Chapter 70: Solved Game

“Beware of they who laud war, for one who loves the locust cannot love the crop.”

– Extract from the transcript of the ‘Sermon of the Shores’, as spoken by Sister Salienta

Usually the Twilight Ways were a beautiful place, but this time they were as a sea of the wounded and dying.

We did what we could. What few mages were still capable of casting spent themselves raw in the healer tents, the healers among the House Insurgents moved wearily from one half-corpse to another and I demanded the same of every Named that could still move. Tariq, looking himself a step into the grave, moved tirelessly even and he grew more and more wan. Masego – borrowing the last gasps of the Summoner’s sorcery – taught the Apprentice emergency surgery on the most brutal of the beds, snatching the slightest sparks of life and fanning them back to a flame. Even Akua, though some refused her help and I had to surround her with a protective detail. I went as well, of course.  With Night little more could be done than delaying death, but that served a purpose.

Every hour meant one more priest Light was no longer burning up from the inside, one more mage whose limbs ceased trembling enough for them to be able to cast. I couldn’t save them, for Night would ever be the power of a thief, but I could steal them enough hours that someone else might be able to. Time grew clouded, the kind of mist where one could get lost for a lifetime going around in circles, and I went from blood to blood. Soldiers with faces chewed off, with limbs ripped and bones that’d pierced through the skin. And the screams, Gods, the screams. I pulled out poison and curses, slowed the flow of blood to a crawl and forced hearts to keep beating, Night coming to my hand sharp and steady.

I lost myself to the beat, knowing that General Zola and Adjutant would see to the needs of the Second without me.

It was only when the power grew sluggish in my hands, when my weave slipped and I almost drew poison into a young goblin’s heart instead out of his veins, that I forced myself to stop. Night didn’t heal in the intuitive manner that Light did so any mistake on my part was likely to kill the wounded involved. I limped away after passing my patient to a priest who couldn’t be older than seventeen – I have taken a generation of my people to war, I grieved, harvested them like a farmer reaping wheat – and leaning heavily on my staff. My leg throbbed so harshly I felt like I might weep, and now that I had released Night my vision was swimming. One of the phalanges, who’d been following me like loyal hounds all night, came close to offer me an arm to lean on. I gestured curtly for her to leave me be.

I forced myself to ignore the moans and weeping from the tents, the soldiers that would not be saved because we did not have enough left in us to save them. The wind kept carrying them to my ear, though, and so further and further away I went. I found a grassy hill, past the outskirts of the camp, where I slowly slumped into the cool blades of grass. Faintly I saw the phalanges beginning a watch around me, but they were not obvious and I made myself not notice them. I leaned in the grass, staff at my side, and looked up at the twilit sky of this strange realm we still understood so very little. I rested my eyes but did not sleep. I was, somehow, too tired for it. I couldn’t be sure how long I stayed like this, but eventually I heard footsteps coming up the hill. Not Hakram, I thought, and immediately felt guilty. If the phalanges had not gotten in the way there was nothing to worry of, so my eyes remained closed.

I was only when they lowered themselves into the grass by my side and groaned in pain that I recognized who it was. Tariq’s joints were, I had gathered, sometimes even worse than my own bad leg. Not even the favour of angels could entirely protect one from the ravages of time: the Grey Pilgrim was as perfectly hale as one of his advanced age could be, but he was still very much that age. Heroes didn’t get to cheat aging the way my side did, forever frozen at the apex of our growth and power.

“The Apprentice has retired as well,” the Peregrine said. “Though the Hierophant continues. He is a young man of remarkable willpower.”

I half-smiled.

“He is more mind than body,” I said. “Always has been.”

I suspected it would appeal to him a great deal, to become entirely an intellect and be stripped of all the weaknesses and needs of the flesh. The smile faded soon enough, though. I could not hear the wounded from here, the wind prevented it, but I could imagine it so vividly only concentration kept their cries from reaching my ears.

“There is no other army like this,” the Grey Pilgrim eventually said. “I have seen many battles, Queen Catherine, but none ever spared so much thought to keeping its own alive.”

I would not claim to be the spirit behind that, not when all I had done was imitate the Legions of Terror while being in the position to recruit priests as well.

“There’s always too many dead,” I tiredly replied. “Always, Tariq. Even when we win.”

The old man laughed, and while amusement would have infuriated me there was not a trace of that in the sound: there was enough grief in the sound to drown a dozen men.

“There are some foes that cannot be won against, Catherine,” the Grey Pilgrim said. “All we can do is worry our hands to the bone and bury the dead, hoping we saved as many as we could have.”

This isn’t a plague, I thought. It’s not the banal malevolence of the world that killed them, Tariq. I brought them here. I led them to this place, so far from every home they ever knew, so they could die for strangers. For a greater good. And so they’d come, and so they’d fought, and so they’d died. In droves, scared and in pain. Some of their bodies, those we’d not been quick enough to burn, we would see again standing under the banners of Keter.

“I used to hate you a little,” I quietly said, “for that night in Callow. The one where you refused to help me as we stood at the crossroads of the things to come.”

The old man did not speak, but even with closed eyes I felt him bend as if under a great weight.

“But,” I continued, “I think I understand it better now, why the thought of sitting the Tattered Throne so terrified you.”

All hail Queen Catherine Foundling, they’d said as they put the crown on my head. First of Her Name, anointed Queen of Callow. I was a warlord on a queen’s seat, my boots still dusty from the road and my sword reeking of blood, but in that room where Fairfaxes and Albans had ruled they’d anointed me. And my people had followed me into horror ever since, unflinching. And my legend, my story – my lie – it was a young one. I had been a glimpse of spring after a long winter, and so more hopes than I deserved to bear had been set on my brow. Tariq Isbili’s legend was old, older than even this old man, and it was dyed in the bone of what it meant to be of the Dominion of Levant. My people had, in the years after the Folly, followed me into the dark without flinching.

Levant would have followed the Peregrine into anything at all, even if it shattered them to follow.

“Even your kindness bruises,” Tariq finally replied, after a long silence passed.

I inclined my head in concession, as he was not wrong.

“One day I’ll ask too much of them,” I said, my tone announcing the subject was at a close.

I was not certain what scared me more: that on that day they would refuse me at last, or that they wouldn’t. In a rough pang, I missed Vivienne. She would have understood, I thought. In a way that no one else could, not even the rest of the Woe.

“Or one day they’ll asks too much of you,” the Peregrine replied, tone strangely gentle.

We left it at that, the two of staying in silence in the grass, until at last I fell asleep.

I woke to a warm meal and mug of tea, Adjutant’s wheelchair wedged into the slope of the hill at my side and the Grey Pilgrim nowhere in sight. Hakram let me shake off the last dregs of sleep at my own pace, only beginning to speak once I’d dug into the porridge and warmed my bones with the herbal brew.

“General Zola has the casualty reports,” he said.

It was almost enough to put me off eating, but I’d found after a few mouthfuls that I was positively starving. I still set down the spoon, blowing at the steam coming off my tea.

“How bad?” I quietly asked.

“One thousand nine hundred and seventy four dead.”

He’d not cushioned the blow, which I appreciated. My fingers clenched around the mug, the too-warm ceramic burning my skin. I pushed through the pain. Almost two thousand dead. A fifth of the Second Army had died at Maillac’s Boot.

“Permanent wounded?”

“Seventy one,” Adjutant said. “Between Masego and the Peregrine there was little that could not be mended. Mind sicknesses, mostly, come from head wounds that themselves were healed.”

I breathed out, relieved. In this, at least, we had been exceptional. It was rarer than rubies for an army to be able to walk away with so many fatalities but so few casualties. I drank down tea, still digesting the scope of what we’d lost. It wasn’t the outright one third that just retreating through the gates without preliminaries would have cost us, and we’d certainly mauled the armies that’d assailed us badly – something that we wouldn’t have accomplished with a premature retreat – but a fifth of losses was not something to be shrugged off. The Second Army as it was right now, should it be made to fight the battle we’d just fought, might fold before the second wave even arrived.

As an independent force, it was now too dangerous to let it fight a peer army. It’d need to be paired with another set of troops, preferably one that could soak up most of the deaths for my soldiers. And we’ll have lost veteran officers, I thought. Sappers and mages and other specialists I can’t replace. The heart of the Army of Callow and its component armies remained the infantry trained in the Legion methods and those I could still recruit, but all the specialized troops that allowed the Army to maul superior forces were either difficult or outright impossible to replace. Like the goblin munitions that’d allowed me to seize so many victories from the jaws of defeat, they were slowly running out.

“We got bled deep,” I finally said.

“And made our foes pay high price for every drop,” Adjutant gravelled back. “Every corpse we put to final rest at the Boot is one that we won’t be facing at the capital.”

It was true, though I still felt like arguing. Instead I polished off the rest of my porridge, that eternal legionary’s fare. The tea was not far behind. Hakram’s continued silence did not go unnoticed. I glanced at him, finding his face hard to read, and frowned.

“So what is it that you decided to sit on until I got through my…” I trailed off, unsure how much time had passed and so what meal this was.

“Early breakfast,” he provided. “And it is not necessarily a problem, Catherine, though the situation will require careful handling.”

