axe and her second sentencing separately) of their plan, distributing misleading and false rumours about her trial.

    And now they think this morally unrighteous and unjust plan (that Catherine may or may not have implied to be infallible), with multiple steps, is going to go off without a hitch.

    Furthermore, Cat has now lost the trust of Hanno, and probably quite a few other heroes, just in time for the summer offensive against DK. Wonderful.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Eldrene_ay_ellan

      I think the plan bears startling resemblance to Malicia’s plan to aquire Liesse as a weapon. A situation that seems hopeless, deceiving and going against the most central convictions of an ally, multiple glaringly obvious ppints of failure and the need for all of it to not only go off without a hitch but remain a secret.
      It’s a terrible plan, if a problem cannot be solved cleanly trying for the quick easy fix is not iherently better than waiting to see if an opportunity presents itself.


    2. Frivolous

      I don’t think the Red Axe came back as a Revenant, with intact aspects. I don’t believe Catherine knows how to do that.

      I’m virtually certain that the Red Axe can’t use Light anymore. She’s an undead raised with Night. Using Light when you’re animated with Night seems very very contradictory.

      I don’t think the second trial of the Red Axe will be cruel, unless the Highest Assembly uses something nasty to kill her a second time with. I mean, the first execution was pretty humane. A single slice through the neck with a Light-imbued sword had to be very quick and almost painless.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. To be fair, Catherine did establish through questioning that the traditional punishment is boiling in oil. On the other hand, I’m extremely not seeing what that’s going to do to an animated corpse besides being a pretty bit of ceremony. I recall raised Catherine in Liesse taking an arrow to a hand and barely even noticing, and I’m seeing exactly 0 reason for Catherine to spend effort on giving Red Axe functional pain receptors.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Decius

          It just needs to be boiled in oil for longer.
          A regular human boiled in oil feels pain until medium rare.
          A specialty undead boiled in oil feels pain until extra crispy.


    1. Earl of Purple

      She’s the lady Cordelia is using as an archivist in her new spy headquarters. We know little about her, save she’s been Named a while and was discovered by accident.

      Liked by 4 people

  12. Shveiran

    Oh, Hanno.

    You are usually on my very short list of esteemed heroes, buddy, but you really took a nosedive here, didn’t you?
    For all your calm and thoughtfulness, you turned into a full teenager protester here.

    WK: I don’t like what you did!
    BQ: Do you deny that this problem had to be addressed?
    WK: No, but I don’t like what you did!
    BQ: Did you have a different plan to address it?
    WK: No, but I don’t like what you did!
    BQ: Did you not, in fact, physically leave the room where a solution could be found without making any suggestion to a possible solution?
    WK: Yes, but I don’t like what you did!
    BQ: If I had done nothing, would you be any happier with the consequences?
    WK: No, but I don’t like what you did!
    BQ: In light of all this, do you feel you have a right to be angry here?
    WK: Yes, because I don’t like what you did!
    BQ: Would you like a lollipop, kid?

    And there is nothing wrong with teenager protesters. Heck, I was one. But they are meant to protest and raise awareness, not lead the fates of nations. This kind of attitude has no place in the shoes you are wearing, pal.

    Drop one, or the others.

    Liked by 7 people

  13. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    would hard to invest > would be hard to invade
    you,” I grinned. > you,” I said with a grin.
    began to saw > began to see
    wouldn’t stuck > wouldn’t be stuck
    illusion Lady > illusion of Lady
    brough up > brought up
    participate to > participate in
    Theirs forces > Their forces
    Quartered Season > Quartered Seasons
    remember > remind
    little no horse > little to no horse


  14. Frivolous

    I find it interesting that Hanno kept complaining about Catherine’s lies.

    I guess that in the 2+ years since he and Catherine first met, absolutely NO ONE bothered to inform him or the other heroes that the Woe’s motto is Lies and Violence. Not even Tariq, who had a good look into Catherine with Behold before Sve Noc came along.

    It seems a shame that this sad neglect has occurred. So very sad.

    I can only guess that until now Catherine has been relatively straightforward with Hanno. Which just means she’s not a pathological liar, only a practical one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Catherine does get by on being straightforward and honest most of the time. Her lies are effective BECAUSE they’re few and far between so you’re not really on guard – when she does try to lie, it’s these really blatant silly things, isn’t it? Like “I don’t speak Ashkaran” or “this was my plan all along”, those charming affectations.

      And then there’s actually a trick, and you fall for it because 99% of the time doing exactly what Catherine Foundling suggests is in fact the best course of action for you with your interests fully taken into account, no false bottoms.

      Hanno should really do a bit of reflection though, on whether he wants his and Catherine’s relationship to be an adversarial process or a cooperative one. Because if it’s the latter, he shouldn’t have refused to discuss the sentence – perhaps not with Cordelia, but with Catherine, absolutely. And if it’s the former, she’s completely within her rights to look at a solution he’d be obligated to object to, as he looks to his adversarial obligations over the cooperative goal, and say “I’m keeping this secret”.

