Chapter 63: Dynamism

“Not quite what I imagine my father meant, when he said I should find a talent that would set me apart from my brothers.”

– Basileus Ioannes Trakas of Nicae, the Patricide

“Rocks,” Masego said, wrinkling his nose. “Bogs. More rocks.”

He turned to glance at me, a gesture he rarely bothered with these days.

“Why is it that you want to reconquer these lands again?”

At least the Princess of Hainaut wasn’t there, as I suspected she would have been less than enchanted by Zeze’s stark description of her principality. He wasn’t wrong, mind you. I’d visited the great valley – in reality more like a dozen or so smaller valleys whose boundaries melded into each other’s – before but it’d been closer to the capital, through the west and the heartlands. There was a reason the eastern parts of the great valley were more lightly settled than the rest: they were a damned dreary and inhospitable place. No doubt the Dead King had worsened things by killing everything that crawled or grew in the region, but somehow I doubted there’d been all that much to kill in the first place.

“Strategic reasons,” I replied.

It wasn’t like the fields and mines of Hainaut were going to turn the tide of the fight against Keter, even if we got both in a usable state again. Which we wouldn’t, as I didn’t expect there’d be any people moving back into the highlands aside from soldiers and camp followers after we took back the grounds. It was mostly the advantage of holding the shore against the dead instead of our defensive line in the lowlands that was the attraction, one made even more appealing by the Gigantes offer to set down great wards along the shoreline to keep out the undead.

“You’d think forcing people to live here would lower morale, not improve it,” Masego muttered.

“Says the Wastelander,” I snorted back.

The principality of Hainaut might not be a green garden of luxury, but at least it wasn’t filled with murderous monsters and afflicted with weather that changed on a whim. Hierophant turned to look at me in genuine surprise, as if he could not quite believe what he’d just heard.

“The Wasteland has all the best libraries,” he reminded me.

“People don’t usually live in those, Zeze,” I pointed out.

“I know,” Hierophant sadly replied. “I asked.”

It said a lot about him that I had no trouble believing that. I was just lucky Warlock must have talked him out of asking the Sahelians, back in the day. And he must have, for Masego would have asked on his own and I had absolutely no doubt that Tasia Sahelian would have given Zeze access to the infamous Wolof spell repositories for the cheap, cheap price of marrying her only daughter. My blind friend shifted about, his shining glass eyes turning in their sockets and studying something behind him before returning.

“Company?” I asked.

“The Grey Pilgrim has it-“

There was a soft flash of Light, gone in a heartbeat, and the air filled with the scent of incinerated flesh. Ghoul, probably, if it could still smell like that. Skeletons had their own distinctive stink when burnt.

“- handled,” Masego finished. “Interesting. I do believe he changes the properties he assigns Light nearly at will, Catherine. It’s not unheard of, but that sheer verisimilitude certainlyis.”

“Having angels around for a few decades will let you pick up all sorts of tricks, I imagine,” I shrugged.

The Peregrine’s tread was light, but he wasn’t trying to hide as he made his way up the rocky path to join us. That made it easy to pick on, for people with senses like ours.

“Light is the divine facet of faith,” Tariq Fleetfoot mildly said as he came to stand by our sides. “It has few limits save those that mortal hands impose on it.”

Masego look highly interested.

“So if I obtained fae hands in sufficient amounts-“

“You’d still be missing the faith,” I interrupted, hoping to distract him before he gave offence.

Back when we’d been younger, tripping him over small details had usually been enough to distract him.

“It wouldn’t be hard to insert into a captured fae, Catherine,” Masego chided me. “It’s not fundamentally different from any other kind of delusion.”

I might have made a small tactical mistake there, I mentally conceded. Tariq cleared his throat, but though he did not look amused he didn’t look all that angry either. Masego glanced at him through the dark eyecloth, entirely unabashed.

“Mathematically speaking, the chances of your particular interpretation of the Gods Above being correct of all-“

I cleared my throat. I did it twice as loud, when he kept trying to kindly explain to Tariq that basic applications of mathematics indicated that his entire life was probably a lie.

“How are the preparations going, Hierophant?” I asked.

He cocked his head to the side, burning eyes swivelling about to study the distance.

“Indrani is nearly done installing the columns,” he said. “We’ll be ready to proceed with the Respite ritual in about a quarter hour.”

“I’ll leave you to it then,” I said. “I know you like to make sure the alignments are as precise as possible.”

He smiled happily at me, which even now was enough to make me feel a little guilty.

“I appreciate it,” Masego said, then glanced at the Pilgrim.

He nodded at the man.

Comparative Numerics, by Marcellus the Elder,” Hierophant suggested. “It’s all quite simple, really, when you consider the-“

“I think I see ‘Drani spinning a pillar about,” I lightly interrupted.

Eyebrows widening in dismay, the man who even without magic to call on remained one of the finest mages in Calernia stomped away to prevent his partner from ‘misaligning the constrictive forces’. His grumbling wafted up to us on the breeze even when he disappeared behind the rocks below.

“Quite a bracing young man,” Tariq evenly said.

I winced.

“He means no harm,” I said.

“If I believed he did, we would be having a very different conversation,” the Peregrine said. “I’ve no qualms entertaining doubts, Catherine. Indeed, in different circumstances I suspect an evening talking with the Hierophant would make for fascinating conversation.”

He’d not said ‘safe’ or ‘religiously acceptable in any way’, so I’d give him that.

“But,” I said.

“But at the moment, perhaps a reminder that a certain moderation of words is in order would not go amiss,” Tariq gently suggested. “Others of faith might have more of a temper, and I do believe he’s been in three screaming matches with the Blessed Artificer since he arrived.”

“I’ll speak with him,” I sighed. “But you know the Blessed Artificer situation isn’t his fault alone, or entirely driven by either’s character.”

Their Names were clearly nudging them forward there, turning every small irritation into a slight and every disagreement into an argument. The fundamental nature of the Roles behind them were too opposed for there to be any hope of cordiality there: the Hierophant was a vivisector of all things divine, while the Blessed Artificer forged in what the Peregrine himself had called ‘the divine facet of faith’.

“I am aware,” Tariq said. “I have known rivals as well, Catherine, and not forgot the taste of it – and never did the enmity between my Bestowal and another’s run as deep as it does between those two.”

I glanced at him with interest.

“Anyone I’d have heard about?” I asked.

“They died,” the Peregrine serenely said, “long before you were born.”

Yeah, I just bet they did. It was good, now and then, to be reminded that the wrinkly old man in the grey robes had a body count in Named probably rivalling that of the Calamities. I’d yet to see a Revenant manage more than to mildly inconvenience the Grey Pilgrim, and it sure as Hells wasn’t for lack of trying. My gaze drifted downwards, following the curve of the rocky slope. We’d left the Twilight Ways in the driest part of this little mess of bogs, as the ritual would need solid grounding, but the marshlands were spread out in every direction with only a few hills rising from them on occasion in mounds of mud and rock. The bog water was foul-smelling and filthy, but the Concocter had already confirmed it’d not been poisoned or cursed so the worse we’d had to deal with was a few bands of undead.

The entire region seemed to be crawling with them, which boded ill for the Prince of Hannoven’s army. A decisive victory at Juvelun wouldn’t have left this many warbands out and about, so it was starting to look like Keter had bled the Iron Prince raw for that little town. Worse, it would have salvaged large enough a force that Prince Klaus would have to handle it before linking up with my incoming reinforcements. And worse than worse was that we still had little idea of where the Iron Prince’s host was, what kind of a force it was facing and exactly where the missing Luciennerie army would be relative to us, Papenheim or whoever the Hells it was he was scrapping with.

Time was of the essence if I wanted to rescue an army instead of broken remnant. Fortunately, Masego was finally back on the front at my side and he’d provided a solution for our current troubles. He called it a ‘respite’ ritual, though the name was catchy enough I figured he probably wasn’t the one to have come up with it. It was that very ritual that we’d crossed back into Creation to enact, with as light a presence as we dared. Only Named had come, all of them save Adjutant and our two youths.

Most our finest killers were out and about, combing through the mire to make sure that nothing snuck up on us and interrupted the ritual, but we’d clearly draw some enemy attention. Undead were starting to converge, which meant we needed to hurry. Thankfully, we were nearly ready. Roland had already sent word that the secondary arrays were ready – and Masego hadn’t even felt the need to check on his work afterwards, which had nearly seen me gape – and now that Indrani had finished setting up the seventh ring of pillars on our little hill there was not much left to do but the sorcery itself.

