Chapter 61: Adouber

“Fear is the prerequisite to any genuine learning; anything that can be learnt without questioning the foundations of your world is essentially decorative.”

– Dread Emperor Sorcerous

It was easy to forget that the Grey Pilgrim was, for all the power of his Name and the favour of the Ophanim, very much mortal. An old man with an old man’s frailties, whose relentless march towards my camp had brought to the brink of collapse. His loose grey robes looked half made of dust and even drabber than usual, his rheumy blue were clouded with exhaustion. It made me uncomfortable to look at, someone of that strength so openly at the end of their rope. His brandy was sipped at carefully and he declined my offer of sending for a warm meal, claiming that exhausted as he was he’d probably retch it right out. After gathering his bearings some, the Peregrine needed no prompting to begin speaking.

“The campaign went well, at first,” Tariq said. “The Enemy’s raids were heavy and sustained, but we held strong through the days and the nights belonged to the Firstborn.”

I’d poured myself a cup of brandy as well before dropping back into my seat. I had a feeling I was going to need a stiff drink before this conversation came to an end, and maybe second when it had.

“The last messenger I got from your column told me the army was preparing to pass Juvelun,” I said.

The Iron Prince’s part of the campaign plan had been relatively straightforward, when it came down to it. His smaller column – fifty-four thousand to my seventy – had left days earlier than mine from one of our defensive strongholds to the east of Neustal, just north of the town of Cassain. It’d then quickly advanced north along the old mining roads. Our intention had been for Prince Klaus’ army to draw the undead army at the town of Juvelun into battle, as the town sat over a passage through the hills towards the central valley where the capital lay, the army holding it also being the undead force closest to said capital.

Unfortunately the army in question had refused to leave Juvelun, instead remaining in a dug-in and defensible position that it would be difficult for Prince Klaus’ numerically inferior army to invest. We’d anticipated that was a possibility, though, and planned accordingly. To the north, further up the mining road, lay the city of Malmedit. To the Dead King it was a place of some strategic importance, as the mine shafts surrounding the city had been connected to tunnels he’d had dug through the northern hills and he now used Malmedit as a major staging area to pour warbands into the lowlands of Hainaut.

If the Iron Prince made it to Malmedit he could collapse the tunnels, which would be a significant setback for Keter. Knowing that, our working assumption had been that if Prince Klaus’ army kept marching north towards the city the undead army in Juvelun would have to engage him: the Dead King would just be pissing away his eastern road into Hainaut otherwise. Yet we had, it seemed, made a grievous mistake along the way.

“The plan seemed a success for the first few days of the march on Malmedit,” the Peregrine said. “Raiding parties began harassing our supply lines, and though young Hanno kept them open sword in hand our generals believed this to be the prelude to an enemy attack against our back.”

The old man paused, pressing down an errant tuft of white hair from the sparse crown around his head and sipping at his brandy.

“Yet the days passed,” the Grey Pilgrim said, “and that attack failed to take place.”

I grimaced. That’d be the point where I would have smelled a trap, so I refused to believe that a commander as experienced as the Prince of Hannoven had not.

“I’m guessing he ordered a heavy war party forward as reconnaissance,” I said.

Suspicious as he would be, Prince Klaus wouldn’t have turned back at the first suspicion. The Dead King could have been bluffing, or simply writing off Malmedit as a lost cause while focusing his attention elsewhere. In his place I would have encamped relatively close to the force I knew I could handle in a pitched battle – the Juvelun army – and sent out a strong contingent to probe the enemy’s defenses ahead.

“Six thousand horse,” Tariq agreed. “With the Witch of the Woods as magical muscle and two champions to escort her. One day shy of Malmedit itself they ran into the enemy’s own vanguard.”

I drank from my cup, fingers tight around the silver. With horses and that calibre of sorcery on their side, they would have gotten away mostly clean. It was the strategic situation being described that had me aghast. The Grey Pilgrim had earlier intimated that the army two hundred thousand we’d thought in the far north of the principality had been the one waiting for our eastern column in Malmedit, which meant pressing an attack forward against it would have been suicide. The Iron Prince would suddenly have found himself stuck between a massive force to the north and a smaller one to the southwest, the latter even being able to cut his supply lines if it was willing to bleed for it – and when was Keter ever unwilling to bleed?

“How bad was it?” I grimly asked.

“Even using the Twilight Ways, the war party only returned quickly enough to give us two days of forewarning,” the old man said.

Which sounded like a lot, if you’d never commanded an army. But I had and so I knew they were ungainly, lumbering things. Especially when being made to turn around.

“You retreated, I assume,” I slowly said.

“That was our intent,” Tariq said. “Until the Young Slayer and the Harrowed Witch found an enemy raiding party to our south yet strangely heading away from the army, further south. They followed it down and-“

My eyes narrowed. The pieces were falling into place.

“- found the dead dismantling the mining road,” I finished quietly.

The old man nodded. So that’d been Neshamah’s game: by ripping up the road, he was making sure that even if the Iron Prince’s army tried to march back to our defensive lines it’d be slowed enough that his large ambush army marching south from Malmedit would be able to catch up to it. That left only the Twilight Ways as a way out, but even that was… risky. Not on a tactical level, I meant. With two days of warning, an evacuation would be quite possible: so long as he wasn’t under attack, with a pharos device Prince Klaus should be able to shift his entire army into the Ways in a few hours. On a strategic level, though, his disappearance could lead to a disaster.

If the Iron Prince bailed on the eastern theatre of our campaign entirely, there would be nothing standing between a massive army of two hundred thousand – maybe even three hundred thousand, if the army in Juvelun joined forces when it passed near – and our dangerously bare defensive lines. Our reserve was already marching on the Cigelin Sisters, meaning all that was left there was the reinforcements from Daoine under Vivienne and a fresh wave of Proceran conscripts. Klaus could instead take his army back to our defensive lines, but if he did then he was leaving my column out to hang: all enemy armies would converge on my army and even with the Ways there was no possible way for him to reinforce me in time.