      Like, it’s an exact match. He cannot complain that Catherine didn’t tell him her plans about THE SPECIFIC THING HE REFUSED TO DISCUSS, REPEATEDLY, EVERY TIME SHE BROUGHT IT UP THE MULTIPLE TIMES THAT SHE DID.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Raved Thrad

        This brings to mind the scene in Twilight where they’re arguing as to who needs to sit the throne and die, after Saint slashed the crown. As Catherine gets set to talk, Archer comes up from behind and puts her hand over her mouth, saying “the last thing you want to do when you’re winning is to have Catherine Foundling talk.” Or something to that effect. 😉

        Liked by 3 people

  15. Ragnarok Ascendant

    Hanno…okay, yes, I saw this coming, but I never really like heroes in this story in general given how inflexible they end up being. The utter refusal to see a bigger picture and *bend* aggravates me.


  16. omg Aurore
    my new favorite Named

    Hanno has a point which is that Catherine did not tell him ahead of time. It’s a sign of existing lack of trust – she worried that if she told him he wouldn’t agree to give over the body, which… well, that sounds like a “him” problem, too.

    Catherine’s talking like he was objecting to what she did rather than how she handled it, which is fair as he objected to the first part too – but I got the impression his main problem was the second. He’d thought they were closer and had more trust between them than was the truth.

    I don’t think he’s chosen the best way to address that, which is nothing new for Hanno. He’s excellent at some things, but he’s no politician and no diplomancer. Charisma is decidedly NOT his highest stat.

    I hope this doesn’t turn into a disaster )=

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Kyrius

    Why should Hanno sacrifice his principles? Cordelia turned down a name that would solve her Prince issue because she didn’t believe a Named should Rule Procer. Protecting Procer is her job and yet she has never shown willingness to sacrifice her principles to save the country even during a coup with a war they were losing. Protecting Procer isn’t Hanno’s job, its Cordelia. She chose the non practical option (she didnt know about Bard and she still wants to use the Angel even today). And yet some in the fanbase are more mad about Hanno not doing it then Cordelia turning down that Named. So its not really about practical vs principles.


    1. trashdragon

      To add to your comment; the entire premise of why Hanno should let Cordelia and Cat just do whatever is that it’s necessary for the war against the Dead King. Okay, Sure. But why doesn’t this argument apply to the nobles of Procer that are getting uppity solely because they’re butthurt over the war effort cutting into their coffers even with all life on the continent in the balance. Apparently war necessity doesn’t apply to them and Cordelia has to needs to pussyfoot around with political wrangling instead of just bringing them to heel in the name of survival? She just had a team of heroes sent to Mercantis to bully them into keeping their wallets open but we can’t do the same to Proceran nobles?

      Of course there’s a reason for this, it’s that Cordelia has a political agenda of keeping her power base and the general power of the Proceran nobility intact and free of heroic meddling. And she’s piggybacking this agenda on the back of the war. And Cat is going along with it because it advances her long term interests of keeping Procer on board with the Accords. And it’s heroes (no matter what wrong they may have done) who get used as sacrificial pawns to protect the ambitions of self-interested politicians.

      For anyone who’s familiar with Metal Gear, this is exactly the kind of shit that drove Big Boss into creating Outer Heaven. And I wouldn’t blame Hanno for a second if he did something similar when the smoke clears with the Dead King.


  18. Mirror Night

    I find it hilarious so here in the fanbase argue that Hanno should sacrifice his principles when Cordelia turned a Name (Warden of the West) that solve her Prince issues not because it was practical but because her principles said a Named shouldn’t rule Procer. So she basically caused Prince Issue by refusing a Name cause her principles are so important. And I should note these things matter more for Names cause going against your core tends to weaken you and make your more likely to fall or lose your name. So Cordelia is not willing to do whatever it takes to save her country and cannot do her job because of that but Hanno should be making a compromise when Cordelia refuses to compromise her core principles? Saint was right kill all the Princes.

    As for Cat wow really cannot take criticism. This is a lady who gets mad at Champ for the Captain cloak threatens to kill her despite you know the terms saying everyone gets a free pass for bygones even Rapist. Even after Champ does this Cat still gets mad at her and the Levant Heads for inviting her to a meeting so again not practical that is pure emotion and putting principles or at least sentimentality first. Hakram has to talk her down and again shows the importance of Hakram because he tempers her while Indrani just amplifies Cat’s worse impulses. Levant should put Villains on Roles despite it being against their Principles but the HBICs dont have to compromise at all. She then goes on to attack a little girl in Pascale cause she failed to her job to orotect Tancred and refuses to apologize for no reason besides Principles that say she shouldn’t have to cause she is the Black Queen. Despite an apology costing her jack, she can do it in private and having Pascale afraid of her has zero practical benefit. So Cat cause of her Principles refuses to make the even smallest concession that costs her nothing at all.