My frown deepened.

“Not army-related,” I decided, “or at least not principally. So this related to my other authority.”

High officer of the Grand Alliance, representative for the villains under the Truce and Terms.

“Someone came into a Name during the battle,” Hakram said.

Huh. I supposed it’d been brutal enough a grinder to provide that spark, given the right materials to work with.

“Brandon Talbot?” I guessed.

He stood at the alignment of a couple of stories, if you looked at it the right way. Old blood, valiant in battle, about as principled as a nobleman could be while still being a nobleman. Back in Callow there was still a lot of faith bound to what he represented, in certain parts. I’d not caught scent of anything forming there, but sometimes the final stretch of coming into a Name could be quite sudden.

“No,” Adjutant said. “Though from the Order of the Broken Bells. A young man who was unhorsed during the countercharge near the shallows and made it back to the ranks on foot after that flank retreated, gathering other survivors to him.”

Huh. Fair enough, I supposed. Crows knew it wasn’t always the old names that got the nod from Above or Below.

“What are we looking at?” I asked.

“Sixteen, from Laure. Raised at an orphanage before being recruited into the Order three years back,” Hakram said. “I’m still finding out which. His name is Arthur Foundling.”

I froze in surprise. Foundling. It’d been a long time since I’d last heard that surname tacked on to anyone but me. Yet I had no sole claim to it, as Creation had just deemed it right to remind me. An orphan, huh. I wasn’t sure whether that had me wistful or troubled. Then one last detail sunk in.

“Sixteen,” I slowly repeated. “That means he’s still…”

“A squire,” Adjutant gravelled. “The Squire, as of yesterday.”

I softly laughed, though there was little mirth to the sound. It seemed Above and Below had at last decided that I’d strayed far enough from the last Name I’d held that another had been allowed to fill those worn old boots. Fuck, I thought. A Squire. That complicated things. Not necessarily immediately, but certainly down the line. It wasn’t even directly relating to me: while I didn’t even know which way the boy was leaning at the moment, either way I had no intention of falling into the trap of offering more than cursory mentorship. Yet a squire, as Malicia had once told me, must one day become a knight. And my people, we liked our knights. Sang songs about them, told stories. Followed them into battle.

Sometimes we even put crowns on their heads.

Sixteen, I considered. Vivienne was older, but not by that much. If this Arthur Foundling became the figurehead or even the genuine leader of a force within the Kingdom of Callow, marriage to cement her place on the throne wouldn’t necessarily be impossible. I might be looking too far ahead, worrying about things that might never come to pass, but my succession was not something I intended to leave to chance. I clenched my fingers. If he became a threat… God forgive me, but I’d killed boys of sixteen before. It might not come to that, I reminded myself. Yet this stank of the Heavens staking their claim on my home again, and I did not like the shape of it at all.

“What did the phalanges dig up on him?” I asked.

“His past is a dead end, but we have people in the Order,” Hakram said. “Popular with the other squires, considered reckless by the knights. The knightess he squired under died at the Boot, and there’s been talk of him swearing the oaths to Brandon Talbot instead.”

“Not happening,” I flatly said.

I liked the grandmaster, but he’d also been part of the Regals – an ill-fated noble faction at my court – before I dismantled them. House Talbot had ruled Marchford as counts once, and had been distinguished among the upper tiers of the Callowan nobility for their wealth and ancient blood. Even stripped of lands and riches, Sir Brandon still had deep connections with parts of the kingdom’s nobility that’d never taken to my rule. And might object to my handpicked successor taking the throne after me, highborn or not.

“The chatter did not come from Talbot himself, who instead noted that being Named places him foremost under the authority of the Truce and Terms,” Hakram clarified.

Mhm. Admirably restrained of him, though I wasn’t sure if his hopes would truly toe that line. Talbot knew where my bottom line lay, though, and what the consequences of crossing it would be. That’d keep him in check for a while.

“Personal life?” I asked.

“He was involved with another squire, who died in the retreat,” Adjutant said. “The other boy was highborn – House Bickham, landed knights formerly sworn to Dormer. Poor and only nobility for a generation prior to the Conquest.”

I grimaced, both at the generous heaping of grief that Fate had seen fit to offer Arthur Foundling and an inconvenient detail just revealed.

“Do we know if he keeps to only men?” I asked.

“Unsure,” Hakram admitted.

“Find out,” I ordered. “It would close some doors.”

Like the possibility of Vivienne wedding him, should it come to that. Dynastic marriages along those lines had happened before, but they had poor reputations for a reason and issue would be, well, an issue.

“Vivienne,” Adjutant slowly said, seeing right through me. “That’s putting the cart two towns ahead of the horse, I’d argue.”

“We’re far from a situation where it would even be considered,” I agreed, “but I want all angles accounted for.”

He nodded. I sighed, stretching my arms.

“I’ll have to take his measure in person as well,” I said. “And speaking of measure.”

I glanced at him with a quirked eyebrow.

“General Zola has proved competent in discharging her duties, though not exceptional,” Adjutant said. “Some minor mistakes, all of them swiftly corrected.”

“She’s been in command for less than a day and got promoted halfway through a battle after her predecessor got assassinated,” I flatly said. “She’ll settle into the rank, Hakram.”

“I’m not impugning her abilities,” the orc calmly replied. “I’m trying to temper your expectations, Catherine. She promises to be a solid commander with a good grasp on logistics, but she will not be Hune. She’ll be another Bagram, not the kind of rare talents we picked up early in our career.”

My fingers clenched. Hune’s reputation was not as widespread as Juniper’s – the Marshal of Callow had been the face of the military under my reign, and been visibly tied to my campaigns since the first days of the Fifteenth – but it could not be denied she had been highly talented. It had not been without reason she’d been the second highest officer in the Army of Callow. I jerkily nodded.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said. “And I do have a curiosity, actually.”

I tapped my temple lightly instead of asking the question outright. That Zola Osei had Soninke highborn eyes – more amber than golden, but then the gold was relatively rare – had not escaped my notice.

“Sister of the current Lord Osei, sworn to High Lord Dakarai of Nok,” Hakram said. “Not an old line, but they’ve been in favour for some time and married well. She was on the losing side of the succession conflict after her father died, and she enrolled in the Legions to avoid assassin blades. Used to be General Afolabi’s supply tribune, it was us that promoted her to legate.”

The last part didn’t particularly surprise me, all things told. One of the great enticements we’d had for the officers of the legions we absorbed after Akua’s Folly was that the Army of Callow was so starved for veteran hands that any officer that went over was nearly guaranteed to go up at least a rank. The Legions of Terror in the decade leading to the Uncivil Wars had been relatively slow to promote, too, so the temptation had been even stronger.

“Dakarai is Sepulchral’s main supporter, so we’ll have to keep an eye on that tie,” I said. “She might not be in a position to cause us trouble, at the moment, but that doesn’t mean her alliance won’t try to get hooks into the Army of Callow.”

While I was broadly inclined to back Sepulchral over Malicia, I had no illusions about the kind of viper I was dealing with. I’d known Abreha Mirembe when she was still merely High Lady of Aksum, and back then she’d already been shockingly coldblooded even by Praesi standards. Having an eye on the Tower would not improve her character in the slightest.

“It will be looked into,” Adjutant said. “We inherited the work the Eyes put in her, but I will get in touch with Scribe when feasible to see if she might have additional insights.”

“Good,” I said, groaning as I dragged myself up.

My rest had been, as always, all too short. I stilled, though, when I caught sight of Hakram’s face. I liked to think I knew him the way few people did – he was, even now, perhaps the person I was closest to in all of Creation – and I’d certainly gotten better at reading him over the years. Earlier he’d delayed giving me news on purpose, but now his silence was different. He was, I thought, hesitating.

“There’s something else,” I said.

“It is not news,” Hakram said. “Not like the others.”

I slowly nodded.

“And yet?”

He licked his chops, still uncertain.

“Masego says that the leg prosthetic has taken well,” Hakram said. “He still requires a few days of observation, but he is considering accelerating the timetable for further cuttings.”

“The hip,” I said.

“I could walk,” he said. “By the time we get to Hainaut. Not well, not quickly, and only with crutches but…”

“You could walk,” I finished with a soft smile.

He nodded, almost as if at a loss for words.

“I just wanted you to know,” Adjutant said.

We took our time going down the hill, between his wheelchair and my limp, but I found the silence between us lighter than it had been in some time.

I needed to take exactly one look at Arthur Foundling to know he was going to be a hero.

The boy was almost offensively heroic in appearance, like some higher power had taken the mould of ‘young hero’ straight of out Callowan culture and poured materials into it. Dark-haired and blue-eyed, with an angular face and strong shoulders, I could already see he was going to grow into a handsome man. He knelt before me after being ushered into the tent, sheathed sword scraping at the ground from the haste of his movement. With a touch of amusement, I saw his jaw twitch from a suppressed wince. Still, after a moment of taking him in I decided he looked… gaunt. Tired. Grieving. He’d lost a mentor and a lover the same say, Adjutant had told me. Under the composure, I suspected there laid a roiling ball of pain and anger.