He read us like a book, I admitted to myself. The Dead King had seen us coming and now we were being made to bleed for it. I couldn’t even claim that at least that fucking surprise army in Malmedit had flushed out Keter’s hidden hand: we’d found that missing force, sure, but only after the other force of one hundred and fifty thousand in Luciennerie had vanished into thin air. The wily old monster had managed to keep the story of his ‘hidden threat’ going even after revealing another hidden threat – he’d baked a second cake while eating the first one, so he quite literally got to eat his cake and have it too. Gods but I hated fighting the fucking Dead King.

Tariq had kept silently sipping at his drink, letting me wrestle my thoughts into place, but when he saw my attention fully return to him he set the cup down.

“And after?” I simply asked.

I’d been able to make decent guesses as to what the Iron Prince would have done until then, with the benefit of multiple sources of information and insight, but now we were out in the wilds. I’d never fought the old prince on the field, and records of his campaigns against the ratlings and the dead were near nonexistent – Lycaonese marked only victories, defeats and tallies of the dead. Anything else was considered pettily boastful. And while the Iron Prince’s victories during the Great War were much better known, they’d been won waging a very different sort of war. I wasn’t sure what I would have done in his place, much less what would have gone through the Prince of Hannoven’s mind at that crossroads.

“A war council was called,” Tariq said. “And after some debate, it was agreed on that the wisest course would be to attack the enemy army in Juvelun to break through.”

My brow rose and I forced myself to think. I could see the sense in it, squinting a bit, from his point of view. Assuming my column broke through with swift victories at the Cigelin Sisters and Lauzon’s Hollow, seizing Juvelun would allow us to link our armies in the central valley of Hainaut. The undead army from Malmedit would still be able to march south on our defences, but at that point our unified force could answer by leaving a strong garrison at Cigelin and then outmarch that army of the dead through the Ways. A neat trick, turning the destruction of the mining road against those who’d done it. Sure he’d take losses taking Juvelun from pushing out the dead, an uncomfortable amount of them, but it would salvage the strategic situation.

The problem was that Klaus Papenheim didn’t know that the army in Luciennerie had disappeared: I’d tried to send messengers, but I very much doubted they’d made it through the gauntlet the Grey Pilgrim had described. Another army had vanished into thin air, and rubies to piglets that it was going to reappear near the capital around the time we finally took the Sisters. You know, right between a bloodied Papenheim and my own forces as the even larger Malmedit army marched on the Iron Prince’s back. That was going to turn into a bloody, ruinous mess.

“You were there for the battle?” I asked.

“I left before,” Tariq said. “Of all our Bestowed it was agreed I had the best chance of making it to you unharmed and in good time, so the duty fell to me. The battle for Juvelun will have taken place by now, but the outcome is known to neither myself nor the Ophanim.”

I slowly nodded.

“You arrived in time,” I admitted. “What you just told me will influence our pace quite a bit: I can no longer afford to take my time wiping out the remains of the enemy here and reducing the Sisters if the other column is in danger of a wipeout. We’ll have to hurry forward.”

Which was compounding risks with risk, I grimly thought. Already the Iron Prince had rolled the dice on taking Juvelun, and now I was going to have to rush taking Cigelin or his efforts might be in vain. The illusion of control we’d had when this campaign had begun, that bold armada of plans and schemes, was now dead and buried. We’d gained tactical victories but we were headed towards a strategic disaster. The only way to salvage this now was to push forward and through. If we don’t, all that’s left is measuring the scale of the losses we’ll incur. I drained the rest of my cup, letting the warmth pour down my throat, and set the silver down.

Gods, silver. Who would have thought I’d end up drinking in that one day, when I’d first started sneaking sips of beer at the- I froze. Oh, oh. Fuck me, I’d had the clues all along hadn’t I? I knew the movements, I even knew how the enemy thought of us. I’d just not put them together, taken that last step.

“It’s a rat trap,” I murmured.

Limpid blue eyes narrowed at me, the exhausted old man turning back into the Peregrine in a heartbeat. The marks of bone-deep weariness were still there, but the flame had lit again.

“Explain,” Tariq demanded.

“Back when I worked in a tavern,” I said, “the owner would make these little rectangular boxes with the front almost open and bread at the end. It’d have a ‘door’ angled like this-“

I formed a roof with one palm, and angled another palm inwards to represent the door.

“- so that the rats would go after the bread and push the door up a bit. Only when they were inside the box-“

“They found the ‘door’ couldn’t be pushed to let them out, as the wood only bent one way,” the Grey Pilgrim quietly interrupted. “I’ve seen their like before, they are used in Levant as well.”

“That bridge up north is our bread,” I said. “It’s not fake, I wouldn’t think. If it does get built we’re in a load of trouble, and we might actually lose this war the regular way. But that’s not why the Dead King built it.”

“He wanted us to enter the trap,” Tariq said.

He wasn’t getting it, though, I could hear it in his voice. A trap was a trap, to him, and it’d never been in doubt we’d fallen for one. I spelled it out more bluntly for him.

“You don’t make a rat trap to protect the bread, Pilgrim,” I said. “You make it to kill the rat.”

The old man frowned.

“He means to destroy our armies,” the Grey Pilgrim slowly said. “The battles, the bridge, even the capital – none of it means anything to him. Even if he loses all of Hainaut, so long as our armies are destroyed he doesn’t care.”

“It’s all expendable,” I agreed. “The army that disappeared from Luciennerie could be assaulting our defence lines around now, with an even larger army headed down the mining road to attack the eastern strongholds – with our own armies so far, and kept in the dark by lack of scrying, he might actually have had a shot at breaking through and into Brabant. But he didn’t even try, because what he wants is to trap us in the central valley and annihilate us. Not in one big battle where the odds are so utterly stacked against him-“

Which we’d probably win, given the amount of heroes in our ranks.