Hierophant had come loaded with artefacts that were effectively just receptacles filled with magic he could wrest for that purpose, but just in case I’d assigned the Summoner to stay at his side. We were fencing with rituals against Trismegistus himself, no matter how certain Masego was of his formulas I wanted him to have an additional source of magic at hand. I’d not phrased it to the Summoner that way of course. He was witnessing the Hierophant’s work personally so he could give me his opinion on it later, though of course I’d requested that if something went amok he lend his magic to my court mage to solve the trouble.

It was known in the right circles I’d been Queen of Winter once upon a time, he really should have known better than not to look twice at that phrasing.

“Eastern winds, when will you blow

And return my love to me?

His lack falls like winter snow,

Cruel torment made decree.”

The Rapacious Troubadour did have a lovely voice for an unrepentant monster, even when it was put to use singing horrid noble crap from back home. Archer’s inexplicable fondness for the Lay of Lothian’s Passing, a traditional ballad about the rise and fall of the love of Sir Lothian and his ladylove Eveline, remained a genuine puzzle to me even after years of knowing her. Mind you, it was a common enough personality defect back in Callow as well. The only reason I’d ever sat through the renditions of it at summer fairs had been that there were some pretty nifty fight scenes against Praesi – under Black, singers had prudently changed the word to ‘enemy’ instead – and Baroness Fallon, the scheming noblewoman trying to trick Lothian into marriage.

“You ever notice how it’s always barons and dukes that go bad in stories, but almost never counts?” I mused.

That was unfair, as in my experience most nobles were terrible regardless of their relative position of their rung in the social ladder.

“Baronial titles are at the bottom of the Callowan peerage, I believe,” Tariq said, “while ducal ones are beneath only royalty. I expect both of those positions tend to… excite ambition.”

Technically there were knights and lords beneath barons, but I got his point. Neither of those kinds of lesser nobles tended to ever be trouble for anyone aside from the greater nobles they were sworn to.

“I expect the Dukes of Liesse aren’t going to be trouble for my successors at least,” I darkly muttered. “So there’s that.”

Tariq, to my surprise, looked amused for a heartbeat before mastering himself.

“I know you care little for my opinion in this, and rightfully so,” the Grey Pilgrim said, “but your choice of successor is to be commended, Queen Catherine. Vivienne Dartwick will make an exceptional queen.”

I shot him a curious look. Tariq’s reluctance to be in the vicinity of anything even remotely akin to rule meant that he usually kept his piece when it came to this sort of thing – for example, I suspected he would very much prefer Rozala Malanza reign over Procer rather than Cordelia Hasenbach – so I was surprised he’d even admit to having an opinion on the matter of Callowan succession.

“She has the right qualities,” I warily agreed.

“And she will chase your shadow for the rest of her life, scouring her clean of the weaknesses that many crowned heads accrue,” the Pilgrim said. “Unlike many before her, I doubt she will ever cease to strive her utmost to do good: doing so would be a betrayal of not only herself but the trust you extended her.”

My lips thinned and I looked away. It wasn’t that I was unaware that Vivienne and I had a complicated relationship, or that it pulled at us both in ways that were usually to our betterment – if not necessarily through healthy means. To have the darker aspects of that bond dragged out in the light of day by a man who might be an ally but was definitely not a friend was not a pleasant experience. The Grey Pilgrim’s eyes had always seen too much for comfort.

“Lothian strove and mighty slew,

A score wicked enemies

Seven lords he cut in two

And settled great enmities.”

Poor dumb Lothian. When intriguing baronesses trying to get your lands offered to let your repay your family debts by valour on the battlefield, they weren’t actually trying to let you off – they were just baiting you into getting in over your head so they could bail you out and leverage you with a life debt on top of the rest. I’d occasionally wondered over the years if the enduring popularity of the ballad – and play, there were like ten different versions of the story including the one in inexplicable Old Miezan – in Callow was due to the cultural resonance of a martial noble covered in glory out east getting fucked over by a more high-ranking one the moment he returned to the kingdom.

For all that we deservedly complained about the Praesi and the Procerans, my people had always been capable of being terrible to each other without anyone else’s help.

“I fear I have given offence,” the Grey Pilgrim finally spoke into the silence.

“No,” I said. “Only discomfort. And not unearned, in the greater scheme of things.”

There was a pregnant pause.

“I sometimes forget that your Woe love each other,” Tariq admitted. “It is unusual, in a band of villains. Yet these are changing times. I meant my words as a compliment, however short of that they might have fallen. You found a protector for your home, and set her on a path that promises distinction.”

“Then I will endeavour to remember your words as they were meant,” I said.

There, and to think some people said I wasn’t diplomatic. The old man ruefully smiled.

“It is a bad habit,” the Pilgrim admitted.

Thinking the worse of us? It was, and often tiring to deal with, but he was hardly the worst of his kind when it came to that particular sin. That he faced and fought it already made him among the finest of their number when it came to address it, so I would not whine. Besides, I held no illusions about the truth of villainy on Calernia. Though in time it might be sanitized, turned into something worth embracing, at the moment it was the side that counted cannibals and rapists among its ranks. I would not moan about the distrust of villains when I hardly trusted any of them myself. As a woman of refined tastes, I preferred my hypocrisies to be at least somewhat deniable.

“There are worse to have,” I said. “I’ve dabbled in a few myself, Peregrine.”

“The mistaken comparisons to others I have known is certainly one such habit,” the old man said, “but as it happens I meant another. I was leading up to making a request, you see. Yet, as young Indrani once made clear to me, it is not for me to pull and prod at you: straightforward honesty will always fetch better result.”

Huh, I thought, glancing from the corner of my eye. When exactly was it that those two had had that purported conversation? I didn’t mind, but Archer had never mentioned it to me.

“I like to think so,” I finally said, a little taken aback. “I’m listening, Pilgrim, though I make no promises.”

As far as I was concerned, Razin and Aquiline were once more his problem. I’d only agreed to keep an eye on them as a temporary favour, not to forever be their guardian devil. They were way too much of a headache for me to be inclined to renew that promise anyway.

“I would request that you keep your distance from the White Knight, when our armies are joined,” Tariq said.

I frowned. This again? I’d thought that the old snickering rumours about Hanno and I being more than simply friendly were dead and buried. Hells, we weren’t even friendly anymore.

“I’ve told you before that-“

“And I believe you,” the Grey Pilgrim calmly interrupted. “This is unrelated, Catherine. Before I left the army, I glimpsed in the Sword of Judgement the beginnings of a crisis of faith.”

I fixed the old man with a steady look.

“This not the time for the White Knight to stumble,” I bluntly said.

Even when he disagreed with me, even when we did not get along, his participation to the Truce and Terms alone leant it an amount of legitimacy that we badly needed. I wasn’t going to pretend that one of the first things we hammered into heroes hesitating to sign up was’ the Sword of Judgement is part of this’.

“On that we must disagree,” the Pilgrim frankly said. “This is precisely the right time for the White Knight to stumble.”

I blinked. Right, fucking hero logic. It had all the hallmarks of madness, except for the part where it worked.

“You’re going to have to walk me through that one,” I admitted. “In my experience, when one of yours doubts they either die or lose their Name.”

“We are all tested, sooner or later,” Tariq said. “Often this begins with a loss of potency, brought about by doubt or fear, but should we rise to meet that test we do not simply resume what we were: we rise above it.”

My eyes narrowed. That came uncomfortably close to ‘iron sharpens iron’ in some ways, which made it all the more distressing coming from the eldest living hero on Calernia. Mind you the test as he described it wouldn’t necessarily be another person, which in the central philosophy of the Praesi highborn it always was. To the old guard of the Wasteland, even fighting off an invasion was just a setting for another duel against your rivals.

“I’m not too clear on what it is that Hanno has to doubt,” I frankly said. “He’s been mostly getting his way, except when it’d cost too much to others if he did. He’s an intelligent man and reasonable enough for one of your lot, so he shouldn’t be expecting much more of us wicked sinners.”

“His thoughts are his own, and not mine to divulge,” the Pilgrim said, “yet I will speak to my own. Hanno of Arwad is split between the man he wants to be and the man fate demands he should be.”