    So Hanno and Levant should sacrifice their principles despite Cordelia and Cat refusing to do the same. Cordelia is especially egregious cause its her nation on the line. So Hanno should give his for something that isn’t his job and when its Procer welching on the deal. But Cordelia doesnt have to when is her job to protect Procer and she refuses to do so cause her principles. I expect characters to be hypocritical. I just find it so funny that the fanbase gets so blinded by Protag Centered Morality they fall for it as well.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Lord Haart

        That… WAS the point though? The Name would protect Procer in the short-medium term but not the long term; Procer may survive, but will become just a regular story like everywhere else.

        I think the point here – and the one Red Axe was making – is that you can’t always assume “how to survive” is more important than “why to survive”. I tend to agree with OP here – I see exactly why Cat is how she is but she gets in her own way and her alignment with below comes with a price – she isn’t tied down by principles, but she’s going to have a hell of a time creating a legacy of principles with the Liesse Accords for this very reason.

        Even Black has a principle (victory and defeat), Cat is more pure utilitarian but with two major flaws; 1. She is still human and has personal bias, 2. She has urgency/survival bias which stops hey from really questioning the kind of society she will create, or the sort of Named who will follow after her – people who will start civil wars, raid other nations to kill their leaders, and even protect the most foul abuses of power by those under their leadership. All in the name of a greater good

        Put like that, it really sounds alot like the criticisms of Above I see on here a lot, no?

        (For all the above, I love this story! It’s called the Practical Guide to Evil after all, and at this stage I think Neshamah is effectively Cat’s sixth guide, after Black, Malicia, Larat, Sve Nov and Kairos. It’s actually pretty neat that each book has had a guiding figure who leads Cat a bit further into doing things “by any means necessary”).


        1. trashdragon

          She has urgency/survival bias which stops hey from really questioning the kind of society she will create, or the sort of Named who will follow after her – people who will start civil wars, raid other nations to kill their leaders, and even protect the most foul abuses of power by those under their leadership. All in the name of a greater good

          Especially since we’ve already gotten a taster of what a society being built by Catherine looks like. It involves heavy handed military rule with administration completely dominated by the Legion with Catherine placing her closest confidants in the highest positions of power and outright hand-picking monarchs. It means powerful spy networks that suppress any hint of dissent via blackmail, assassination and shows of force. It means the Clergy becoming an arm of the state. It means Callowans being removed from their lands to make way for Goblin settlers.

          A lot of this was inherited from Black, sure. But instead of hand the power in Callow back to Callowans like she originally wanted she essentially doubled down on Callow as a military junta backed by Praes. Except now Callow might end up at war with Praes anyway, which was the entire point of Black conquering Callow in the first place.

          Is this whole mess justifiable by wartime necessity? Maybe. But the problem with authoritarian war measures is that the power taken is almost never given back. And Catherine herself think’s almost entirely in terms of war measures and the thought of relinquishing powers rarely even enters her mind. Will the world under her Accords be some medieval fascist dystopia? Maybe, maybe not. But I don’t trust Catherine to prevent it from becoming so.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Shveiran

            —> Especially since we’ve already gotten a taster of what a society being built by Catherine looks like.

            We didn’t.
            We saw what she could scramble together with the existing pieces between two country shattering conflicts (the Fae/Diabnolist and the Crusade).

            Noticing the limits of what she built with little resources, less time and a tight timeline does not really inform us on what she could build without those costraints, especially with a narrative victory in her sails, which in the Guideverse kind of counts for a lot.


          2. Abrakadabra

            Bullshit. Callowans removed for goblins to make place, huh? You have a rich imagination because there was none of that ever written.


  19. “apparently wood soaked in Arcadian water works just as well as that murderously expensive stuff we were bringing in from the Waning Woods.”

    -This is an experimental research mood.

    “This has cost you respect, White Knight,” I replied, voice gone hard as steel. “Because the longer you speak, the more I can’t help but notice that for all your whining you haven’t given a single alternative.”

    -Well damn if that isn’t the crux of the problem right there. It’s understandable to take a principled stand. I’d even argue that politics and life would be harder if we couldn’t trust people to take principled stands even when it’s a sub-optimal decision. But you can’t criticize someone else for not taking a principled stand without providing an alternative to get what they need.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. kinghaart

      It really underscores the difference between Above and Below again.

      Below will do what it takes to get the outcome every time, precedent be damned. Every decision is made in the context of itself, with as much knowledge and forethought as possible, but ultimately still limited to the context of that question. Lessons from the past are generally ignored; hence why Villains are so often considered insane – they try the same thing and expect different results. Even the Calamities still operated within this general mode, despite being more self-reflective and precedent-aware than nearly any other Villains to date short of (arguably) Irritant and Traitorous. Below rewards ambition and testing limits and boundaries.

      Above, by contrast has principals, and these are unerring. There’s a clear hierarchy of them, too, and if a Hero is in a dilemma where one must be sacrificed the answer is always clear, even if it’s just to pray. And Above rewards that sort of blind faith by saving the day with Deus Ex Machina most of the time, or having some other silver lining like with Heroic Sacrifice.

      When looked at in these terms, it’s clear that while Cat is a different sort of Villain than others in the story, she’s not actually outside the bounds of Villainy altogether.


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