“- but in smaller engagements that will bleed us dry, be they victories or defeats,” Tariq muttered.

He didn’t disagree with my assessment, finger circling the rim of his cup.

“But why the sudden obsession with the armies in Hainaut?” he finally asked. “What changed?”

I’d been wondering the same thing.

“The Gigantes came up on our side,” I tried.

“Not in force,” Tariq said. “They commit to help, not alliance.”

“He might not know that,” I said.

“Might is a thin foundation to build on,” the Peregrine said. “Perhaps the Hierophant’s work in the Arsenal?”

“It might spook him into coming after us this hard,” I admitted. “Masego knows a lot more about him than can be comfortable for the likes of the Dead King. But the secrecy around Quartered Seasons was well-kept, Tariq. We were paranoid, and there’s been breaches but I don’t believe Malicia got through and so he should still be largely blind.”

The Peregrine smiled sadly.

“You fight the Bard, Catherine,” he said. “Neither walls nor locks nor oaths are enough to keep her from learning secrets if she wishes to know them.”

I blinked.

“You think she sold us out to the Dead King?” I skeptically said. “If there’s one person I’d buy she wouldn’t sell us out to, it’d be him. What would she even-“

I froze the dreadful thought that came all too soon. The Grey Pilgrim sighed.

“So he comes after us with his entire hateful might,” Tariq said. “So we suffer a stinging defeat at his hands and, like children in the dark, we pray for deliverance by our own guardian angel.”

I rose to pour myself a second goddamn drink, and when the Pilgrim silently extended his own empty cup I filled it without qualms.

“I thought you trusted her,” I finally said.

“I did,” Tariq tiredly said. “And now I don’t. If you live long enough, Catherine, you will find that time warps even the bonds you believed unshakable. And that we are never so wise as we think, even when we believe ourselves to be fools.”

I held my tongue, even though it would have been pretty easy to stick a dagger or two in him now considering how badly we’d butted heads over the Intercessor over the years. It’d been a rough year for everyone, and there was no need for allies to make it worse.

“I got the shivers when you said that,” I finally said, “and it makes me sick to even consider. So I’d tend to think you read this right. But he’s not coming at us with his full might, Tariq. I’ve seen the battles up north he wages against the drow, and they’re…”

I blew out a breath. In the back of my mind old words came to me as a harsh refrain.  Where are the devils, Catherine? the Intercessor had once asked me. Where are the hosts that darken the skies, and the demons he has kept leashed for centuries? Where are the rituals that poison the land and the sorceries never before seen?

“Well, he’s pulling out tricks there we haven’t seen down here,” I said. “And I know he has more: we haven’t seen either devils or demons yet, for one, and he’s perfectly capable of calling on both.”

The old man shook his head.

“He cannot use either,” Tariq said. “It would represent too steep an increase in strength on his side of the scales, Catherine. Providence would allow us to bridge the gap, and the last thing the Dead King wants is a war of equals with such power in play: it would put his forces at a genuine risk of annihilation.”

The Grey Pilgrim leaned back into his seat.

“He has been most careful to limit his efforts to grinding us into dust by attrition for good reason,” Tariq continued. “It is a method of victory that involves very little risk for him and has proved difficult to handle.”

I frowned. That… held up somewhat, I supposed. I honestly wasn’t sure what providence would be able to spit out to even the odds, but arguably that was rather the point. I’d known for a long time there was a risk to villains winning by too large or obvious a margin – invincibility as a prelude to failure, my father had once phrase it – but I’d not considered that on the scale the Pilgrim had. It was the crusading mindset, I supposed. It was not only battles and Named that had a story, but the crusade itself. It was what I knew of the Dead King’s rise to power that had me inclined to believe the Peregrine: carefulness had always been his priority back then, even if it meant slowing his advance.

He’d always preferred giving his enemies no opening to swift victories.

“This changes things,” I finally said.

He wetted his lips, sipping at the brandy.

“Does it?” the Peregrine asked. “Retreating serves no purpose. We are committed to war, even knowing his intentions are different than we’d expected.”

I went rifling through my pockets for my pipe, the long shaft of dragonbone that Masego had gifted me years ago comforting to the touch. A packet of wakeleaf, still from the White Knight’s gift, was carefully stuffed and I lit the leaf by tapping a finger against the rim and letting black flames slither in. I breathed in deep, the acrid smoke filling my lungs before I breathed out a long stream of it upwards.

“If it’s our armies that are in his sights, it means he’s gotten sloppy elsewhere,” I said. “His resources aren’t unlimited, and while it might seem like this trap has been years in the making I’d wager it’s a lot more hastily assembled than that.”

“The Intercessor would not have wanted him to win cleanly, that is true,” the Pilgrim mused. “The more costly the victory to him the better, in her eyes, and that means a warning as late as she could feasibly give it.”

I grunted in agreement, pulling at my pipe and blowing out a ring of smoke.

“We thought he’d guard that bridge up north like it was his own baby,” I said, “but I’d wager it’s been stripped clean. Sure we still can’t account for the Luciennerie army, but it can’t teleport – there’s no way it could have gone all the way up there so quickly.”

“You’re suggesting a raid,” Tariq said, sounding genuinely surprised.

“I am,” I replied. “First we’ll need to reunite with Prince Klaus’ army, but when do I believe we need to send at least one band of five up north to demolish that bridge. We won’t get that opportunity twice.”

“You suggest sending away five Bestowed, and they would have to be among our most powerful to have a real chance of succeeding, before a series of battle that promise to be the decisive clash of this war,” the Pilgrim slowly said. “That is… bold.”

Which meant he’d wanted to say foolish, I amusedly thought, but my favourable record against him had earned a more diplomatic phrasing.

“We can argue the point later,” I dismissed, “but I’d be a mistake to find out at this late hour we lack the stomach to take opportunities when they are afforded us. Regardless, we now need to move forward as quickly as we can and link with Prince Klaus’ column. If you rest through the rest of the day, will you be fighting fit tomorrow?”