That did not sound like a particularly pleasant place to be in. I stayed silent, waiting for Tariq to elaborate, and he did not disappoint.

“He is the Sword of Judgement by choice,” the Grey Pilgrim said, “but he is the White Knight through the workings of fate.”

“There’s not supposed to be a difference between the two,” I pointed out.

“Yet there is,” the old man said. “The Sword of Judgement is growing increasingly unable to stomach the deals the White Knight has been forced to make to ensure that we survive this war. And soon that disparity will come to a head.”

I studied him for a bit, parsing his words. By ‘Sword of Judgement’ I figured he was actually referring to Hanno’s comfortable embrace of his role as the designated hatchetman of the Seraphim. It did tend to be what he defaulted to being when in conflict, I’d noticed, even now that Judgement had grown quiet. What was meant by ‘White Knight’, though, was a little more nebulous to my eye.

“Hanno the man who believes in Judgement,” I tried, “and Hanno the man who is an officer of the Grand Alliance.”

The Pilgrim gently smiled at me.

“The latter is a mortal tie, Catherine,” he said. “It would not bind him. It is, rather, Hanno the man who has sworn his faith to the Seraphim and Hanno the man who leads the heroes of our age.”

“I will not mistrust, said she,

And never shall I despair

Tenderness will set me free,

To lovers the world is fair.”

I mulled that over a while. Tariq was, in essence, telling me that the while Hanno might have been a good fit for the Name of White Knight in certain circumstances they were not the current ones. He fits the Name but not the Role, I tried out. At least not the Role the war has forced on him. He commanded obedience, through charisma and respect, but I could see how an argument could be made that Hanno didn’t particularly want to be in charge of heroes, or really of anything at all. He tended to see leadership as a burden, and only took it up when he perceived it at as his duty to do so. Which, given that this war was vaguely crusade-shaped and he was the White Knight, must have been a lot more often than he was comfortable with.

Throw in the Hierarch silencing the entire Choir of Judgement for what was, as far as I knew, the first time in recorded Calernian history? I could see why Hanno was having some troubles coming to terms with who he was turning into. Which tended to be a costly kind of doubt, for Named.

Our time at the Arsenal looks different seen through those eyes, I thought. What I’d seen as inflexibility and even obstructionism on his part took instead the shape of the White Knight considering the troubles in the Highest Assembly as a Cordelia’s sphere of trouble to deal with and not for him to meddle in, much like the Red Axe had been his sphere of responsibility where we should not have trespassed. That seemed overly simplistic to me, but then I was in a pretty unique situation wasn’t I? I’d accumulated influence until I’d come to sit on every council as both Queen of Callow and representative for the villains. I’d not really seen a difference because to me there really wasn’t.

Frankly, I still thought he was wrong. The moment the Red Axe had tried to kill a Proceran prince of the blood it had become problem that involved more than just heroes whether he liked it or not. But seen from that perspective, both Cordelia and I would have overreached and meddled in his sphere when he’d been scrupulously careful about never touching ours. And I just bet if things had gotten bad after we obeyed those invisible lines and Hasenbach had said she needed his help, he would have given it without hesitation, I ruefully thought. Because he would have been invited to step beyond his sphere, while on the other hand the First Prince and I had simply worked around him to get what we needed.

It was that fucking hero mindset, I silently cursed. He didn’t see something like the rebellious whispers in the Assembly as a real problem, because in his experience if he kept doing the right thing and trouble came then continuing to do the right thing would get him through that as well. Why compromise and dirty his principles, when the moment it all went to shit he could instead make an inspiring speech to the rebels and Creation would bend over backwards for it to work? There were godsdamned good reasons I was still trying to keep Named from being able to be rulers, even if my failure there was all but writ in the stars. There’d been blind spots all around, I finally admitted to myself, and they’d neatly fit into our worst expectations of each other.

Merciless Gods but that felt like something the Intercessor would have arranged. Surely even she couldn’t manipulate us this precisely, though. Right? I clenched my fingers and unclenched them. It was always the necessary degree of paranoia that was difficult to gauge with the Wandering Bard, not whether or not it was necessary at all.

“All right,” I said. “Say I buy that. What does it get the Heavens for their favourite knight to doubt his place in Creation?”

“Times are changing,” Tariq softly said. “And while I have grown distressed by the echo of truth there has been to the words of your once-teacher, I will not shy away from the truth: though it can be said that Good triumphed in the Age of Wonders, in this dawning Age of Order is it Evil that has seized the lead.”

“It doesn’t have to be a competition,” I began, then bit my tongue.

I sighed.

“It does,” I admitted. “It does have to be competition, that’s how we were made. But it doesn’t have to be the kind of wars it’s turned into, Tariq. The ones that shatter cities and break nations. It can be made, if not civil, then at least civilized.”

“I do not know if I believe that,” the Grey Pilgrim quietly replied.

I winced at the blunt admission.

“But I recognize that you believe it,” Tariq Fleetfoot continued. “And in that I can put my trust. The truth is, Catherine, that I am an old man. Set in my ways. And I will try to change them to better ones, so long as there is breath yet left in this carcass, but I have fought Evil for many years and it has taken its toll. I am not certain there would be a place for someone like me, in the world you seek to make.”

The Grey Pilgrim mirthlessly smiled.

“That is, in a sense, the highest compliment I can pay your dream,” the Peregrine said. “But I will not be alone in this, Black Queen. I am not alone in this. Consider Hanno of Arwad, the man as you know him, and tell me that if he had been born two centuries past he would have been the kind of hero we would still raise shrines to.”

“He would have made mincemeat of most Old Tyrants,” I agreed. “Your point?”

“That there are no longer Old Tyrants to fight,” the Grey Pilgrim honestly replied. “And so we must change with the times, or become relics. His struggle is not his alone, Catherine. We must, all of us, reconcile the wild heroics of my youth to what would be allowed in the world to come – as young Hanno must now reconcile the unalloyed purpose the Seraphim taught him and the demands made of a White Knight in a greying world.”

“You think he’s going to set the path,” I slowly said. “Carve the groove others will flow into.”

“I do,” Tariq said. “And so I ask you to leave him to his test, that he might find an answer that is his and his alone.”

Which meant, beyond the all the flowery talk, that he didn’t want me getting my hands anywhere near Hanno while he transitioned into… whatever it was that lay ahead. I doubted it’d be a new Name, but perhaps a second flowering of his current one was not out of the question. I forced myself to step out of my own perspective and consider what was being asked of me. Meddling in Hanno’s ‘test’, if he was really undergoing such a thing, could potentially yield advantages for me. It seemed possible to at least nudge him in a direction that wasn’t adversarial to my own. On the other hand, wasn’t that very kind of meddling something providence was bound to punish me over? Villains that thought they were the cleverest thing since Traitorous tended to end up in some pit or another, one that they’d even dug themselves most of the time.

It’d be damned easy to misstep and become the proverbial devil on Hanno’s shoulder, or worse the enemy he defined himself through. It might come to that anyway, I honestly admitted to myself. We were both prominent Named as well as representatives of a larger amount of Named. Yet so long as the enmity was one of means and ideals rather than, you know, demons and calling down Choirs I could deal with it. And I was honestly inclined to believe that the less I was involved the friendlier the end result would be: I doubted the Heavens would take kindly to my meddling with the tempering of their designated champion. If he was truly that, I reminded myself. I would not take the Grey Pilgrim’s opinions as facts, no matter how wizened and wise the old man was.

“Our duties will still see us working together,” I eventually said.

It was tacitly accepting his request, and neither of us pretended otherwise. Aside from all other considerations, antagonizing the Peregrine over something he believed to be this important would have been a blunder.

“Adjacency,” the Grey Pilgrim replied, “is not intrusion.”

Fair enough. So long as I didn’t actively meddle, he wouldn’t consider it meddling. Pretty fair terms, though admittedly these days Tariq wasn’t in a position to ask much of me that I didn’t want to give.

“I’ll look forward to the ending, then,” I said.

“So will I,” the Peregrine smiled. “I expect that light will burn bright, Black Queen, and come just when the night has grown darkest.”