“Rise,” I said.

The young man did, this time careful not to drag his sheath on the ground. He looked unsure, jaw locked tight. He had, I realized in a moment of bone-deep sympathy, likely not been taught the etiquette involved in a royal audience.

“Which orphanage raised you?” I casually asked.

He started in surprise.

“Er,” Arthur Foundling got out, “It was Queen Mary’s Home for Errant Boys, Your Majesty.”

I laughed out in disbelief.

“Wait, you’re from Queenie’s?” I said. “They try to make all their wards into scribes and priests. Gods, do they still have that crabby old sister? I can’t remember her name-“

“Sister Jessica’s still alive, as far as I know,” the squire said, in the tone of someone trying very hard not to speak ill of the clergy. “She, uh, did not approve of my joining the Order.”

I wondered how he’d react if I told him that said Sister Jessica had once rapped me on the knuckles thrice with a stick for having thrown a snowball in her face. I’d actually been aiming at this little shit who’d kicked in the wall of our fort three streets up, but I’d missed him and she’d opened the door just then. She’d had a pretty sharp hand for an old lady, it’d stung for several days. Hells, she must be pushing seventy by now.

“Our matron at the House would have sent me to the cathedral for remedial moral education if she’d known I wanted to go to the War College,” I drily told him.

I’d never found out who it was at my orphanage that was the spy – honestly, knowing Black there’d probably been several – for the Empire, but it’d not been her. My orphanage had been founded and founded by Praes, but the matron herself had not answered directly to any Praesi. The dark-haired boy looked at me hungrily at my words, like he was drowning and I’d just tossed him a rope.

“It’s true, then?” Arthur Foundling said. “Your Majesty. That you came from Tit – from the House for Tragically Orphaned Girls?”

“You can call it Tittering House,” I snorted. “Nothing I haven’t heard before.”

The boy’s orphanage down the street – not Queenie’s, which was in another quarter entirely, but the Laure Shelter for Forsaken Boys – had coined the nickname, warranting the reprisal of theirs being called Flaccid Shelter.

“You really did,” the boy said, tone almost awed. “I mean, the stories said, but they say so many things…”

Fuck, I thought. I’d known, on parchment, that there would be similarities. That they might pull on my heartstrings some. Yet I’d honestly believed it’d be easy to ignore, to set aside. Instead I was looking at a boy who might grow up into a threat to the legacy I meant to leave behind and seeing a shade of myself at sixteen, all bruised knuckles and fresh out of the orphanage gates.

“It’s true,” I said. “But it’s not me we’re here to talk about.”

His face locked up tight. I wondered, idly, if that was what I’d looked like when Black was talking to me back in the day. Always straddling hopeful and afraid, guarding my own thoughts so fiercely I might as well have worn them on my sleeves.

“I know about the Truce and Terms, Your Majesty,” Arthur Foundling said.

“No,” I bluntly replied. “You just think you do. Unless I’m very mistaken, you’re leaning the way of the Heavens-“

“I’m not a heretic,” the boy said, sounding miffed.

“- which means you’re going to be in an inconvenient situation,” I finished, cocking an eyebrow at the interruption.

His face blanked again, but he did not apologize. I could appreciate a spine, so long as he understood when he was overstepping.

“As a heroic Named, you representative under the Terms will be the White Knight,” I said.

He did not well hide his surprise. I got where he was coming from, of course. A Callowan hero grown in the wilds would not have considered themselves bound to me save perhaps in enmity, but this one had been a squire in my own knightly order for three years. He wouldn’t be seeing this in terms of hero and villain – I was both his queen and an older Named, in his eyes I would have been the natural authority. Perhaps not one entirely trusted or obeyed, but undeniably an authority.

“You’re the Queen of Callow, though, Your Majesty,” he hesitantly said.

“Yes, and unless you intend to renounce your oaths as a knight of the Order of Broken Bells-” I paused there, and he empathically shook his head, “then I still remain your commander. Hence the inconveniences. For now the troubles are minor, but once we rejoin with our sister host I will have to speak with the White Knight about this.”

My eyes narrowed and I studied the boy.

“You have intentions,” I said.

The Squire paled, his limbs stilled, but he did not deny it. He would not have come into a Name if there had not been something burning in his belly, and we both knew it.

“I thought I knew where my life was headed,” he bitterly said. “And now Sir Alexis is dead and…”

His lips thinned and he held his tongue.

“You’ve been looked into,” I gently said. “We know about your lover.”

“I had hoped to keep that grief my own,” Arthur Foundling said.

And for a moment, as his face grew solemn, I glimpsed the make of a Knight in him. The potential was there. Whether it made him a boon or a danger, though had yet to be decided.

“That possibility went up in smoke,” I honestly said, “the moment when you became the Squire. You have eyes on you now, Arthur Foundling. Your actions will have repercussions.”

“I just wanted to be a knight,” he tiredly replied. “To bring back the banners that the Praesi buried and you left in their grave, Your Majesty.”

Now was not the time, I thought, to have a conversation about the difficulties inherent to assembling a large mounted force – particularly one made up largely of lesser nobility whose allegiance to me would vary between shaky and nominal – in the Callow I’d come to rule after the Doom of Liesse. Maybe one day, if the boy was destined to be anything but a man on a horse very good at righteously killing people, but not today. I was all the more wary of teaching him the way Black had once taught me because I rather wanted to. I remembered what it was like, standing in those shoes and feeling both more capable and more lost than you’d ever been before.

Part of me itched to pass those lessons on the way they had been passed to me, and that was a dangerous thing.

“I left them there for a reason,” I said, “but that is a conversation for another day.”

I drummed my fingers against the side of my staff thoughtfully. Best to carefully control the amount of time I spent around this one.

“Adjutant will go over the details of the Truce and Terms with you,” I said, “so that you may fully understand your rights and responsibilities. Until then, you remain a squire in the Order of Broken Bells.”

He pressed his fist against his heart in acknowledgement.

“You won’t be swearing squire oaths to another knight until I have, at the very least conferred with the White Knight over the matter,” I added. “Your position is already too complicated for my tastes.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” he acknowledged.

“Good,” I said. “Then you are dismissed, Arthur Foundling.”

He bowed, but after straightening hesitated instead of leaving. I cocked an eyebrow again.

“The stories,” the boy said, “they say you used to be the Squire as well.”

“I was,” I agreed, cocking my head to the side.

“So you had them too,” Arthur said. “The dreams, I mean.”

Huh. Name dreams already.

“I had dreams,” I said, “but likely not the same as you.”

Although, Hells, I’d been the last Squire hadn’t I? Was he going to get Name dreams from my years bearing the Name? I was still alive, but Black had been as well when I’d gotten glimpses of his life. Unless he was going to get dreams from a Squire that’d been headed Above’s way, and I’d only gotten my father’s career in my sleep because he’d been the last Squire headed into a Name sworn to Below. I didn’t actually have an answer to that. Crows, it would have been effectively impossible to get answers about this a few years ago: heroes and villains hadn’t exactly sat down for pleasant chats about the nature of Names, back before the Truce and Terms.

They still didn’t, honestly compelled me to admit, but at least the thought was no longer so glaringly absurd.

“So you didn’t dream about the sword, then?” the Squire asked.

“Which sword?”

“The broken one,” he hesitantly said. “The pieces are in far places, but always deep below water.”

I kept my face calm, though I felt a surge of both fury and indignation. Fucking Hashmallim, I cursed. Fucking Choir of Contrition and their grubby meddling hands. I’d snapped the Penitent’s Blade in dozens of pieces and scattered some of them them as far as the Tyrian Sea, I wasn’t going to let that damned sword get reforged. Someone wielding it anew had my death written all over it. I was going to have to talk to Hierophant about the practicalities of expressing my displeasure there.

“I knew that sword before it was snapped,” I said. “It is best left scattered, Arthur Foundling, lest you want Contrition to sink its hooks into your soul.”

He didn’t look like he entirely believed me, but my warning hadn’t gone into deaf ears either: the young squire had looked distinctly unenthused at the notion of being bound to angels. This time he took his leave for good, leaving me to lean against my desk with a conflicted look on my face. The Squire seemed like a good kid, honestly. A little rough around the edges, but it was nothing he couldn’t grow into.

I hoped I wasn’t going to have kill him, before this was all over.

On the first day the Second Army rested. On the second it marched, and on the fifth we found the other column.

From there, I knew, there was only one place to go: the capital, where it would all be won or lost.

224 thoughts on “Chapter 70: Solved Game

    1. Darkening

      As much as I’d enjoy seeing Cat in a Mentor role to someone, that sounds like a great way for some tragic confrontation down the road where he kills her. Or one of the other dozen ways mentors die to further their charges’ paths. Cat’s waaaay too cautious for that. We saw a lot of that thought process back with the Scorched Apostate, though she was getting dangerously invested in him. She’s probably not eager to have *another* potential protege killed in her care.

      Liked by 24 people

      1. The thing is that the danger is both ways, either the mentor dies or the disciple does, i think the way to manage is that she is A mentor not THE mentor, meaning she is only 1 of many teachers, she can stack the the odds by making it more than 1 disciple so is more of a class.