“A few hours will have me back on my feet,” Tariq hesitatingly said. “I have never needed much sleep, and less so after I was blessed with the friendship of the Ophanim.”

He kept hesitating, so I cocked an eyebrow at him. It finally moved him to speak.

“You seem… invigorated,” the Grey Pilgrim said, and raised a hand as if to ward off a protest. “I mean no ill by it, only that a conversation that would have set others to despair seems instead to have lit a fire in you.”

Had it? I pulled at my pipe, considering it, then ultimately shrugged.

“This is the most confident I’ve felt about this campaign since it started,” I admitted.

The old man started in surprise.

“I take it you’re not making sport of me,” Tariq said.

I nodded and, to my own surprise, he snorted.

“Ashen Gods, why?” he asked. “I do not believe this will end in tears, though many will be shed along the way, but little of the news I brought you strike me as sources of confidence. The Enemy has fooled us and led us into great peril.”

“It was always going to get ugly,” I frankly said. “But now we knew the forces in motion, Pilgrim. We know – or have a good guess, at the very least – why the Dead King is acting now, what it is he is after and where all those things sit in the greater tapestry of the war. For the first time since our armies went marching north, we are no longer blind. We can finally find a way to win, and I mean properly win. Not just survive by the skin of our teeth or settle for a bloody draw.”

My fingers were already itching for ink and paper as well as a quiet place to think. Oh, we were in the pit for sure. I was pretty sure the Iron Prince was about to get stuck between two large armies while I caught up, and if either of us made a mistake then this could turn into the single worst military defeat the Grand Alliance had suffered since the beginning of the war. Hells, it could turn into the kind of defeat it was simply impossible to recover from by sheer dint of lives and resources lost. But this pit, it was an old friend. I’d been here before, through my own mistakes and the machinations of others, and the feeling of the bottom of the barrel under my feet did not scare me.

I grinned at the Grey Pilgrim, baring my teeth ferally.

“It’s the eleventh hour, Peregrine,” I said. “Midnight Bell is on the verge, and when it rings we’ll all have to pay our dues, but the song isn’t over. Not yet.”

“You have a plan, then?” Tariq Fleetfoot asked.

Blue eyes in a tanned face met my gaze, and in there I found a light that was not Light – no, that one was entirely his own. It was cold and patient and ruthless in a way that even some of my kind would blanch at, qualities that a lifetime of service to the Choir of Mercy had sharpened into a razor’s edge. There wasn’t a lot a man like the Grey Pilgrim wouldn’t do, for the sake of the world. Looking into those eyes, I wondered if there was really anything at all.

“I have the bare bones of one,” I said. “It begins by taking back the initiative.”

“There are still enemies ahead of you,” Tariq said. “The remnant of the army that held Lauzon’s Hollow, as I understand it, now heading towards the Cigelin Sisters.”

“And that force needs to be destroyed,” I agreed, “but I don’t need our entire army to do that. Not when our reserve under General Pallas will be joining the fray as well.”

“You would split your host in two,” the Pilgrim said. “And then take half to relieve the Iron Prince?”

“We’re going to do better than that, Tariq,” I said, rising to my feet.

I went looking through my desk, opening drawers until I found what I wanted: a small scroll, inked by Scribe’s own hand. It was a neat, lovely map of the Principality of Hainaut whose accuracy meant it was probably worth as much a herd of horses. I unfolded it across the table, gesturing for the Pilgrim to come closer as I set down a bottle on one corner to keep it down and an empty inkwell on the other.

“If Prince Klaus won the battle for Juvelun,” I said, tapping the town with a finger, “then right now he’s marching into the central valley of Hainaut, what the locals call the highlands.”

“And you believe an enemy army, the one that was once in Luciennerie, will have travelled unseen to strike him by surprise there,” the Pilgrim said.

“I do,” I said. “But I also think that the Dead King believes us more conservative in our attack than we actually have been: there’s nothing about the way his troops are moving that even hints at his being aware that the Cigelin Sisters are about to be attacked by General Pallas. So from his point of view, even if a hero likes you manages to bring word about what happened to the Prince Klaus’ column I’ll still be stuck here clearing out the dead heading towards the Sisters.”

It actually shed some light on why the army defending Lauzon’s Hollow had been so willing to retreat, even considering the bloody nose I’d given it. At this point holding the Hollow was no longer a strategic priority for him, it was a lot more important to tie down my army for a few more days while he finished mopping up Klaus Papenheim’s column. And the worse was that the Dead King wasn’t even wrong about my needing to clear out the dead ahead of us. It wasn’t a force that I could afford leaving at my back while taking the Ways to reinforce the Iron Prince. If I did, I would then be stuck with a massive army behind enemy lines and with no supply lines. Hells, at that point he would barely even need to fight: he could just keep harassing us and let starvation do the work for him.

Fortunately, General Pallas was still in the wind and about to make her bite felt.

“I’ll be leaving behind the Third Army and half the Firstborn along with some of the Proceran fantassins, but most of my army will be headed…”

I trailed off, leaning forward and squinting at the map before finally laying a finger at the height of halfway up the stretch of Julienne’s Highway connecting the Sisters to the capital, but a little to the east.

“There,” I finished.

The old man’s gaze followed my finger, taking in the map as he considered it all in silence.

“And what is it that you intend to do in the middle of nowhere?” the Grey Pilgrim finally asked.

I breathed in deep of the wakeleaf, enjoying the burn and taking my time before spewing out a stream of grey smoke. I smiled coldly at the Peregrine.

“Why, Tariq, but we’re going to ambush the force about to ambush the Iron Prince.”

104 thoughts on “Chapter 61: Adouber

  1. Djinn O'Cide

    “Adouber” quite probably continues the chess motif, although it’s not used in this particular form very often. In tournament chess, if you touch a piece, you need to move that piece. If you just want to put a piece back in the center of it’s square, you need to alert your opponent of that intention by saying (before you touch the piece) “J’adoube”, which is French for “I adjust”. Adouber would be the infinitive form of that verb, and thus mean “to adjust”.