That old trick again, huh? Kairos had liked to always have a fresh enemy to make, but Tariq had a favoured trick of his own: to keep a journey ongoing and undefined, so that providence might lead it to end at precisely the right time. It’d bit him in the ass at the Graveyard, but the old man was pretty much the patron saint of timely arrivals so I could see how leaning into that groove would have paid off for him over the years. That Hanno’s journey here would be a metaphorical one wouldn’t matter, as far as the Pilgrim was concerned.  

Fate, to his kind, was a book writ from ending to start.

It was not an answer I shared. Fate is a tug of war, I’d once heard a madman say, and for all that madness he had not been wrong. By our own hands we would make or break this world, and if either gods or Gods disagreed then let them bite their tongue bloody.

“Let me die then, Lothian said

I choose doom, end in honour

Many seasons my heart bled

As my oath kept me from her.”

The song, beautifully played as it had been, ended abruptly after the last note preceding Sir Lothian’s getting himself killed in battle before he was forced to marry Baroness Fallon. The Rapacious Troubadour, like us, had felt the power gathering. Below us sorcery flared as at last began the ritual we’d been awaiting. Our respite. Chords of magic, thick and burning, began to flow along the trajectory the columns had set as the smell of ozone filled the air and a dim pressure began to mount. The dead god on his throne in Keter had blinded us, here in Hainaut, but his hollow miracles were not beyond us.

Hierophant laughed, exulting as the ritual took, and ripped open an eye in the sky.

111 thoughts on “Chapter 63: Dynamism

  1. nick012000

    Now I’m wondering what exactly this ritual was supposed to do. Reopen the area to scrying rituals? That’s useful, but it’s not exactly a game-winning trump card, is it?

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Storm

      Except it very much is. Putting aside that this is just one of several contingencies, reestablishing scrying will allow them to coordinate with the other army, and outmaneuver the dead armies wandering about. Remember how Kairos was as able to dance circles around two massive coalition armies in book 5 with the power of scrying? This helps make Cat’s ambush ambush story feasible.

      Liked by 16 people

    2. Sir Nil

      Don’t look down on the benefits of modern communication in warfare, though if I had to hazard a guess, the ritual was called Respite, which I feel could mean setting up a zone where DK’s magic won’t work, including his necromancy and scry blocking. So they could have just set up a huge safe zone in the middle of DK territory.

      Liked by 16 people

        1. Shveiran

          This is funny, but from a practical stand-point, they don’t need to scry him to have a conversation: Hierophant has proven before that he can scry an area, and the Iron Prince will have mages and the Witch of the West to assist with that. They can take an aerial survey and check the terrain, removing the issue of giving precise directions entirely.

          Liked by 1 person

    3. nimelennar

      When, and I quote, “Time was of the essence if I wanted to rescue an army instead of broken remnant,” finding out exactly where that army is may well be the game-winning trump card.

      Liked by 12 people

  2. Stormblessed

    The interesting thing about these later chapter, this book as a whole, and the context this chapter gives to earlier chapters in this book, is that for what feels like the first time in the series, neither side is right. For a very very long time, especially because we look through Cat’s eyes, that Cat’s philosophies are the “correct” ones. But I’m pleased that finally in this book (and the last to an extent) we’ve reached a point where Good isn’t Stupid or made of Straw.

    Liked by 17 people

    1. Evil got forged in the fires of the Age of Wonders. It chewed up Dread Emperors and Warlocks and Chancellors for fuel until what came out was the Calamities. A more rational, thoughtful form of Evil walked out of that furnace and it changed the world.

      Cat just put Good through the same furnace. Learn the same lessons Evil did and improve what you are … or perish.

      Liked by 13 people

    2. Well, finally we reached the point where it’s being made explicit that Good isn’t Stupid or made of Straw. It hasn’t been for a long time.

      Even William had a point in retrospect, when you look at the consequences the Praesi occupation ended up wrecking before being withdrawn. He was still terrible, but he was more right than Cat had been willing to credit him for at the time.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Konstantin von Karstein

        Yes, Tariq made excellent points during the Tenth Crusade, and from his point of view he was completely justified. If a crusader was the protagonist of the story, we would have cheered him and looked down on Cat.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. I still like to think I wouldn’t have but it would be more of an academic exercise of the “I fully understand why the side I cheer for makes the decisions it does but I still feel like it’s a tragedy that everyone can’t just get along”.

          …and tbh at the point where Cat started actively suing for peace I do think I’d be arguing that it should be accepted and any reason why it isn’t is a Tragic Fatal Flaw in “our” side.

          Liked by 9 people

          1. Clint

            I’d imagine the Heroes tell less amusing stories about Dread Emperor Irritant, and the tens of thousands of innocents who died each time the Heroes agreed to a truce with the shoemaker who spoke so humbly about peace.

            Liked by 7 people

        2. Salt

          We almost certainly would have. If this was a Heroic Protagonist oriented story, the background buildup and context wouldn’t have been all about Catherine Foundling and her motivations.

          It would’ve been several books about a younger Pilgrim compromising with quite literally dozens upon dozens of Villains who said exactly the same things that Catherine did, initially behaved as reasonably as she did, with the exact same motivations, and him getting stabbed in the back every single time.

          The interludes wouldn’t have been about humanizing the Calamities so much as humanizing the Saint, with the background stories being about how she lived her entire life fighting battles as brutal as the war on Keter, eventually building up into “no truce with the enemy” in her old age after killing hundreds of Villains who would routinely mass murder, torture, and rape.

          In a Heroic protagonist centered story, Cat would’ve initially been just one more in a very long line of Villains claiming to be working for some greater good, and most of the initial comments would’ve been angrily ranting about how frustratingly stupid it is for Tariq to even consider trusting yet another Villain, after the last 37 stabbed him in the back.

          Liked by 7 people

      2. Crash

        The issue with William was never that he didn’t have a point. It’s how he went about it and how he justified his point.

        Calling orcs ruthless beasts and rapists when you really mean “Callowans paid a heavy price during occupation” isn’t a good way to have people believe (in) you.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. ruduen

    Huh. I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect the Interludes to end until they hit the climax of this particular sequences of events. Still, it’s good to have confirmation that someone else recognizes what’s happening to Hanno’s Name.

    I do wonder what would happen if Cat ends up in a position where she’s force to influence his decisions – through requiring action of some type, rather than because she wants to influence his name. I wonder if that’s something the Heroes would hold against her.

    Do the TopWebFiction thing!
    http://topwebfiction.com/listings/a-practical-guide-to-evil/boost

    Liked by 4 people

  4. dadycoool

    Um,…did Masego just start cackling as his mad experiment went exactly as he expected it to? Can we please see it as literally anything else? I don’t want another experiment to turn on him, especially with DK’s involvement.
    No, Cat, you can’t go poking a cocoon to try and make a carnivorous butterfly. You know damn well that it would only bite you later.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Masego has a tendency to cackle like a madman when his grand and flashy rituals activate, remember? He has done that ever since Book 2.

      There are a few occasions it happened. Sometimes it’s just him grinning wildly.
      But for me, one deserving particular notice is the first time it happened, all the way back in Book 2 chapter 31:

      “Lines of flame rose from the ground into the sky from all over the city, too numerous to count. The threads of fire linked into a single point high above the demon and I finally understood what Masego had been doing. He’d broken his ritual, piece by piece, and taken the wild flames that would have exploded from the hearths as his own. Usurpation is the essence of sorcery, Apprentice had once told me, paraphrasing some Dread Emperor. He’d usurped his own work, and was now bringing its full strength to bear against our enemy. From the point where all the flames had gathered an enormous pillar of flame descended, enveloping the demon in the blink of an eye. I’d half-excepted the spell to disappear after a moment, but it kept on going. There was a strange sound coming from our mage’s direction, and I realized with a start it was a laugh. Masego was grinning madly as he convulsed in laughter, the glare of the flames reflecting on his glasses as he peered over them at his work. His hands were thrusting forward, unmoving as the fire raged and waves of heat scorched stone and distorted the air.

      How long we stood there, watching the son of the Sovereign of the Red Skies proving the truth of his lineage, I did not know.”

      Liked by 20 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Heck, I have cackled like a madman for stuff far less badass than setting a demon on arcane fire or screwing with a god through a large scale ritual.

          Masego is 120% entitled to his mad laughter in such moments.

          Liked by 18 people

      1. dadycoool

        Thank the gods ever burning and the Sisters in Shadow. I’m glad this is a recurring theme, especially one cultivated and indulged basically his whole life. And if this is even half as badass as that one with the demon, it’d be more suspicious if he DIDN’T cackle like a madman. Now my only concern is that that sort of thing sounds like an Age of Wonders kind of thing, which is invalid without Tyrant.