        In a way it could be a prelude to Cardinal too

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The best way to manage that is that her path and his path diverge the minute he’s out of basic training. That’s how you get “oh hey if that isn’t my old mentor I haven’t seen in five years!” narratives instead of “my mentor could do this task instead of me, if only they were still around” narratives. That’s how Amadeus is still alive – his Role and Cat’s just don’t overlap anymore.

          And, uh, Cat IS already planning on abdicating.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. SpaceDorf

            My first thought was a Squire would be the best thing to happen for Hanno getting his Shit together.

            And I am looking forward to Cat putting a Ribbon on the Squire saying „I am so sorry for the Axe thing, I got you something nice“

            second thought. Arthur ? for real.
            Sword Dreams ?
            Contrition should be lucky the Mold did not break under all the Bullshit they tried to cram in.

            afterhoughts : there should be a Providence Bingo

            Liked by 1 person

    2. Tenthyr

      Catherine is probably, among the other stuff pointed out, EXTREMELY wary of actions that might shape her name out of the path it’s already forming along. A relationship with Arthur would be exactly the sort of thing that might break her name just like how the Bard tried to break it/ make Catherine the new Bard.

      Liked by 11 people

        1. shikkarasu

          But of course. I won’t speak for anyone else, but every bit of Amadeus we see in Cat makes me squee uncontrollably. She loves her dad so much, even if he isn’t related to her, even if he is a mass murderer and also a dick. And he’s so proud of her, even if she sasses him relentlessly and also stabbed him that one time.

          It’s the little things that warm your heart, even in the depths of Winter, or the middle of the Night..

          Liked by 15 people

          1. Yeah I just really dislike the “mistake” quoting that people do. Amadeus is significantly less clever than he convinces himself he is, his reason for victories is the Power of Friendship, not how rationalist he is. And he doesn’t oversell himself in-universe, really, he knows that on some double-checking level, but the fandom’s treatment is just… really grating.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. shikkarasu

              He had a power base, the kind that make it almost hard to fail. I agree it’s more Praes-worthy than praise-worthy, but I can’t blame anyone for latching on to good, smug quips. It’s that or monologuing, really.

              Liked by 4 people

            2. caoimhinh

              Being clever is most of the reason for his success, actually.
              Being genre-savvy, he avoided falling into the classical villain troupes, he went for pragmatic measures rather than grandstanding and flashy schemes, he took on to reforming the army and trusted on the skill of experienced officers rather than in the hosts of Hell.
              He knew when to step back and when to advance, could tell when he was being led into a story trapping, and always kept playing the long game.
              He doesn’t oversell himself, because he is a wise and prudent man whose self-awareness of his limitations has led him to make decisions that most of his predecessors would have disdained and turn him into one of the most dangerous men alive.

              Sure, Amadeus surrounded himself with talented individuals and gave them the chance to rise and prove their worth to the world (what he did for the Orcs, Ogres, and Goblins for example), but it’s not really that much Power of Friendship so much as tactical use of their respective strengths and clever strategies making not only the Calamities but the Legions of Terror a whole different kind of entities than their predecessors.

              Liked by 2 people

                1. Emily

                  I might be coming to the comment to late…but I’d like details.

                  In particular it’s been noted many times how he built an amazing institution of the legion of terror and didn’t rely on old school villain conquering, those tactics aren’t just friendship.

                  Liked by 3 people

                  1. Calamities.
                    Grem One-Eye and Ranker.
                    Malicia.

                    Amadeus gathered talents around himself in a way no other actor in Praes could compete with. He had a solid idea at the center of it, yes, but he couldn’t have fleshed out all details perfectly by himself – he is NOT that intelligent and competent at everything. What he’s competent at is being the axis of the wheel: he trusts people and gets people to trust him, and so a whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. You have Alaya of Satus working on the same side as the greatest geniuses of orcs and goblins; you think they would have found their way to each other without Amadeus in the middle? You think they would have let each other have their back without him in the middle as a guarant? The Empire was dysfuncitonal because of the dog eat dog mentality, the entire system was geared towards “balance of power” through people pulling each other down in the crab bucket.

                    Amadeus built a crab pyramid, and Hye Su ensured Alaya of Satus never had her bodyguards overwhelmed early on even though they hated each other’s guts.

                    Amadeus wasn’t just a reformer – he brought together a generation of reformers, and it was all built on personal trust, because there was no institutional trust for them to lean into. He gathered an army – let me just quote the canon.

                    > Amadeus of the Green Stretch was the son of corpses now buried, born of a land tread by soldiers under different banners with every season. Duni, he was, his skin the pale shame of old defeats that Praes had deemed filth even in name, and never did he forget it. It was not the Tower’s promises that whispered in his sleep but the footsteps of his youth, the wheel of unending defeats seen from the side with cold eyes. In indignation he had become squire, and so sharp a blade found it that it slew his rivals and knighted him in black. To the banner he’d raised the disgraces of the Wasteland had flocked, be they green of skin and red of hand, Named hunted from above or every sharp mind and soul of steel that knew contempt but no captain. His was a company of the hungry and the lost, sworn to bleed for those unworthy of that blood. And so Amadeus of the Green Stretch asserted this: Praes is a mould that must be broken.

                    Amadeus is an ideologue. A charismatic leader; a standard-bearer. Entire armies trusted him because he meant every word he said in his speeches.

                    And he trusted people back. He managed to work with Malicia for forty years because he freely believed she was more competent than him, and when she kept secrets he let her keep them. He gave people power and free reins; he won the throne and gave it to someone else. This is utterly antithetical to the Wasteland worldview, and this is key: the contrast. What might seem obvious on context of more pro-social societies, in the Wasteland was a revolution by itself: Amadeus gave everyone as much as they wanted and was available, not the bare minimum they needed per his plans. Remember the Ehioze measure of orc rations? Amadeus did the opposite of that, on everything.

                    He didn’t build a machine the size of an empire, it would have broken halfway through under its own weight. He planted a garden.

                    His approach to Catherine is very characteristic of him. He gave her everything she needed for her plans and then some, and she ended up fighting to keep him alive even when he didn’t want her to, because he’s a very good ally to have.

                    He’s been a very good ally to have to everyone who’s ever been his ally, that’s why there were so many people Tariq was baiting/antagonizing with his soul ripping plan.

                    And it’s Power of Friendship and Power of Trust, in a very primal way, becuase again – there was no pre-established body of wisdom for him to draw on. Empire’s institutional approach has always been the opposite of his.

                    This is probably not a fully sufficient explanation of everything, so do ask about whatever I managed to gloss over/assume!

                    Liked by 3 people

      1. LM

        So a couple things:

        First, a hell of a chapter, as always. Great politics, and I’m loving that names and the way they shape fate are becoming central to the story again.

        Second, Jesus Christ. With the fatality rate in Callow, combined with the percentage of gay folks (it’s gotta be 50% by this point), and the lack of serious male-female relationships, when do people have kids they must have quintuplets. Otherwise the population has to have absolutely cratered. Or maybe children form out of the air on the steps of orphanages.

        But seriously. Name two alive named characters and the name of their biological child. I’ll wait.

        Seriously.
        Katherine: Orphan, bisexual, dates women when not single, possibly infertile to to literally being made out of darkest evil, no kids.
        Maseago, Adopted, asexual, no kids
        Cornelia H: single, unknown preferences but unmarried as a ruler is a huge deal, no kids
        Thief: single, unknown preferences, again unmarried as a ruler, no kids
        Harkem: Straight, but unmarried and no known kids
        Black: unmarried, may eventually end up with Malacca. No kids
        Malacca: asexual? May love black. No kids
        Squire: Gay, orphan, too young to have children
        Archer: bi, single, no kids
        Akra (the shade, I can’t spell): gay and also dead
        Pilgrim: Asexual, no kids
        Capitan: straight but dead and I think no kids
        Klaus: no wife no kids.
        Kingfisher prince: straight, no wife no kids
        White Knight: no idea on sex, no kids. I think he or kingfisher had a wife once?
        Tyrant: only attracted to Chaos, no kids

        The list goes on, but there’s only one thing in common….

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Konstantin von Karstein

          Some corrections: Cordelia is straight, she told herself that one of her guard (a man) was not bad but that it would make a scandal.
          Thief is straight, Cat said she couldn’t get in her pants because of it.
          I think Malicia is lesbian, but I am not sure.
          Akua was straight, she slept with her second in command before Second Liesse.
          Tariq is straight, he was in love with one of the Champion’s Blood.

          All those people are a bit too busy to have kids or adopt. The Woe were busy preventing Callow from collapsing, and there was a giant war on the horizon that every single one of the people you mentioned could see. Having kids would be a major mistake.

          Liked by 7 people

            1. shikkarasu

              Correct.
              Also:
              Malicia – confirmed to be sleeping with her spymistress. No known interest in men.
              Akua – possibly ‘twice bloomed’, or she might just be messing with Cat. There’s really no way to be sure.
              Klaus – two dead sons
              Kingfisher – Proposed to Cordelia, but mostly as a political move. No known interest in men. 1 night stand with the Queen of Callow.
              Wekessa – Men only, married with adopted son
              Tikoloshe – Up for anything, and by ‘anything’ I mean anything, and by ‘up’ I mean [REDACTED]. Married with adopted son.
              Ranger – non-committed relationship with Black. Kids unlikely, but she does what she wants. Long distance Bromance with the Dead King, but that might just be the boredom talking.