    Liked by 29 people

  2. Fucking Bard.

    Hah! Finally, Cat’s not working blind – she knows enough to figure out what’s going on. And now she’s can properly plot and plan.

    Heh. Ambush the would be ambushers. That’s going to be quite useful. After all, it’s said that the only thing worse than getting ambushed is thinking you’re doing the ambushing when the other guys know you’re there.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. Sparsebeard

      We are once again reminded of the true antagonist. Sure Cat is fighting the Dead King, but it’s the Bard she’s playing against… and the king is but an important piece.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

        The fact that the true antagonist’s plan revolves around careful deployment of a king meshes so well with the recent chess motif. No doubt part of why EE went with said motif to begin with.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Gippart

          Even more fitting if you consider the sides at play as Cat vs. Cat’s enemies. You have a king whose movement is heavily restricted, whose death will result in the loss of every other piece on the board. And a queen who can appear and disappear nearly anywhere following certain rules, solely holding more power than any other piece could dream.

          Fits both Cordelia/Cat and DK/WB as the king/queen motif. More complicated than that when you add in all of the details, but it’s a good likeness.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. NerfContessa


            It’s things like this that make this my by far most favorite web serial, and puts it into my total top 10 books as a whole.

            Well done once more, EE!


      2. miles

        Heck the dead king isn’t even a king in this game. He’s more of a rook.

        Useful to leave in the starting position until the late game, ready for a defensive surprise, but mostly just devastating once the board is sufficiently cleared.


    1. Mennolt van Alten

      This is meant to show the genius of the greatest commander of this age, so it makes sense if we cannot completely follow why Cat thinks things are the way she thinks they are or replicate her reasoning. But most individual points make sense to me, like how she cannot leave her back open, the move of the dead king to pincer the Iron Prince, and the idea that if Cat knows where the ambush is (which is probably what she was thinking about while looking at the map and deciding where to go) she can counter-ambush it.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Will the Gigantes’ warding prevent the Dead from crossing the Tomb at the point of the bridge? If so, wouldn’t it make more sense to keep the bridge as the warding goes up, pinning the Dead Armies against the water? Or perhaps the warding could only go up once the dead were gone?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. What do you mean?

          It won’t prevent the dead from crossing the bridge. To pin them against the water, on either side, the bridge needs to go down.

          Cat’s side literally doesn’t need it – their armies can teleport.

          Yes, I’m still reveling in the sheer absurdity of this logistical advantage. Go go ill-advised fae bargains!


    1. Forum Solipsist

      Captain is gone, but it was a name.
      Black Knight and White Knight are often looked to as leaders of their respective sides.
      At one point Warlord seemed like a potential Name for Cat, but this is so much bigger and longer in the making. Able to command both sides and bend them to her will, forming alliances and making the whole world dance to her tune with no pretentions to ruling afterwards.
      I think we are witnessing the birth of a “General” and possibly a neutral name at that.


      1. Shveiran

        She has the skill and the requisites, but not the aspiration: her dream is one of peace and regulations imposed on the great game of the gods.
        That is where her story is headed, and that story’s protagonist will not be called General.

        I do not know what she’ll be called. But it will not be a purely militaristic Name; of that I’m quite certain.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Ninestrings

    Verb. adouber. to dub (bestow the title of knight upon) to name (a minister, successor etc.) to adjust a piece in a board game, such as chess or backgammon.

    All definitions work, wild.

    Liked by 9 people

  4. Okay, so the Grey Pilgrim was just playing messenger. The story could still go either way on Klaus’ army being annihilated at this point, but they were still kicking when Grey left.

    This is going to get really chaotic, really quickly. If Cat’s rapidly approaching Name was planning on providing an aspect related to commanding multiple forces across vast distances, now would be the time.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. LarsBlitzer

      Agreed on Cat’s Name being very martial. She’s on the cusp of it becoming, and at her choice as well. Remember her card game with the intercessor; she was being guided onto the story grooves of something like Outlaw Queen, a Robin Hood trope according to the song that came to her time and time again leading up to it. She staved it off differently than the First Prince. Instead of outright refusal she feigned ignorance and acted contrary to type. I’m calling the ambush of the ambushers to be when she gets the full whammy.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Itarion

      It’s not a general’s Name, it’s a magister’s. We’ve seen the name stir while she has been passing judgement. It’s a Name that follows from the Terms, and especially the intention of the Accords. Cat intends to make new Laws, Laws that have dominion over the Named of a whole continent. If Akua is right and it’s ambition that grants villainous Names, there’s very little more ambitious than that.

      With that as her ambition, her Name will follow from that. Not from military might or strategic acumen, but a desire to rewrite the Laws of Creation and pass Judgment on those who break that Law.

      Liked by 9 people

                1. The only flaw I see is that EE keeps insisting the series ends this book, not giving us space for an additional ten books of epic explanation of alternate timelines that make it all fit together.

                  Liked by 1 person

    3. Insanenoodlyguy

      No, that all but ensured their survival. There was important information the general of the armies absolutely needed to know or all was lost. The army had to stay and fight, but one man went to deliver the message while the rest fightt for their survival, without one of their most powerful to stand amongst them.

      As pointed out in this chapter, Campaigns have their own narrative weight. The Grey Pilgrim marched himself to near death to deliver the message, just in the nick of time. Unless that army is dead and there is no hope. Then everything he did is pointless. So Klaus’ army has survived. Bloodied no doubt, but enough to matter will show up so that it all had meaning.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Typo thread:

    his rheumy blue were clouded : rheumy blues were
    and maybe second when : maybe a second
    But now we knew the forces : we know the
    and in there I found : in them I
    a hero likes you manages : hero like you
    happened to the Prince Klaus’ column : happened to Prince Klaus’ column
    And the worse was that : the worst was

    Liked by 3 people

    1. fbi open up

      his rheumy blue were clouded-> rheumy blue eyes were
      but when do I believe we need to-> but then i believe we need to
      before a series of battle-> before a series of battles
      now we knew the forces in motion-> now we know
      And the worse was that-> Even worse was that/ And the worst of it was that


  6. “he’d baked a second cake while eating the first one, so he quite literally got to eat his cake and have it too. ”

    Who else imagined old Nessi with chef apron and hat baking a pair of mountrously giant cakes (those you sometime see on tv competitions)? xD

    I smell interlude coming soon, also who do you think will be part of that Band, and would it be heroes only or mixed?