        Liked by 7 people

  5. Ah yes, point the barrel of the gun that is Heirophant at the enemy and fire away. He’s a large enough caliber that he’ll hit something and amuse us all in the doing.

    It’s kind of interesting to hear GP recognizing that Hanno is coming up on a delicate time as well. Hanno getting a heroic upgrade is definitely the more likely scenario, and Cat should steer clear for the reasons the chapter lists, but there were enough questionings of GPs analysis by both, and enough references to Evil coming out on top that I think corruption arc for Hanno is still on the table. The only problem is that I think Cat might even fight against Hanno’s corruption. If Hanno joins team Evil, it leaves a void in leadership for Good. Even worse, it might bring into question whether Cat engineered his fall in the first place. If we’re really looking for long cons from the Bard, sacrificing a heavy hitter to bring about the implosion of the Terms is a pretty big one.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Even better if the corruption involves him sleeping with Cat, because I want the full force of angry glares form an old man to to be something she inevitably fails to avoid.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Skaddix

        I do want to see that but that is more cause we need payoff on the Cat x Hanno thing and Hanno’s Love Life in general since we have had so much speculation about it from characters.

        Like

          1. ohJohN

            I don’t remember exactly, but I thought in one of his early interludes it’s briefly mentioned that he was sleeping with one of the heroines in the crusade?

            Like

            1. Nope, it wasn’t! The only mention of Hanno’s love life was when him entertaining “impure” thoughts about some girls was brought up in his origin extra chapters.

              It appears he’s not ace, just… chaste.

              Like

    2. Cat would 100% fight against Hanno’s corruption, and frankly I don’t see any room for it. This isn’t DnD where committing a non-Good or non-Lawful act fells the paladin. To switch teams you need to persistently and systematically start doing bad shit (which I cannot imagine Hanno doing) or explicitly and deliberately go over to the other banner (which I also cannot imagine Hanno doing). What’s really on the table for Hanno as an alternative is loss of Name (as he falls out of the Role without starting to match another – seriously, no villain groove for this guy) or death (as he stumbles upon a bad kind of story).

      Liked by 9 people

      1. 2xMachina

        The problem tho, in here, Good is defined as following the rules of the Gods, while Evil is following your own desires.

        If Hanno decides that, since Judgement is not around, he will Judge, he very well will turn to camp Evil.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. > The problem tho, in here, Good is defined as following the rules of the Gods, while Evil is following your own desires.

          It’s not though.

          Good is defined as helping other people and Evil as harming them, same as everywhere.

          Like

          1. Gippart

            Then why is Cat a villain even though her greatest desire is peace, while the Grey Pilgrim is a hero who will obliterate a town of innocents without questioning another method for the greater good?

            Good characters do unnecessary harm constantly in this series.

            The image that most people have of heroes and villains is definitely that simple. But the reality is far more complex. It’s still about help/harm, selfless/selfish, and mercy/cruelty; but since morality was defined and baked into this world at its creation, it is more about Above/Below.

            And while Below may not care much about methods, but Above requires subservience above all else. The parallel stories at the beginning of this book prove that indisputably.

            One (villain) believed he was on his own and had to kill everyone in the village to save the country. One (hero) believed the Gods would not abandon the people and prayed for assistance and saved everyone through miracles and providence.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. > Then why is Cat a villain even though her greatest desire is peace
              because she became a student to a villain
              because the property is transitive and below’s side accepts everyone and is ever hungry for more
              because her teacher was born to the worship of below and his only way out of the villainous side was if he abandoned his homeland and parentage forever
              because Evil as a political side is not the same as Evil as a philosophy
              does this answer your question?

              Like

              1. Shveiran

                It doesn’t answer his other points, though.

                Which, I’ll admit, are not perfect.
                The Valiant Champion and the Red Wizard and Brigand kind of prove, to me, that worship is not all there is to it.
                Nor the acceptance of an outside force that defines morality, since, well, again, we saw a lot of heroes that basically do what they think is right.

                Yet Tancred’s story (or Sabah’s for that matter) IMO show that neither it is about doing good and harm. Sure, the boy spilled a lot of blood, but he did so to prevent a tragedy.
                And we know that kind of reasoning IS compatible with Good. Leaving Saint and Pilgrim aside, there is a litteral Choir that has that as core tenent.

                So… yeah. I feel like the difference between what make a Hero or a Villain is less and less defined.
                Ultimately, it sounds like it’s a narrative matter? Like, Sabah could have been born cursed and become a edgy “I’m monstruos yet I must do good yet it is hard to contain the darkness within” kind of Hero, but instead she was born in Praes and there wasn’t a grove for that.
                So she became the Cursed, a Villain Named, because that’s what mosnters do in Praesi culture.

                And maybe Tancred is the same. In Procer, the religion is very organized and rooted in the culture, and thus to renounce Above’s guidance is a villanous act. So he became a Villain.

                Elsewhere, maybe that wouldn’t have been enough.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. > Ultimately, it sounds like it’s a narrative matter? Like, Sabah could have been born cursed and become a edgy “I’m monstruos yet I must do good yet it is hard to contain the darkness within” kind of Hero, but instead she was born in Praes and there wasn’t a grove for that.
                  > So she became the Cursed, a Villain Named, because that’s what mosnters do in Praesi culture.

                  Yup!

                  I actually got to thinking about this enough I wrote a new reddit theorypost about all this.

                  Liked by 1 person

          2. Salt

            You’re both half right, as far as what the story was about from the start. IIRC EE did clarify regarding this in earlier comments

            > Evil Roles usually let people do whatever they feel like doing – that’s because they’re, in that sense, championing the philosophy of their gods. Every victory for Evil is a proof that that philosophy is the right path for Creation to take. Nearly all Names on the bad side of the fence have a component that involves forcing their will or perspective on others

            > Good Roles have strict moral guidelines because those Names are, in fact, being guided: those rules are instructions from above on how to behave to make a better world. Any victory for Good that follows from that is then a proof of concept for the Heavens being correct in their side of the argument”

            > The Gods Above and Below do roughly correspond to “lower case” good and evil, as far as entities that far removed from mortals can be understood. That neither side of the equation intervenes directly means there’s a lot of room for interpretation in the respective philosophies they preach, but the bare bones are there.

            Which I’m interpreting to mean that generally Above/Below and Heroes/Villains as a result generally do align with traditional ideas of good and evil (if not necessarily all the time), but the wager is less about good and evil so much as divine guidance vs self determination being superior, whatever superior means as far as Above and Below are concerned

            Liked by 2 people

            1. yeah, good and evil just emerge as a result of how they apply their philosophies

              > The Gods Above and Below do roughly correspond to “lower case” good
              and evil, as far as entities that far removed from mortals can be
              understood. That neither side of the equation intervenes directly means
              there’s a lot of room for interpretation in the respective philosophies they
              preach, but the bare bones are there

              Like

          3. ohJohN

            It pretty explicitly is, if we’re talking capital-letters Good/Evil, Above/Below, or however you want to phrase the dichotomy that generally places heroes and villains on opposing sides in the shatranj game of the Gods. From the prologue:

            The Gods disagreed on the nature of things: some believed their children should be guided to greater things, while others believed that they must rule over the creatures they had made.

            So, we are told, were born Good and Evil.

            Lowercase good/evil still have their traditional meanings but, while there’s frequent overlap, Names are aligned based on the capitalized words.

            Like

            1. > The Gods Above and Below do roughly correspond to “lower case” good
              and evil, as far as entities that far removed from mortals can be
              understood. That neither side of the equation intervenes directly means
              there’s a lot of room for interpretation in the respective philosophies they
              preach, but the bare bones are there

              Like

  6. 308924810a

    -“I expect that light will burn bright, Black Queen, and come just when the night has grown darkest.”-
    Calling it now, EE tends to foreshadow nearly every major event in their books through one-off lines of dialog and jokes between characters that make references to things that haven’t happened yet, Someone is going to use the judgement corpse before things are done.