              Liked by 9 people

              1. Shveiran

                I don’t really get the surprise.
                I mean, most Named spend their (usually short) lives travelling from dangerous adventure to more dangerous adventure. That’s really, really not a good match for having children.
                There is a reason why marrying and having kids is usually referred to as “settling down”: to do it right, you usually have to settle down!
                For crying out loud, Sabah was a member of a highly successful band and avoided all political roles and she still left two orphans on their own. Named and families mix only to fuel future tragedies. If you are Named and love kids, don’t fucking have them!

                Liked by 6 people

              2. > Tikoloshe – Up for anything, and by ‘anything’ I mean anything, and by ‘up’ I mean …

                … Magic: The Gathering! Seriously, Tikoloshe made it clear that he was not just about sex. Any kind of desire at all, and after a few thousand years, he’d explored a lot of the more subtle interests of humanity.

                Liked by 2 people

              1. Yes, yes she has.

                Cordelia did, though lending an arm was as far as she intended to ever indulge the flirtation. She’d had discreet liaisons over the years, with men and rather more rarely women, but becoming involved with one in her service would be… uncouth in many ways.

                Liked by 5 people

                1. shikkarasu

                  I think a good rule of thumb for this kind of story is “bisexual until stated otherwise”. It also happens to be my favourite way to write/flesh out characters.

                  Liked by 3 people

        2. Darkening

          Captain very much had a husband and kids that she worked very hard to keep completely disconnected from her professional life. Kingfisher prince doesn’t have a wife because he’s hung up on Cordelia. The, brigand’s blood noble from Levant had a son fighting in the battle of the camps with her I believe? Black’s with Ranger and I suppose it’s possible she’s infertile due to being a half breed or maybe she’s have to do some weird nature thing given the connection between the forest resenting the elves and them being infertile in universe. Klaus *had* a wife and two kids, they’re just dead now. It *does* seem a bit odd that there’s no married people anywhere in the major cast, but I imagine that has a lot to do with it being simpler to write unattached people.

          Liked by 4 people

        3. Tom

          It’s because being Named is tough on your family life. Everyone around you ends up dead by your hand or by the hands of people trying to kill you.

          Plus simply having encountered Kairos is probably a 100% effective form of birth control for anyone who suspects their offspring could become Named.

          Liked by 8 people

        4. Sykomantis

          Recent studies (not sure when or which, too lazy to look up) have shown that homosexuality has persisted from an evolutionary stand point because the straight, opposite sex siblings of homosexuals actually end up having MORE children, on average, than random chance can explain. Something about how if their homosexual sibling can attract the same sex then the straight, opposite sex sibling will be REALLY good at attracting that sex as well.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Abrakadabra

            Sounds like bullshit to me. Being attracted to people does not make them attracted to you… Trust me, I tried. 😃
            There is definitely some evolutionary advantage somewhere, but this is not it.

            Like

            1. Sykomantis

              To reiterate what I actually said, SUCCESSFUL (as in ABLE TO ATTRACT someone of the same sex into participating in a same sex relationship) homosexuals’ siblings tend to have more children ON AVERAGE (as in there being a normal distribution for number of children had by the siblings of homosexuals whose median/mean is higher than the total population’s at a statically significant level). At the evolutionary level I’m talking about here, this is sufficient to explain why the HUGE selection pressure of NOT BEING ABLE TO HAVE CHILDREN EVER didn’t die out completely: because in a species that usually has few offspring to begin with, having more than other members on average is a dominant strategy for keeping your genes in the gene pool, especially when those genes make you attractive to a certain sex, regardless of your own.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Abrakadabra

                And this explanation is Bullshit, because it disregards those homosexuals WHO are unsuccessful in attracting people. Some people Just fails at it and that is that. And the siblings fair no better.

                Like

          2. I’m not sure I buy that — finding a partner was historically not as hard at it is in modern times after we’ve abandoned arranged marriages! I could believe that some of the people they *unsuccessfully* tried to court might still be in the family’s orbit, though….

            A more likely mechanism is that a bachelor uncle or spinster aunt represents an extra pair of hands to help support the breeders, which makes a big difference for their nephews and nieces.

            Liked by 1 person

        5. Sceptic

          Thank you! The progressive sensibilities of guideverse seem like bullshit to me. Aside from what you mentioned, women in armies. Women in medieval armies? How does a woman hold up in a shield wall? How do they find all these women that are even interested in being soldiers? How do countries that have women in armies replenish their populations after wars? For that matter, how the hell does anyone stand up to Orcs in a war? Aren’t they all 300 pounds, raised for war and stronger than humans pound for pound as well? How do farmers stand up to that? Bullshit. Progressivism is possible only in post-scarcity societies.

          Like

          1. Bcurly

            The beautiful thing about a formation like a shield wall is that it’s more about the overall strength of the army rather than individual martial ability. A shield wall of men and women will hold up almost as well as one of pure men, and the manpower increase will likely be worth it in places with low manpower, like Praes, or who need every soldier they can get their hands on, like callow or procer. As for how levies stand up to orks, simply they don’t. We see multiple times soldiers from procer getting slaughtered by legionnaires.

            Liked by 4 people

          2. A few things.

            One, even in real life, female warriors were a thing. Culturally dependent, really. Some cultures, they’re functionally unheard of or extreme rarities, in others, they are significant.
            Sure, not 50%, but they are extant in real life human history.

            Two, we don’t know to what extent magic, magical, and/or alchemical manipulations have altered human baselines relative to real life. Or, for that matter, simple environmental evolutionary pressures and population bottlenecks pushing up baseline norms because the weak didn’t survive.
            Also, interbreeding with magical creatures – which we know was a thing. And it’s possible that the children of Named inherit and pass down some level of enhancement beyond mundane norms.

            Three – let’s remember, the presence of magic and Names change a fuckton of cultural norms. Plus non-human, and their sexual dimorphism differences.

            Four – I’m fairly certain that the human gender balance in armies is not even across the board, but varies by role and specialty. Ie, I’d expect that in the Legions/Army of Callow that the human troops who are heavies are more likely to be men, whereas mages are more likely closer to an even split.

            All that being said, it does feel like heterosexual relationships, or even interests, are relatively uncommon amongst the notable characters.
            However, since we also know that there are miracles that can allow two women to have children, homosexuality doesn’t mean you aren’t having children and passing down your genes, as normally happens in real life.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Abrakadabra

              The intrresting thing that in real life there was a number of woman warriors and leaders, for example there were The celts. Queen Buodica for example, WHO fought The romans. The roman soldiers were actually aghast that The woman amongst The celts did not sit at home as is right and proper for roman woman.

              On a side note I Just cannot fathom why some progressives idolizing romans, when they were a slaving, militaristic, genocidal, empire On top of what they tought of woman, which they passed On to later ages…

              Liked by 2 people

        6. Isi Arnott-Campbell

          When Talbot is new-ish he mentions there are miracles available to allow same-sex couples to conceive together. I’m sure there’s an Evil equivalent as well.

          Liked by 3 people

        7. Morgenstern

          You do realize that _characters in novels_ VERY seldomly have kids, until they fall into the Papa/Mama Bear trope? Because PARENTS do not usually _ go on adventures_. That’s why NAMED don’t usually have all that many kids, least of all official ones, during their active years. NOT because the whole population of the country they stem from has this or that personal preference. Just because gays, bis, asexuals, and victims of friggin trauma are more prominent in this book does not make a population fallout… I find it highly endearing to see more of my actual real life represented here, while in real life people simply IGNORE how many of us there _actually are_, _IRL_.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Morgenstern

            Malicia: Was a rape victim for YEARS in the last Emperor’s harem before she killed him. Seemed rather interested in Black before she got abducted. She was probably straight or at least bi, but got traumatized so much that the thought of being with a man again, sexually, simply doesn’t come up…

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Abrakadabra

            And why would they care about that? It is not their business what you do in your bedroom, you know. Most people are not intereted at all. Except creepy people, WHO likes to peek, but not many of those around.

            Like

          1. Shveiran

            Comparing the impact on repopulation of small celibe communities that usually involved a greater number of non-initiated (and thus not oath-bound to celibacy) members to that of armies slaughtering each other is simply disingenuous.

            While I am completely in favor of writing fantasy in a way that is inclusive because it is written for a modern audience that greatly benefits from the larger rappresentation, introducing equality of gender and widespread acceptance of every sexual orientation in a world that still works in a way that it’s similar to the medieval age does raise issues concerning realism.

            The division of roles between genders and the belief that heterosexual families were the only true way were not (or rather not just) the product of prejudice and closemindedness. They tied in to actual problems, like the rate of children death and the absence of the very concept of wellfare – including pensions.
            They were not just cultural mores that can be edited out by introducing a new culture; they were the answer to a problem rooted in survival and biology.
            I can elaborate, if you wish to discuss the issue.