    Liked by 8 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Definitely mixed, I think Pilgrim would be part of it.
      There are just too many possibilities to be sure, but I can make a few guesses.

      Cat is likely to stay with the army as she needs to remain in command of the host and keep the menagerie of Named under control, plus she is needed to pull through her bold strategy of ambushing the ambushers that are about to hit Klaus’s army. And she is going to leave Abigail to lead the other forces, so Cat is not gonna be part of the Band of Five.

      Roland seems the most used Named mage in Cat’s army right now, so I think he is bound to be part of it, probably the Blessed Artificer too, considering they are about to go destroying a huge undead construct, so her Light will be very useful, the others would have to include villains of the fighting type, which would mean probably the Headhunter or the Troubadour, and maybe the Berserker since they might need her brute strength to bring down stuff that Neshamah has built over there.

      Maybe throw in a sixth member to reinforce them through Providence?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Blessed Artificer is the only one left who can possibly stand against the Grey Legion atm. She’ll be staying where THAT is most necessary, and my wild guess would be “not with a detached band of Named”

        Liked by 1 person

        1. caoimhinh

          How so?
          She is not a fighter, and her constructs can cause large damage to structures as we saw during the interlude Old Dogs, that’s exactly what’s needed to bring down the bridge that the undead are building.
          Her use of Light would be a huge asset there.

          Why do you say she can stand against the Grey Legion? More so, the only one.


          1. Catherine has talked about it. The Grey Legion now has anti-Night inscribed armor, meaning that where previously huge workings of Night from Cat and Akua the hard hitters could dismantle them where necessary, Blessed Artificer is now the only one who can do it. Presumably they had anti-sorcery protections already.


        1. Shveiran

          He’s also, you know, highly unreliable and has an hard-on for harvesting Named souls.

          He really, really doesn’t strike me as a good fit for an high-risk mission. The chances of him nudging thinks so that he gets to collect the soul of a “tragically” fallen comrade are not low.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. mamm0nn

            Yeah, but he’s also a Bard. Their Role is probably standard to influence the Story to their favour and make Providence forcing a win more likely.


  7. dadycoool

    She’s so energized because she’s found a pit to Struggle in. She can see the walls, the opponent, the blood on the sand, and the audience. Her situation is hopeless, to the point where if she plays it right, she can’t lose.

    Liked by 15 people

  8. Silverking

    Minor spoilers for Worm

    There is a scene where Taylor ends up being caught flatfooted in her civilian identity by the heroes. No preparation, no allies, no escape route, and any direct retaliation can (and is, in fact, intended to) escalate the heroes’ response from “capture” to “justifiable homicide”. It seems almost surreal to some that this is the villain who has been causing them trouble for so long.

    And then she smiles. And one of the heroes starts freaking out because that is the moment it sinks in that this thin teenage slip of a girl is indeed the Warlord of Brockton Bay, and in defiance of all logic and reason, she’s about to win.

    That is the feeling I imagine Tariq has when his news to Cat brings not despair, but a sort of peace through understanding. To paraphrase Sun Tzu, she now knows her enemy’s plan, she knows the status of her remaining allies, and she will win a thousand battles.

    Liked by 15 people

    1. RoflCat

      To quote some lines from Aplomb (book 2, ch 17):

      “Ah,” Nauk grunted with a distinct undertone of satisfaction. “Looks like we’re going to win this one.”

      “She’s doing the face, warlock’s get,” Nauk continued, “Doesn’t matter what they throw at us now – we’re going to eat them alive.”

      “You do that thing where you almost smile and you show a little teeth,” Juniper told me frankly. “It looks really creepy on a human.”

      Or as I tried to imagine ‘the face’: She’s doing the Grinch evil smile.

      Liked by 5 people

  9. edrey

    that is a mess, but cat’s battles are always like that. also that memory of her job in the tavern looked just like providence, just enought to give her a spark of inspiration to connect all points, i think that fit the story of cat, the saint of impossible victories, just like Hanno said in the arsenal.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Honestly, I think it was a “Newton’s Apple” thing. Cat’s brain was working in overdrive, she was on the verge of figuring it out, and just a little nudge brought it over the edge.

      It’s not like she saw a rat trap or anything else blatantly hint-y. No, it was the taste of beer, which she was drinking because it’s a common thing, that completed the association chain.

      Providence made sure Tariq Fleetfoot got there in one piece and in time, and that Catherine was not too busy/tired/distracted for this conversation. The fact she figured it out from there? Was basically inevitable 😀

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Yeah. It was random, but I think that’s because the idea of a rat trap could be arrived at by a thousand possible paths, this was just the one that happened to be taken.


    2. Miles

      Well obviously Good will blatantly cheat to maintain a perfect “winning” streak but they’re facing Cat now. Their usual pigeon chess strategy just does not work no matter how many pigeons they use. The only way they’ll win there is to claim her first.


  10. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    rheumy blue were > rheumy blue eyes
    me uncomfortable to look at > me uncomfortable to look at him (or him uncomfortable to look at)
    maybe second > maybe a second
    army two hundred > army of two hundred
    should be able > should have been able
    once phrase it > once phrased it
    series of battle > series of battles
    I’d be a mistake > it’d be a mistake
    now we knew > now we know

    Liked by 1 person

  11. ninegardens


    Tariq *Fleetfoot* indeed.