    Also can anyone point me to the exact arguments that convinced EE that trying to ban Named Rulers was futile? I can sort of understand why Cat would want to do it(no more using countries as high-casualty props in conflicts between individuals, and forcing the Praesi to confront the dyfunctionality of their current system or get squashed by the continent when they try to rely on a Named ruler to brute force functioning as a state.), but I only managed to find posts by the author saying they’d been convinced by commentors, not why.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sinead

      I hadn’t heard anything about being convinced that it would be a bad idea. Unless it’s just a point that the Mandate of Rule for the majority of government in Calernia is derived from having a Name, so they would be dealing with a governmental crisis seemingly imposed on them when the system would have seemed to have worked (as the final crusade would have worked).

      Named are living Icons of their culture, so it’s unsurprising that they do end up in positions of leadership. It would seen as foreign meddling to have an external accord banning these people from existing, and trying to drive them out by extinction would just be oil on a fire.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. caoimhinh

      You would need to go back all the way to when Catherine first mentioned that she planned to ban Named rulership through the Liesse Accords.
      If I recall correctly, that would be Book 5 Chapter 24: Theft.

      And even then, that chapter wasn’t the only place where commenters debated the subject. I think there were arguments both in favor of it and against it, for reasons in-story and at a meta-level, and that happened across various chapters.

      In my case, I argued against it on the basis that such a thing would simply be impossible to implement. While it is true that not all rulers become Named, some people come to Names simply for becoming rulers of their country, rather than being Named who become rulers or acting rulers who later on came to a Name, in countries such as Praes, Name and title are the same thing because that’s the culture and/or story attached to that position.

      Every single person who gets the throne of Praes gets the Name of Dread Emperor, and Anaxares got the Name of Hierarch shoved down his throat because the leaders of the League of Free Cities elected him as such. Thus, it wouldn’t matter that the person who got the Name stepped down the throne, because then they would simply lose their Name and their successor would get it.

      To eliminate Named rulers would require vast, in-depth, and drastic changes in the culture and social structure of nations, so that’s simply not feasible. To eliminate the Name of Warlord, for example, a massacre of Orcs was required along with the destruction of their cultural heritage.

      Also, even assuming that it was signed, it would be highly unlikely that some monarch would abdicate right after obtaining a Name. Odds are it would be related to rulership, and even if not, considering the state of mind of newly Named people as we have seen in the series, it’s unlikely a fresh Named would simply let go of it, so they would then disobey the Accords.

      Other reasons were provided by other readers, and Amadeus even cited some reasons during his talk with Cat during chapter 57: Hearing that I hadn’t read in the comments before.

      I remember a few of the points on both sides of the discussion, but it would be hard for me to recall them all, or even to express them as accurately as the original commenters. I think you can find quite a few in chapter 24: Theft, though.

      Liked by 9 people

    3. Konstantin von Karstein

      As Amadeus said to Cat, a freshly Named Good King or Dread Emperor would never abdicate and instead prepare for war. So each time a new ruler ascend on the throne you would risk a war.

      Even worse, the Levantine Blood legitimate its power by descending from Named. Names are the basis for nobility in the Dominion. Tariq was beloved and considered as the voice of Heaven in Creation, the Blood would never accept that close.

      Liked by 8 people

    4. > Someone is going to use the judgement corpse before things are done.

      I high key don’t think that follows in any way.

      > but I only managed to find posts by the author saying they’d been convinced by commentors, not why.

      Wait, what? Where???

      I was arguing that there’s no way it can work, because as long as Good King is a Role (an it is! it’s not going to stop being any time soon, only if there are none matching it for a long time) you’re going to have all your good kings get that Name and the only option for them to refuse it is to either stop being king or stop being good, either of which would be super counterproductive – and meanwhile on the side of evil, an up and coming Tyrant isn’t going to be stopped by some treaty saying they cannot, they’re just going to fight the treaty. Which would quickly destabilize the Liesse Accords to the point of complete disintegration – either of them would on their own, but both together are just absurd.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. jworks17

        There is precedence for a ruler denying a rule based Name though- Cordelia denied becoming the… Warden of the West I think? She did so because of the obvious blunder that would be, and I think that thinking really is central to the idea behind the Accords.
        Why would one Good King or Tyrant destabilize the Accords when the large majority of Named back them? What is one Tyrant when facing dozens of Named, bound by common purpose? The Accords holds inherent value for Heroes and Villains, or so the author has hinted at between the Pilgrim and Black Knight dialogue, and the only Names that would truly be hurt by them are the most extreme of Above and Below and the ruling Names.

        Now I don’t think the author ever expands on it, but it can be easily inferred why the taking ruler Named out of their Rolls sets the Accords on shaky grounds. If the organization that forms at Cardinal has the ability to unseat rulers, that is a staggering amount of power wielded by Cardinal- they could institute puppet rulers all over the world! Cat has made it clear that she wants the Accords to be a thing that survives her, and what if that power was left in the wrong hands?

        I don’t think the Accords would destabilize because of Good Kings and Tyrants, I think the Accords would destabilize because of the undeniable power that would give its partitioners over the rest of Calernia. What sovereign nation would allow an organization that can upend the highest seats of power on a whim?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. > There is precedence for a ruler denying a rule based Name though- Cordelia denied becoming the… Warden of the West

          Because Augur worked super hard to give her that pivot. Because a five second shift in timing would have had her accept the Name before Hanno got there, and she wouldnt’ have gotten a choice at all.

          Her circumstances were an exception to the rule.

          > Why would one Good King or Tyrant destabilize the Accords when the large majority of Named back them? What is one Tyrant when facing dozens of Named, bound by common purpose?

          Named vs armies does not have Named necessarily consistently win. It will, at the very least, CONSISTENTLY DESTABILIZE things.

          The problem is that trying to dethrone every sufficiently competent/popular ruler – these are components for a Name! – is the exact opposite of productive.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. As I understand it, the theory behind prohibiting Named rulers is that as Named, they are inherently going to be drawn into the Above/Below conflicts, and as rulers, they’d end up dragging their country and people with them, escalating their conflicts from a small/tactical scale personal conflict between a Villain and a Hero or band of five to a larger national and strategic one between armies, which is antithetical to the goal of reducing non-Named involvement and losses and collateral damage caused by Named conflicts.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. But the Liesse Accords are already about reducing/removing that kind of conflict escalation. Cardinal as neutral ground, rules of every side of the continent going to the same school together – what has been happening so far is no guideline for how things will be after. Cat’s going for overkill and shooting herself in the foot in the process.

            Like

      2. burlindw

        The thing about the judgement corpse makes sense to me. I don’t think it’s been explicitly stated, but in an narrative driven world it makes sense that there would be a concept along the lines of Chekhov’s Gun. If an ancient artifact of untold power gets unearthed in the middle of a war; its Role is to be used.

        Like

    5. More broadly, the Name/Role system as written renders the proposition absurd at its core. Rulership structures form by the same criteria and as a result of the same events as Names and Roles – you can have rulers that are not Named, but they’ll be inheriting it from dynasty founders who had been. Procer is an inheritor of a large scattering of tribes that had lived in that part of the continent before Triumphant threw them in a blender, and we know at least about the Lycaonese that they had been ruled by Iron Kings once. Fairfaxes in Callow originated from Eleanor Fairfax, and while we don’t know for a fact about Albans, it seems a reasonable guess that again, the original local tribes that later formed a kingdom had been founded around Named rulers. Praes was founded by a Named and subsequently ruled by inheritors of the Role, Levant was founded by Named and – you get the picture. Bellerophon is interesting because its Named founder died before she finished the process of founding, and they ended up following her ideas in an… unexpected direction. The Empire Ever Dark in its current form was shaped by the Sisters.

      So far, whenever we learn the origin story of a nation? There’s either a Named or all the way to a deity there.

      This process won’t stop. Whenever there is a serious political perturbation on Calernia, it will end up with a Named leading a nation, because that’s what happens – leaders get Names, Named attract followings, it’s almost tautological. Accords can survive for longer than a generation if they’re set up to accomodate that process, not try to fight it.

      Liked by 5 people

  7. Sinead

    Thinking about the Age of Wonder vs. the Age of Order, do we see the wager settled as an alloy of the two original positions of Above and Below?

    -Presume that Above and Below respectively that Creation needs to be guided and ruled over vs left to flourish

    – Under the Age of Wonders, you have your heroes struggle against the villains, honing themselves and growing stronger until they triumph. They are guided down a specific path, but still take part in a grand competition. This is Above’s system, but have undercurrents of Below’s method with growth and cultivation

    -The Age of Order is seen as Below’s agents building the stable framework to still contain and guide how Named conflicts form, and create a feedback system with the cultures engaged within it.