            To reiterate, I am not arguing that rappresentation should be sacrificed to realism, here.
            If anything, the Guide positively convinced me that we should write in a more incluse ways, and provoked a radical change in my own approach to writing fiction.

            I am merely saying that when we build a fictional word that is inclusive, we need to either add a meaningful explanations to how these changes are sustainable or risk that world being pointed at as unrealistic.
            With regard to the Guide and this issue, the best explanation I can come up with is that most children on Calernia have access to magical healing and that every gay person dies young, is very rich, or has access to the House of Light miracles that allow two people of the same gender to have a child.
            Which… well, I really don’t think is canon.

            Like

            1. First, most children (and childbearing parents) in Good countries have access to priestly healing, which changes the demographic situation significantly.

              Second, it’s been mentioned that the proportion of men and women participating in warfare is much more equal when it comes to nobility – you know, the people who DO have access to every welfare ever invented and have exactly as many children as they want to. The gender ratio among footsoldiers is much more skewed, and in Callow IIRC the draft applies to specifically male teenagers, same as historically. It’s just that anyone can sign up for money on top of that.

              Third, every instance of gay marriage we’ve heard of concerned the elite – rulers and mages and the like, who yet again can afford any miracles they like. And adopt.

              With these points in mind, I have no idea what changes are unexplained from there.

              Liked by 5 people

              1. The Sanity Faerie

                “Third, every instance of gay marriage we’ve heard of concerned the elite”. That’s not true. The significant majority were, but that’s because the practical guide mostly talks about the elite. There was a sausage-seller that Adjutant chatted with (male, married to a man, had a child). It was part of the storyline where he winds up cutting off his own hand in support of Thief.

                Liked by 3 people

            2. Abrakadabra

              Yep. You are right about that. The whole thing actually start with economic reasons. Medieval cities are not self sustaining from a population standpoint. Tha cities and towns are dependent on villages to maintain their population. The rural people constantly moved into towns and so maintaining The population of The towns. Which means that gays in small villages did not find partners, and moved to towns. Which means that towns are richer in gay people, which leads to a cultural separation, a divide between the townies and villagers. Over time, towns become more inclusive, while villages become more closed. Which is a self perpetuating cycle.
              Even today, villages are places where are more children Born, and towns and especially cities are dependent on the migration of people to maintain their population. In the middle ages every sickness reaped far more life In towns Than In rural places, because smaller population density.

              Liked by 1 person

  1. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    even and he > even as he
    I was only > It was only
    sitting the Tattered > sitting on the Tattered
    I had been > It had been
    they’ll asks > they’ll ask
    So this related > So this is related
    same say > same day
    there laid a > there lay a
    out, “It > out, “it
    founded and founded by > founded by
    you representative > your representative

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Hakram will probably be walking soon. Good news.

    Ooh. That’s hella complicated, even before the Hashmallin started lining Squire Arthur up to take up Willy’s broken angel feather sword. Don’t remembe what it’s called offhand.
    Stay away from Angels and the Choirs, kid. But especially Contrition … what the hell would they be able to leverage him with the way they did Willy.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. LarsBlitzer

      There are all sorts of levers and hooks the Choir could use to get Arthur to play along with the story they have in mind. Prophetic dreams are only the tip of the iceberg, they can get terribly insistent as time wears on. Granting the use of a Gift of Light to use in the nick of time to save the day, only to take it away when the stakes are lower to hammer the point home that but for the Grace of the Choir the Gift can be lost when he needs it most. It’s not below Above to put a thumb on the scale or sneak a card from their sleeve in order to make Arthur’s story hit the proper plot points.

      Liked by 10 people

    2. caoimhinh

      Remember that Angels of Contrition do not so much leverage people so much as mind-rape them into fanatics to their cause. That was why William’s summoning of a Hashmal was so dangerous, it would have brainwashed every person in the vicinity into becoming crusaders for Above.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. That’s when the/a Hashmallin physically manifest into Creation.
        They can’t do that on a whim. To mindfuck a Contrition Hero, the Contrition Hero needs a significant sin to be made contrite about.

        Lone Swordman got mindfucked by Contrition, but he’d killed his sister, which was his primary act that they used to break him.

        I don’t think Arthur has the same sort of sins in his past that Willy did. They’d still need something to leverage Arthur.
        I think that the bigger the sin(s), the easier it is for Contrition, and the more free will the subject gets to keep, or rather, the less damaged and less constrained the subject of the Hashmallin’s attentions.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. caoimhinh

          To manifest into Creation physically and affect the common people, yeah, they need some pretty good excuse like an invitation through a ritual or summoning by their anointed.
          But to get in contact with a Hero? Nope. Not at all.
          They don’t even need to be sought, they come to you uninvited, and unexpected. We actually have several examples in the story that prove that.

          William was a ravaging man wandering the woods when the Hashmallim got him, Tariq was simply doing his own things for helping people when he started hearing the whispers of the Choir of Mercy, and Iason (the Stalwart Paladin) was fighting and about to get killed by Catherine when the Choir of Endurance intervened to bestow power into him.

          And now Arthur has been Squire for half a day, and the dreams are already showing him an artifact of the Hashmallim.

          We have evidence that they can mindfuck common people into their service, so a Hero doesn’t need to be especially inclined to them or vulnerable to be mindfucked. They just need to get to him.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. We don’t actually have evidence of that last thing you said.

            William was mindfucking HIMSELF when Hashamallim came to him and helped along. Like yeah they helped but they reinforced what he was ALREADY THINKING. Tariq was already doing the Mercy thing, and you’ll notice that when he took a break from that, the angels just quietly weren’t there until he was back. Iason the same, and Hanno was stubbornly seeking them out more than anything.

            Liked by 7 people

          2. I don’t think a Choir, in this case Contrition, can do that much without either (a) being physically manifested, or (b) the Hero accepting their offer.

            They can make offers, and do things like sending enticing/plothooked Name Dreams to Heroes who haven’t yet accepted them, but unless the Hero accepts the Choir as a patron/guide, the Choir can’t do much else.

            Also, I suspect that Choirs have an easier time and more leeway with making offers to those more closely aligned with their concepts … and I doubt Arthur is particularly closely aligned with Contrition, unlike Willy.

            Of course, most Heroes would readily accept an offer of patronage/guidance from a Choir, without much consideration.

            Honestly, I half think Cat should tell the kid that the sword he’s being sent dreams about is the one that she broke after Willy tried to use it to summon a Hashmallin to mindfuck Liesse. I suspect that would very quickly kill any interest he he might yet have in trying to restore it, Name Dreams about it or not.

            Liked by 6 people

  3. dadycoool

    Whew, it’s not very often that Cat’s stores of Night run out, but that kind of fight and the delicate work she’d been doing would do it.

    Adjutant’s post-battle reports are always nice to hear, even if they have unpleasant information.

    Wow, genderbent Cat anyone? Working within the ruling government to restore something fundamentally Callowan that was lost? From the sister orphanage to her own? I wonder if Hanno will assign Arthur (Pendragon?) to Cat, for multiple reasons including liking what kind of Story he sees about it. Squires typically go to knights for apprenticeship, but she’s a Warlord, so maybe she counts? Especially since she’s been avoiding the Mentor role too hard to last.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Yeah, he is walking one of Catherine’s story grooves (and she has many, one of which is currently being walked by Abigail, with an orc adjutant to boot). though it is admittedly the shallowest one among them. The similarities are sticking on a superficial level, but they are contrary in a lot of things.

      Arthur is more like “the Squire that Catherine did not become”.

      Liked by 15 people

      1. MagnaMalusLupus

        While that may be superficial in origin, Cat herself almost fell into the groove of Good while doing what she saw as best for Callow. It would be wonderfully poetic for young Arthur to follow the reverse path of being Good to start with and then stumbling into Cat’s groove after seeing Good trying to manipulate him.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Morgenstern

          Second that. I’d love to see him reconsider the “heretic” thing this orphanage probably drilled into him, or for it to be revealed it’s just what to _say_ that has been drilled in, but not quite his own thoughts. After all, he seemed to be looking to Cat for guidance… totally forgetting her ever getting named “Archheretic of the East”, it would seem. =P

          Liked by 3 people

        1. Yeah. “Light stops burning them up from inside” and “their hands stop trembling”. There are circumstances for mages where power can straight up be insufficient, but not in healing it looks like, and not for priests anyway.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. Tenthyr

    God, contrition really are vultures. And clearly have a grudge against Cat. Hopefully Arthur will go to the white Knight and together they’ll find their place in the new age Catherine is pushing them all into

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Komplode

      Also King Arthur retrieved his sword from a lake, the contritions sword being scattered in different lakes and contrition could be the parallel to the lady in the lake?

      Liked by 9 people

    2. Frivolous

      Can’t. Not safe. By his very existence and Name of Squire, Arthur Foundling endangers the life of Hanno of Arwad. Actually working with Hanno would compound the danger.

      The only pragmatic choice is to keep Arthur far away from Hanno, inasmuch as that is possible given Arthur answers to Hanno.

      The situation exactly parallels Amadeus and Catherine’s, which was why Wekesa and Eudokia were so mad at Cat and wanted to kill her.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Not necessarily.