    … Gawd I love that guy. Even if he’s not the hero they need here and now, he is kinda fabulous… even when just acting as a worn out messenger.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Mennolt van Alten

      Someone sent this in the reddit thread as a response to such a question Onos:

      That should allow plotting out the tracks: Klaus up the right across the mining roads, Cat up the middle and the Highway, and I forgot the commander but another army went up the blue road to Lucifierenne. I think the dotted line with the diamonds represents the original defenses.

      Klaus is currently breaking out of his entrapment on the last part of the mining roads, then moving to a point between Laurons Hollow and the Mining Roads, Cat thinks the missing army of Lucifierenne (lost since the very start) has been moving crosscountry past Cigelin Sisters to take position in that area to chrush the exhausted army of Klaus. Cat is now going to move crosscountry to ambush the ambush.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. The defensive line should go through Coudrent and Trifelin rather than Luciennerie, I think, as that’s where Rozala’s armies are based. The plan called for her to send a raid against Luciennerie, which is how they found out that the army had gone missing, but she didn’t actually siege the city.

        (That means that the Luciennerie army has been moving *very* fast – about as far as Klaus’s army despite not having roads or the Ways – but that’s the way I’m reading it)

        Liked by 1 person

    1. RoflCat

      That’s what we speculate due to the last bit after Arsenal.

      More precisely, she want out of this whole Bard thing.
      That she setup the Arsenal to make herself as ‘mastermind who got outplayed’ thinking that with Catherine as the new, better ‘story expert’ she’ll be replaced.
      But then she still got revived, and basically shouted at the Gods that she’s going to use some extreme options (more than the whole Arsenal stuffs), and whatever shit happen it’s all their fault (for not letting her die)

      I think she’s on the mindset that until Dead King is dealt with (since she has a hand in his rise) she’s not allowed to quit.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. JRogue

      Yes. Bard is Tired. Capital “T” Tired.

      She is Tired of the game, she is Tired of the maneuvering, she is Tired of the endlessness. If she could have a fourth Aspect, it would probably be Tired.

      She has been around thousands of years and is ready for it to end, but the gods won’t let her go. She even set it up so that people with the power and the story to end her had a shot, and the gods still noped her out of it.

      The last time we saw her, she said the gloves were going to come off. I think she is, at least in part, responsible for Cat’s new Name, and what it will do to her. If a new Name emerges that can hold sway or judgment over other Names it gives her another chance to be ended. Bard is a Name like any other, even if old and powerful. If Cat’s Name develops like it is looking like, then she gets domain over Bard as well. That new Name may not be able to abide by someone like Bard to continue to exist. Which, once again, might be part of Bard’s plan.

      Bard does not care if the Dead King, or Cat, or anyone else wins. She cares that she ends, and is using all of her vast resources and intelligence to see that through.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Moodprint

    Am I the only one who worries, that if Cat becomes Named, the Bard gets more power against her?
    Is ut not known that Bards powers works through Named specifically?


    1. Silverking

      I think it was already established that 1) Cat’s current condition was considered “close enough” for the Bard to do one of her little visits, and 2) all the Bard can really do is talk, which can be effective if you swing by at a Named’s lowest point to offer them a deal (Bard was really hoping to get unrestricted access to Cordelia), but less so when the person has resolved to “reject all she peddles”.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. The Bard has already had two face-to-face meetings with Cat despite her not being Named, so I don’t think it matters.

      The Bard has said that she can only work through Named (plus some narrow exceptions that allowed her to talk to Cat), but Cat suspects that she’s lying or leaving out important details. And even that limitation has loopholes – the Bard managed to set up Cordelia to claim a Name despite never personally interacting with her.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. mamm0nn

        The granting of Names is probably a whole different matter than directly interacting with someone. It has been suggested that she has a hand in the coming into being of all Named of Calernia, even if the results thereof may be vague to her. At least, that’s how I interpretated her talk with Hierarch including “Well, you’re not one of mine. Please get in line, kiddo.” Her being able to influence non-Named to gain a Name is likely entirely different than her direct intercession, as she seems to be a bit of an admin of Calernia Named.


    3. as Silverking said, Bard’s “powers” are:

      – watching (which she can do regardless as long as the events are sufficiently important, Cat isn’t getting out of this one)

      – talking to people, which is to say:

      — regular ass convince people of things (has yet to work on Cat lol)

      — bullshit mind games (Cat is not Amadeus, she is a great bit more stable and besides surrounded by people who actually for real share her goals and can prop her up if she starts slipping)

      — storyweaving (it’s… only mild direct effect, and Cat’s been pretty good at keeping out of traps when talking to her, achieving all her own story goals when talking to her last)

      …and even if she couldn’t already do all of the above to Cat directly just due to her narrative importance / Role, she could 100% do all of the above to her allies, which is so much nastier than directly to Cat, Cat’s own Name or lack of such is a rounding error.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Moodprint

        While I dont disagree with your points, I just worry a little. I dont find it unbelievable that the Bard has some hidden trick that only really works on Named, and that Cats approaching Name is actually part of Bards grand plan.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, Bard has plenty of hidden tricks.

          It’s just that it’s been thoroughly established that they come in the form of connections and convincing other people to do things for her.

          (or Choirs as the case may be)

          A hidden trick of the sort you’re referring to would be a little like Masego suddenly growing mantis legs and revealing his hidden martial arts insectoid heritage.


  13. mamm0nn

    Cat: Hey Abigail, I’m leaving with most of the army to ambush one of the Dead King’s ambushes. You’re in charge of the remaining forces to defeat the remnants we’ve defeated.

    Abigail: *Cold sweat* You want me, the commander of the army with the most heavies still worn out from being the vanguard of your previous battle, to chase fleeing lighter and tireless foes? Maybe you should give this task to the Levantines, they would be much better suited for it.

    Cat: Nope.

    Abigail: Roger that… What troops will you leave me with.

    Cat: Some fantassins, the ones most likely to slow us down on our march.