    The Age of Wonders is a reactionary engagement, while the Age of Order is a more deliberate and methodical engagement that (IMO) takes the best that have arisen from the Age of Wonders and trim off the worst. Essentially expand and refine Black’s Reforms and Conquest into a continent wide stability that aims to benefit everyone that meaningfully contributes to it.

    Liked by 7 people

        1. Sinead

          I would as well in some regards, but I think the spirit of it is different.

          I am more looking at it as “Catherine as a person who does value people (why would Hanno’s rejection of her in the aftermath of Arsenal hurt so much otherwise), trying to help an aquaintence not self destruct. Something similar to her joining Archer and Concocter for Beastmaster’s wake.

          Bard used the stress on Christophe as a lever in Arsenal, and possibly with some influence over Hanno during this crisis (see her trying with William in a comparable crisis).

          I see an element of Hanno’s crisis being the wieght of the crown he essentially wears. Having his closest peer give an honest effort of support is to me the opposite of meddling in the traditional sense.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Shveiran

            I may have been unclear: I’m sure Catherine can interact with the process in a way that actively tries to help Hanno solves the crisis.
            Pilgrim just asked her NOT TO, because what Hanno needs is to find an Heroic solution to a Name problem, and Catherine is very unlikely to provvide that however well-meaning she is: her philosophy is a different one, so she is much more likely to nudge him toward an answer that makes him lose his Name without finding one.

            See Vivienne: I’d say that she grew as a result of Catherine’s interacting with her morality, but she fell outside her Name and did not earn a new, heroic one.
            Because, well, she isn’t one herself. She is a Villainess. If she persuades you to see things her way, even if she means well, you may no longer fit the heroic grove because what she convinced you of doesn’t, and if the question was at the core of your Name, well…

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Sinead

              Ok, that’s fair. I was looking at it more from an extension of faith, as Cat had her epiphany of looking at the Red Axe trial through the lens of spheres of influence, and getting a better picture of what his perspective is. Combined with Bard’s comment on festering wounds with regards to roles (regarding mirror knight yes, but could be extended to others), I could see an honest “set aside the hats and sit down and talk” as just a good thing to do.

              Then again, I also don’t believe crisis of faith should be entirely internal like this either, so that’s part of my bias as well.

              Like

    1. caoimhinh

      On an interesting and perhaps related event, Book 3 was the last one where we saw Heroic Interludes and Villainous Interludes.

      Book 4 started with the Tenth Crusade, which was a bullshit and political thing moved by various factors (and the participants went there for a plethora of REALLY wrong reasons) that muddled the line between what was right and wrong. There was no longer any Interlude marked as Heroic or Villainous, just Interludes.

      That was the beginning of the period where Good wasn’t good and Evil wasn’t evil, as the Crusaders were invading Callow full of hypocrisy and the wicked Arch-Heretic of the East was simply defending her homeland while calling for peace at every chance she got.

      So one could argue and say that the Crusade was the start of the “alloying” and that’s shown on a Meta-level.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. dadycoool

        Wow, I hadn’t realized that. With your comment about the Crusade, I feel like Cat was basically saying throughout the book “Stop! Please stop! I’m begging you, don’t make me escalate this! Why are you denying me? I’ll have to find an even worse ally! Well, I guess I’ll have to go over your head and get a Smackdown Hammer from the one being that has a good track record against these ‘Crusades’. Oh gods, he’s going to rip them in half. Uh,…I’m gonna have to find the most bizarre, off-the-wall allies I can find to have ANY weight to throw around. Time to look down. Yay, I can finally look down on people!”

        Liked by 7 people

      1. Sinead

        That’s what I get for paraphrasing a bit I last read several months ago.

        I think the general principal still stands. I’m of the opinion that some of the general philosophies espoused by Above and Below (Above’s objective virtues to live up to vs Below’s brutal trial and error approach) can be held when we cannot hold the full objective truth (in general, “what is the right thing to do?” can be an impossible question. Within the guide, those revelations warp many that see them. Use of the mortal instruments to approximate objective virtues is the best we can do.) Within the context of the Guide, I think that can be one of the long term effects of reforms such as what Black championed in Callow. This isn’t to say that Black is actually a saint, but that even a pragmatic approach aiming for long term widespread stability and prosperity across social strata will tend to Above over time.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Oh Black is 100% Above’s kid stolen away by the fact his homeland worships Below, it’s adorable how much of a hero he is while being staunchly loyal to the opposite side. A classic story, actually.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Sinead

            That is true. It’s more that given the atrocities on his record, I am always wary to drop the label of “Good” on him for fear of it being taken out of context.

            Liked by 1 person

              1. Sinead

                I think the difference between my reluctance with the two is really a personal background baggage issue. Amadeus brings the image of an imperialist army that crushes all dissent in it’s path, and a more systemic issue that gets it’s hooks in and holds on. His approach at the systemic level, while highly effective creates a system that handles people as so many numbers. The flip side of this could be a great thing, by I reckon that that form is mostly found in what Cat is trying to develop with the Accords. I would classify Amadeus as “Great and Terrible” in all senses of the word.

                Tariq is a weary prophet (The impression I have is that while Mercy doesn’t bring options to him, they do allow him to properly assess the utility of his decisions. This isn’t perfect, since I think Cat being hidden from angelic sight like a domain hindered his ability to do an assessment at Prince’s Graveyard). Throw him in the situation where he is handling a counter Crusade aiming to undercut the Grand Alliance through it’s stomach (chevauchées are brutal), which would likely just keep going if Amadeus was the only one to disappear. I suspect if he only targeted the Legions with the plague (while they were between towns), he wouldn’t have had the same guarantees that it wouldn’t have broken out of hand. Black is brutal enough that he probably would have just used the plague as another weapon against Procer, and Below would probably demand it’s due.

                Tariq is equally Great and Terrible in all senses of the word

                I love both these characters so very much.

                To be honest, I liked pretty much every character in this story.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. I can see what you mean wrt him being an Imperialist but he’s too much of an SJW for me to really feel that tbh

                  and yeah same!!! i know right??? the only character i dont particularly personally care about is Neshamah. The Dead King is the least interesting character! And he’s more interesting than some of the most interesting characters in some books I like.

                  Great and Terrible indeed. Amadeus is all the sayings about “fear the wrath of a gentle man”, “be afraid when a good man is pointing a gun at you”, “nothing’s as scary as a man convinced he’s doing what’s right” etc. Well-Intentioned Extremist and so on and so forth.

                  I love him more than Tariq because my favorite fictional character trait is competence, and Tariq is. Not.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. Sinead

                    I am not sure if I see what your perspectives are as to Tariq being incompetent is. I read him as being an old hero of the Age of Wonders that is difficult to switch when faced with an opponent with a system that has grown and refined itself over 40 years to deal with metaphysical threats that he represents to it’s goals, while he aimed to nip those issues in the bud. The difference between an ember and a bonfire.

                    Unless your issues are with the extra chapters? I guess my thing with those is that I am not sure some of those tell the story that was intended (thinking of the time skip with his nephew where I feel that not enough key details were used to emphasise that Tariq tried to convince him.)

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. My issues are with Tariq’s incredible naivete and blindness when it comes to how other people think. Behold, an Aspect that lets him see into other people’s hearts, only manages to boost him to like, average normal person levels. Not even average normal wise old person levels, just average normal person.

                      Did you notice how his bringing up information Cat considered unsettling for him to know was completely mistimed, misaimed and had the opposite effect on the conversation from what he intended?

                      Tariq is good at three (3) things – healing, storyweaving and manipulating Light. And that’s pretty nice to have in a story, too, but he’s not really… smart.

                      Liked by 1 person

                  2. I don’t think Amadeus believes he’s doing the right thing, so much as he believes he’s doing what’s necessary for his side (which is not the right side, it’s the Dread friggin’ Empire) to win.

                    Amadeus, especially in the early books, talks a lot about how the “game” is rigged. How heroes get unfair advantages in the form of providence, sudden divine intervention, heroic second winds, last-minute rescues, and so on, while villains don’t get anything without having to pry it out of someone’s cold dead hands. His motivation for trying to get a lasting victory for Praes is basically spite – he wants to show that he can win even with the heavens stacking the deck as hard as they can against him.