        There are multiple possible Heroic Names that Squire can lead into. At least, Callowan Names.
        White Knight is certainly one, but I believe there are other viable Knight Names, in addition to the various Paladin Names.

        This, of course, presumes that he doesn’t end up going for a different Name, or a new Name.

        And Hanno, what with Recall, can almost certainly provide a number of possible Names that Arthur can aim to transition into, and tips on how to get certain Names or avoid getting other Names.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. Frivolous

          I thought Squires always became White Knights or Black Knights. I thought it was the Heirs and Heiresses who could transition to other Names.

          On second thought, I guess you’re right. Masego as Apprentice was thought to become Warlock, but he didn’t. He became Hierophant instead. So maybe something else could happen to Arthur.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. mamm0nn

          Nope, it has been pretty directly and absolutely stated that the Squire becomes either Black or White. No Grey, no Stalwart, no Mirror. One or the other, absolute.

          Of course this may be early day Squire lore for when Cat was still beholden to it and the story shouldn’t be too complicated or leading to a narrative confrontation, but when EE doesn’t come with such a retcon, nope. This isn’t like the Apprentice who usually becomes a Warlock but isn’t bound to it, it’s either Black or White.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. SpeckofStardust

            I mean at one point Cat almost transitioned into the good queen or some such back when she pulled the sword out of the stone so that as already has been disproven.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Shveiran

              True. But she didn’t do it as the Squire. She entered in that groove by being the successor of the (de facto) king of Callow. Who just happened to be the Knight she was Squiring under.

              She didn’t (almost) transition into Good Queen or Black Queen through her path as the Squire. She nearly did because her story changed and allowed her close to the boundary of those Names.

              That’s a different thing. It’s like an apprenticeship in an office, where it is a given that unless you screw up and get fired (or, you know, die) you will be promoted to a higher position in the office (or become a Knight) because through the apprenticeship you learned the job.

              It is possible that, during your apprenticeship, another society could offer you a job, and that you’d accept it. But while you may have been noticed because of your current apprenticeship, this new development is not the natural consequence of your apprenticeship. You are changing path.

              The story of a Squire is the story of someone that dies young or becomes a Knight.
              The fact that it is possible to change your story before that happens doesn’t mean that the grove doesn’t heavily push in that direction.

              Liked by 4 people

                1. Shveiran

                  Well, yes, but that is because the OG Good Queen Fairfax the first was a White Knight, wasn’t she?
                  It’s not a Squire grove, is a White Knight grove. So yeah, it’s Squire adjacent, but only because a Squire becomes a Knight.

                  he certainly is a threat to Vivienne reign: he is Named, idealistic, a Knight that wants to bring back the Knightly Orders, and (in time) a war hero. Meanwhile Vivienne is mostly in her spot because Catherine chose her.
                  I think she is good, don’t get me wrong, but I think Callowans like her mostly because they… dislike her less than Catherine? Because she is less controversial, not because they know she is amazing?
                  If a young, charming, veteran Heroic Named starts saying maybe he should be in charge… he could be a threat, you know?
                  At the very least, he’ll be a banner for a political block much more than the Summoner or Talbot could ever be.

                  Liked by 4 people

                  1. Rebel Knight, not White Knight.

                    And I don’t know why, but it sure seems like an existing parttern judging from Akua’s reaction back then!

                    And that’s why Cat needs to bind him to her faction tightly enough he’ll be a boon to Vivienne instead of a rival.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. MagnaMalusLupus

                      Ah, but that sort of blatant manipulation is exactly the sort of thing a Choir (almost definitely Contrition) would latch onto: “See? Your grand ideal of returning Callow to its former glory is being ground away and perverted by the machinations of Evil. See how deadly the lure, the ease of the path of giving in. You have stumbled from the path. *Repent*.”

                      Liked by 3 people

                2. Andrew Smith

                  It like Cat said callow’s people like their Squires and makes kings of them or in simple terms there is story’s about that happening. so it would have some of the same kind of weight as what happens when you through a hero off a clif.

                  Similar to how if I remember WoE said that cat was most fitting a grey knight name but there was no cultural basis for it

                  Liked by 1 person

              1. Frivolous

                I think we should differentiate between the story Catherine used to wrest a resurrection from Contrition and the plan Contrition had for Cat to become Queen of Callow.

                Cat used the sword in the stone story to force a resurrection. That’s one thing.

                The vision Contrition gave her of her wearing a crown of light? That might not have had anything to do with the sword in the stone thing. That might have been a separate thing, based on Cat having a lot to be sorry for, and Contrition offering a Redemption.

                Liked by 2 people

            2. mamm0nn

              At first Liessen it wasn’t a story of becoming Queen, rather than her following the groove of a Story. Anyone could’ve followed it, queenship is irrelevant in that regard. And as her ‘father’ the ‘king’ from whom she’d inherit it was Amadeus, it’s pretty clear that there’s no issue with the ‘queen’ also being the Squire or a Knight of either alignment.

              The Contrition promise of her becoming a good queen were for her to come back presumably as the White Knight, Hanno hadn’t been introduced to the story at that point so he didn’t really exist even if chronologically he did, so this too isn’t contradicting.

              At third Liessen again it was a sword and a certain fate it promised, but then she was no longer the Squire. So even if there would be different circumstances here, which there weren’t, then there’s not even an issue of her being the Squire which she’s not.

              Like

              1. Frivolous

                I don’t think Contrition’s plan for Cat was to become White Knight. I think she was supposed to become a Good Queen.

                I come to this conclusion because she was envisioned as wearing a crown of light. Not the typical apparatus of a Knight.

                Remember that a few nations have rulers who are always or often Named. Praes has Dread Empresses. The Free Cities have the Hierarch. Callow has Good Kings and Queens.

                Some may point out that Squire does not transition to Good Queen. My response is that anyone who climbs the Tower becomes Dread Empress or Emperor, regardless of their prior Name. The same might go for most who becomes Queen of Callow.

                Yes, that does mean that Vivienne might become a Good Queen once Catherine abdicates.

                Liked by 5 people

            1. Frivolous

              I’ve been researching that. Best so far is this, from Archer, chapter 24 of book 2:

              “Squire isn’t a fundamentally villainous Name,” Apprentice replied. “It’s also the transitional Name leading into being the White Knight.”

              Liked by 1 person

              1. That does not append “but not any other Knight Name”.

                Imagine the following sentence: “Squire isn’t an inherently villainous Name. It’s also the transitional Name leading into being the White Knight, also Green Knight, Rebel Knight and half the variations of Knight known to date, also occasionally Paladin, Good King, Good Queen, Shining Prince… sorry, what was I talking about again?”

                Liked by 2 people

      2. caoimhinh

        Yeah, there’s a mirroring there.
        Although, being Heroes, Arthur being Squire to Hanno wouldn’t end with Arthur killing his mentor, as a story of Evil Mentor and Disciple would. Hanno would be in danger of fatally falling in battle or sacrificing himself to save his Squire.

        There’s the possibility that Arthur won’t become White Knight. We have seen that there’s Mirror Knight, Errant Knight, and Red Knight, though no mention of them being Squires before getting their Knight Name has been done. Then again, Hanno was never a Squire, he jumped directly into being the White Knight.

        Another thing is, Hanno might stop being White Knight and get into another Name that fits his own calling as the Sword of Judgement, as Pilgrim noted that Hanno’s inner conflict was between his calling and the responsibilities of his position, the desires of his Role versus the bindings of his Name, so the conflict might have ended with Hanno making Sword of Judgement his Name. And the absence of the White Knight might have been a trigger for the Squire to emerge.

        Liked by 10 people

        1. V Kyrius

          Also Hanno and Arthur aren’t really the same Role. Arthur is a Callowan Redeemer. Hanno is more concerned with Judgment and doesn’t care about nationality. I think Christophe training Arthur would be fun lol. Christophe also has king arthur stuff or lancelot more specifically. I should note we all know of 4 Transitional Names with Arthur so he can even get started on his own team and Pascale is young enough to be in that group as well or even someone like Blade of Mercy.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Oshi

            If Cristophe is allowed near even 1 other named I would check them for fleas before they are allowed back into polite society. That asshole can’t teach because he is broken into a role that is the opposite of what is needed here.

            Liked by 5 people

          2. medailyfun

            I guess Cat would want to have a transitional Evil Named in the group, but they’re not present (yet?). I had commented about Cat missing opportunities to induce Squire/Apprentice/Conjurer/other minor Callowan or Praesi Names before new Apprentice actually appeared. But it looks Cat still don’t think about forcing the Names.

            Like

        1. MagnaMalusLupus

          While we have seen the Name it doesn’t match Arthur’s dream; he wants to restore knights to Callow, which makes the Name Squire, a knight-in-training, very appropriate. A knight errant was a knight with a duty that they were sworn to fulfill. I would see that sort of Name coming to a regular knight who swears an all-encompassing oath that they feel is their sworn duty, not an idealistic reformer.