    Abigail: *Begins to shiver from stress* Not just the Procerans, but the slow ones. On a chase mission against enemies that I have to catch up on but who will no doubt pounce on any haste and over-extension I’d commit to. Oh joy…

    Cat: Don’t worry, I’ll also leave some Firstborn behind. About half-ish.

    Abigail: Th-

    Cat: Jindrich will be their leader, I’ll tell him to listen to you.

    Abigail: *Shivering turns to vibrating* J-Jindrich? The berserker prone to rush into battle without thinking?

    Cat: Oh, and I’ll also be sending out our five strongest Named on a new mission while taking most of the leftover ones with me.

    Abigail: *Flatlines*

    Liked by 4 people

    1. To be fair, Abigail might have made that decision herself, given the alternatives…

      Cat: I’m going to take half the army and go fight an army of 150,000 without most of my heaviest hitters.

      Abigail: I volunteer to lead the other half!

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Weapon of Mass Guesswork

    If Cat gains a neutral, judgy name, it could be trouble, politically.

    Right now, the Truce and Terms work because Cat has been rigidly yet fairly enforcing them for her side. Her position as Below’s representative is mantained under the assumption that even without a Name, she is still essentially a Villain. If she gains a Neutral Name, one of Below’s could claim that they don’t feel comfortable being represented by someone who isn’t even a Villain, calling for a new Representative to be named (I’m looking specifically at Troubador, here). Since this would be fair and lawful under the Truce&Terms,Cat could’nt strongarm them into not using their rights without crippling her own Name. She’s made no friends enforcing her position so far, so the Damned could actually vote her out, and since everyone knows how invested Cat is on the T&T working, whoever runs against her/replaces her could fairly easily hold leverage over Cat just by threatening not to enforce the T&T as well as they should.

    Cat hasn’t even considered the possibility that she could awaken to a Neutral or even Heroic name, but considering Above has offered her power twice (once at Liesse, and again at the Twillight Ways), She really should. This would be the third time, marking a Pattern, and she seriously might not be able to reject the offer this time, given how much she needs the power-up. This could actually be a trap by the Bard, since Cat has gradually been isolating herself and pushing away others since the beginning of the Book, under the assumption that her current position means she can afford it (and possibly, needs to do it). If she suddenly gets her political power undercut, while also getting a serious identity crisis to go with it, and Cat’s support system under someone else’s nominal authority that Cat nevertheless can’t overrule without destroying her own dream, it could legitimately get her out of the game for a while. Her so-awaited Name turning out to be a curse, rather than a blessing.

    As to the nature of the name itself, I could see it having the prefix [The Just…], both to bring her motto of “Justifications matter only to the Just” full circle, and to make it fairly obvious she’s no longer just a Villain.


    1. The so-called “Neutral” Names are actually just Names that can be empowered by Above or by Below, depending on the incarnation of the Name. They’re Names that can switch between sides and are not intrinsically linked to Above or Below. They may also have some measure of variation depending on the Story they were gained through, and might be able to switch power sources if borne through enough side specific Roles in enough Stories that an alignment change happens without changing Names, assuming the Aspects aren’t relying on Alignment specific powers (ie, Light).

      Like Squire – it can be a Heroic Name and lead into White Knight (and probably also Paladin variations) or be a Villain Name and lead into Black Knight. Squire is a Neutral Name and a Transitional Name. Same with Apprentice. Probably most Transitional Names have similar potential.
      Ranger is probably technically, or at least originally, a Name that can be either, as is Archer.

      Any Name Cat gets will be assumed to be empowered by Below, unless she tosses Light or other Above-exclusive powers around. Or she starts showing signs of aging despite being Named … but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon even without a Villain Name’s immunity to aging.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. I disagree with Javvies on the fundamental nature of Names and won’t be addressing that directly right now.

      That said, Neutral Names don’t come with labels saying “STRICTLY NEUTRAL” on them. The only way for Cat’s Name to contradict her categorization as a villain at this point is for it to allow her to wield Light, and while I believe that would be absolutely hilarious and the best, a Neutral Name would not do it.

      A Neutral Name means the Named is free to be a villain or hero, contextually. Catherine is contextually very much a villain. That would not change.


  15. edrey

    Well, there is other way for the Bard to call that angel, if the titanic ward of the gigants protect them from the Light and not only the dead, and call it on trifelin, keter is done, i am sure sve noc can copy the ward too.


  16. Barrendur

    @Weapon of Mass Guesswork
    Great observations; well reasoned and thought through. I think you also take into consideration the authour’s style, which often tends towards ironic wish-fulfillment; i.e. be careful what you wish for. Cat has been so focussed on the punishment she is preparing for Diabolist, she may just blunder into the long-deserved one waiting for HER. After all, Cat is not a hero… but I think she sometimes forgets that as a villain, she is due a “comeuppance” — and the Name may end up being just that.

    I LIKE your post, but the system won’t let me use the “like” button, so I had to settle for a “reply”.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. ChillyPepper

    I wonder, if the Bard is meant to be some kind of maestro to the Named – would Cat’s new name be some sort of Critic role. making and unmaking and judging everyone in that play.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ahem — please notice that for all her scaredy-cat mumbling to herself, Abigail has never actually routed or turned tail. As I’ve said before, she thinks she’s a coward, but she’s no such thing.


  18. Frivolous

    I thought this episode was going to reveal that the army under Prince Klaus was a near-complete wipe, with Tariq being one of the few hapless survivors, come to Cat to tell her of the disaster.

    So glad that was not the case.

    And yeah, I’m one of those who, like LarsBlitzer, thinks that the ambush on the ambush is when Cat finally receives her Name, especially if the Revenant of Albrecht Papenheim is there.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Crash

    Honestly the fact that Tariq is even surprised is proof he just doesn’t get Cat.

    This is her thing. The mess, the horrible odds. The chaos.

    It’s where she shines.

    Good luck, Dead King.

    Liked by 1 person

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