                    And yes, he can be gentle and even good in an “enlightened self-interest” sort of way, but that’s not really his “heroic motivation.” It’s not what makes him terrifying. He’s never thinking “I’m doing this for my friends” or “I’m doing this for the greater good” when he’s trying to find strength. If anything it’s the opposite – when the Calamities are hurt, he shows cracks and starts to turn away from his plans. Amadeus is happiest when he’s outplanned the heroes and totally rubbing it in their face.

                    Liked by 1 person

  8. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    verisimilitude (i don’t think this is the right word. versatility?)
    certainlyis (missing space)
    Masego look > Masego looked
    of broken remnant > of a broken remnant
    Most our finest > Most of our finest
    himself, no (either add “and” or change to 😉
    time, he (like above, “so” or 😉
    kept his piece > kept his peace (it’s “say your piece” and “hold your peace”, and imo this is closer to the latter)
    your repay > you repay
    address it > addressing it
    This not > This is not
    participation to > participation in
    was’ the > was ‘the
    that the while > that while
    as a Cordelia’s > as Cordelia’s
    become problem > become a problem
    Order is it Evil > Order it is Evil
    meddling something > meddling

    Ceaseless Watcher, turn your gaze upon this wretched thing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. ohJohN

      verisimilitude (i don’t think this is the right word. versatility?)

      I think it works — Masego is talking about Tariq changing the properties of Light, so I took it to mean “he did a surprisingly good job of mimicking some mundane phenomenon with Light.” With the preceding paragraph talking about the smell of burning ghoul, presumably that phenomenon was fire. Maybe the implication is that, while most wielders can burn with Light, Tariq has gone a step further and essentially transmuted it into fire?

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Grey Pilgrim is just such a wise and intelligent character. It’s always fascinating listening to him talk. Especially when his thoughts and designs are just a *little* skew to our PoV perspective our the audience perspective, but still close enough to make sense.

    Liked by 9 people

  10. mamm0nn

    So, in between the Barrow Sword, the Troubadour and one of the various other intelligent and cunning Villains, who will be the one that Pilgrim should’ve really gone to and tell them not to meddle? My money is on the Barrow Sword, for he has met Hanno and the Troubadour is still too undefined and unseen to be a villain this relevant. If we see more of him in the chapters to come I’ll take back and change that statement.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. caoimhinh

      To be fair, the Barrow Sword is nowhere near Tariq right now. That guy is with Hanno in the Iron Prince’s army.

      Cat is likely to have more influence on Hanno than Ishaq, and also more likely to listen to reasonable petitions.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Zach

      I doubt the Barrow Sword could manipulate Hanno. Barrow Sword strikes me as a relatively “immature” villain who isn’t exactly a skilled manipulator, and we saw Troubadour getting manipulated by Catherine a while back during the villain meeting.

      There aren’t really many villains on Hanno’s level involved in this war beyond the Woe.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. mamm0nn

        Much as she may still underestimate herself, despite not being completely oblivious to her power, saying that Cat can manipulate or fool you doesn’t make you a chump. She’s been walking circles around Pilgrim too and he certainly isn’t easy to fool.

        And we’ve seen Barrow Sword being more cunning than he lets on in the Villain Interlude.

        Liked by 2 people

    3. Insanenoodlyguy

      Troubadour is the wrong kind of meddler. You don’t need to tell him to back off, because if anything, he’ll increase the chances of this going well. He’s the kind of villian who is about to succeed, but then says just the wrong thing, or the right thing but the wrong way, and Hanno reflects on something or remembers something and comes out of this better then ever. Cat would know when to shut up and let a breakdown happen, and is thus far more dangerous.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. mamm0nn

        True. I never said that either of them would succeed or fail, just that they are more likely targets to meddle.

        Then again, would Pilgrim with his Hero mindset really care about the political and the Truce and Terms issues of thinking about the Villain that tries to meddle with Hanno’s crisis as a convenient sacrifice to be struck down once they reach that part of the story? For all that the heroes might be just, especially the ones like Pilgrim can see Villains as sacrifices rather than people in that context.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Crowley

    Typo thread below, feel free to add.

    certainlyis-> certainly is
    not forgot-> not forgoten
    the worse we’d had-> the worst we’d had
    And worse than worse was that-> worse than that
    Most our-> Most of our
    let your repay-> let you repay
    your Woe love each other-> you Woe love each other
    that the while Hanno->that while Hanno
    as a Cordelia’s->as Cordelia’s

    Liked by 1 person

  12. ninegardens

    Heyyyy Tariq. Good job.
    Good I love that wizened old bastard. Great advice, respectfully given, and reasonably taken… and just as Hanno was a fool for ignoring Cat’s advice on matter’s of Villiany, Cat would have to be very foolish indeed not to heed GP’s advice here (which, I will note, she isn’t).

    Liked by 7 people

  13. We should have expected Tariq to notice Hanno’s crisis and for him to want to keep Cat from interfering.
    Even though Tariq ought to realize that Cat doesn’t want Hanno to fail on her and is skilled enough with Story-fu to know that her trying to adjust Hanno’s path would almost certainly backfire horribly.
    Tariq is, after all, a longstanding Heroic Mentor figure.

    I’m far more worried about Bard somehow finding out and interfering. Any more than she already has, just by setting into motion the various chains of events that contributed to Hanno’s current state.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Xinci

    Bit strange for Masego to talk about faith like that after he got understanding of it as a metaphysical concept from studying souls. Though I suppose that could be what he meant when he said it wasn’t any different from any other delusion, Just bindings and tricks of perspective, I suppose.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Salt

      Well, the last few chapter titles kind of spoil the theme here.

      Theism/Ietism/Dynamism are basically (less commonly well known) specific subsets of the good old monism vs dualism argument, and the chapter titles roughly correlate to the belief of a specific character in each chapter.

      Theism and ietsism are arguably types of dualism in the sense of believing in an unexplainable transcendent reality, although the latter doesn’t believe in a specific deity so much as leaving the nature of said non-mundane reality open till possibility.

      Dynamism technically has multiple meanings depending on context, but typically is talking about monistic belief systems that boil everything (from physical matter to phenomena of the mind) to forces and the ability of all aspects of reality to be acted upon by forces.

      Realistically I think it’s just the author subtly-not-so-subtly commenting on some of the core differences in belief systems between characters like Hanno/Pilgrim and Hierophant, specifically regarding how they see and understand metaphysical concepts like “faith”.

      Not sure if ietsism vs dynamism is a better fit than classic dualism vs physicalism, but it’s fairly similar either way regardless.

      Liked by 3 people

  15. Daniel E

    So here’s something to stew on; Perhaps Hanno’s issue is actually the Hierarch’s death sentence coming to pass in some form. The Choir is still there of course, but some fundamental aspect of them has changed due to being sentenced to death with an Aspect.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Frivolous

    I’ve been reading older chapters.

    1. Tariq is speaking from experience when he talks about crises of faith. He had his own in Peregrine III and IV. The Choir of Mercy stopped talking to him when he killed his brother Bakri out of anger and resumed talking to him when he killed his nephew Izil to reduce suffering.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Tariq himself who wrote the Two Hundred Heroic Axioms.

    2. I’ve been collecting chapters wherein Cat’s new Name surfaced, even briefly, and the context for those events.

    a. Convenience – when commiserating with Cordelia over the burdens of queenship. No Named involved.

    b. Joust – single combat against the Revenant Aubrey Caen, once Knight Errant. Catherine felt more athletic and was able to predict the Revenant’s moves.

    quote – It was not a knight I was becoming, I thought. My old friend had not come out for the fight, but for what it stood for: me, standing in judgement over others. Delivering it sword in hand. And it had earned weight, that the Knight Errant had once been Named.

    c. Zwischenschach – Cat uses Speaking to command Silver Huntress.

    I wonder how many more such we’ll see before Cat’s Name surfaces for real.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Frivolous

        Yeah; I should have included that one. That was the spark that started her Name burning again. First cause, you could say.

        Thanks, beleester.

        Like

  17. > “But at the moment, perhaps a reminder that a certain moderation of words is in order would not go amiss,” Tariq gently suggested.

    Funny how he calls that on Masego, and then promptly starts chatting about Vivienne in such unsettling terms….

    Like

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