          Liked by 6 people

      3. Funny thing, Hanno is himself facing a developing Name-crisis. He might well vacate the post.

        Even if he doesn’t… well, “Squire always becomes the White Knight or Black Knight” is one of those classic story-grooves, but Cat’s own career has been all about screwing with those traditional stories.

        Give young Arthur some story-fu training, and I can easily believe he could at least get say, “Shining Knight”, which would resonate with other Callowan-accessible names. That said, if he instead becomes the “Good Knight”, we’re gonna have to start throwing peanuts at EE…. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      1. MagnaMalusLupus

        I think that’s unlikely at this point. If he learns the story of the Penitent’s Blade, and how it was used to try and brainwash his countrymen into Contrite zealots (preferably from someone in the side of Good so that Contrition can’t use the source to discredit the message) I think he’ll reject that blade in particular. I don’t think Severance is likely either, though, as that screams a bit too much of Judgement. I still think that whatever happens with Hanno well lead to him being the wielder of that particular god-killer.

        Liked by 4 people

  5. Big I

    My bet: Hanno takes Arthur as his squire, Arthur becomes White Knight, and if Hanno survives he transitions into another name (Lone Swordsman maybe? Or a new one like Sword of Judgment).

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Jason Ispwitch

        Nah. She’s ending up with a Name about Names. Hanno, now… it’s possible that Arthur could be the shortest-duration (living) Squire ever, if something like the following takes place:

        Hanno takes Arthur under his wing.
        Hanno continues to question his role, even as he mentors the Squire.
        The Grey Pilgrim goes out in a blaze of glory.
        Hanno becomes the new Grey Pilgrim.
        Arthur becomes the new White Knight.
        (Possibly with the transitions guided by Cat in her new name.)

        All probabl too neat and tidy for our brilliant author, 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Komplode

    “ Renewed shall be blade that was broken “ (lotr) wonder if Arthur is an unwitting Fairfax or descendent of another royal lineage of callow.
    That’s at least a hint at Aragorn’s sword reforged, as Aragorn dreamed of it before it was reforged I believe?
    And King Arthur is a pretty (if not the most) famous legend as well.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Komplode

      Also King Arthur retrieved his sword from a lake, the contritions sword being scattered in different lakes and contrition could be the parallel to the lady in the lake?

      Liked by 5 people

    2. ohJohN

      I think Cat took some wind out of his Arthurian sails by already having pulled that exact sword from a stone 😛

      It is interesting that mythological Arthur (at least in The Once and Future King) worked towards harnessing and redirecting the actions of the powerful towards the common good and long-term stability — much like what Cat is attempting with the Accords — and in the process established a chivalric order, like this Arthur wants to do.

      Liked by 4 people

  7. Frivolous

    Very tricky. Arthur Foundling by being a hero and the Squire is dangerous to both Catherine and Hanno. He’s dangerous to Vivienne and a lot of other people. Quite a feat for a 16 year old.

    That Arthur looks almost offensively heroic on the same day that he became Squire probably means that he always looked like that, without his new Name changing his appearance to fit his self image. Which makes me wonder if Above chose him in part because of his good looks.

    I like that he’s gay. Poor guy, losing his knight and his boyfriend on the same day, and then getting introduced to Catherine Foundling.

    The Hashmallim are being very foolish giving Arthur dreams about the Penitent’s Sword so early. I get that they want revenge on Catherine, but they should have waited. Later on, they might have escaped Catherine’s attention, but now she knows they’re meddling,, and she’s bitch slapped them before. She probably wants to do it again now, and she likely can, especially if she gets Masego to help.

    Yes, we have Iron Orc! So happy Hakram is getting back on his feet.

    I wonder which capital is being referred to in the last line.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Yep, that’s why Amadeus just killed them and got done with them instead of leaving the problem to grow. Then again, Amadeus is a pure Evil Villain, albeit a pragmatic one, while Catherine is an Anti-villain and a good person at heart, also she is notable for taking choices other people wouldn’t have even considered, so everything is possible right now. Besides, Catherine has never been the villain of the stories she is in, except for the most superficial of ways as in “she has an Evil Name”, even when having a Crusade and a dozen Heroes rallied against her, she was still embodying a Hero’s story, as noted by Pilgrim and Saint of Swords during the Battle of the Camps.

      Catherine is so dangerous because the stories she embodies are Heroic Stories, although of course she is unwilling to take the gamble of falling into possible story trappings.

      Also, the capital Catherine was talking about in the end is the capital of Hainaut, which is the objective of this campaign. They probably won’t be storming Keter until next book.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. > Amadeus is a pure Evil Villain while Catherine is an anti-villain

        > this very chapter Grey Pilgrim praises Catherine for the focus on the wounded that Catherine then remarks to herself is entirely triage protocols of the Legions of Terror + access to priests

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Alex Straughan

      The Hashmallim situation is shady but they may just want in the fight against the dead King. Without their sword/feather, which is in Callow, I imagine they are weakened. Waiting frot he Squire to grow in power/wiles would be the smarter play if their #1 goal was killing Cat.
      Not that I think they don’t want Cat dead, just that this seems more like them being desperate to join the crusade while also taking a shot at cat as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I doubt a lost feather would weaken them… more to the point, I doubt it’s the Choir itself sending the Name dreams! I had a definite sense that the Name dreams were a more-or-less automatic function of in-world Plot Mechanics. In this case, there is a sword potentially available, therefore he dreams of it.

        That said… there’s another Sword handy. In fact, really handy right now, because it’s actually in Twilight where the army is (and will surely be returning occasionally in the future).

        Liked by 1 person

  8. nick012000

    Hmm. Now I’m wondering if this is the Heavens trying to get her to adopt a son to become her heir – perhaps creating a tradition that would solidify Named rule over Callow on an ongoing basis via bonds of mentorship, similar to how the tradition of Named rule via usurpation in Praes.

    Liked by 7 people

  9. This is feeling like a double bluff to get Cat to take Arthur as her Squire. If she leaves him alone, his story pushes him to reforge the blade and kill her, and distancing herself actually increases the odds of that along a few paths. If she mentors him, however, she runs the heavy risk of death, but it would also potentially allow her to shape him into a Name that plays well with the future she wants. Plus, it’s not like mentorship is an absolute death sentence, just nearly so.

    There’s also Hanno’s delicate condition to consider. First, he might disagree with Cat being associated with the boy in any fashion. Second, while it’s more unlikely, he may object to the boy at all; i.e., because he’s coming up on either a power up or a fall, Hanno might see a Name that can lead into his as an existential threat, even with his easy-going personality. Basically, it might not even take effort on Cat’s part to turn Arthur to the dark side.

    Also, all of these points get altered greatly if the boy is bisexual, as that then potentially puts him on a non-violent path to the throne, so that definitely seems like something to define.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. caoimhinh

      The Heavens do love to stack their odds in their favor and have pieces that can fit multiple jobs. They are known for being the main wielders of Providence and hence the magic of getting Coincidence and Causality on your side.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. ninegardens

      His Existence is a danger to the White knight- this is true.

      But at the same time, it ain’t so hard to think of him as being a back up white knight. For Hanno’s survival this is bad… for the sake of the crusade…..
      Is tricky. Hanno dying is bad, but Hanno dying and getting a story boost out of it, and then Arthur ALSO getting a story boost out of it is…. maybe net positive? A trade that Hanno would lean in on? Remember, unlike Cat, who dodges stories, Hanno is one that tends to lean in on stories (if he can groove them the right way).

      And if he’s already feeling uncertain in himself… taking a squire might be exactly what HE THINKS he needs to clear his vision.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. V Kyrius

        He is 16 year old Callowan Hero. Even if Hanno died he wouldnt be next in line for one he is too young and has no experience for two being Callowan means he simply isn’t going to get enough votes to take over and someone like Christophe would bash his head in.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Shveiran

        Yeah. I mean, a new White Knight would be a net positive ( a powerful Named determined to help in the campaign and that respects the Chief Villainess enough to be cordial to her) but Arthur is not a possible replacement for Hanno as Representative under the Terms.
        He is way too young and inexperienced for that.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. ninegardens

          Oh yeah, I ain’t saying is good for the Truce and Terms. I’m not saying its good FOR things, I’m just saying that the story bumps you get out of the MULTIPLE story beats this Squire has lined up are non-trivial.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. WuseMajor

    Honestly, I think they need to have a chat with the Pilgrim. Mentors “die” in stories so the Mentee has to step up and demonstrate their awesomeness… but Tariq has been a Mentor to who knows how many Heroes over the many decades of his life and he’s /Still Alive/.

    So, he must know a few ways to “technically die” and end up out of action, without actually dying permanently.

    One of the big things about the Squire is that they get a Mentor, so fate is GOING to be shoving people at that role until someone bites. Better that they put someone in place knowing what to expect and with as many tricks for surviving the heroic sacrifice as possible, instead of leaving it up to Heaven and Fate to decide.

    Liked by 6 people

  11. mamm0nn

    Hakram: Cathrine, it seems that the White Knight is either dead or soon to die. A squire has just risen, and he’s quite the boyscout.

    Cat: A Foundling? Gods, I’ve forgotten I’m not the only one.

    Hakram: Cat, this means that Hanno might-

    Cat: He’s not that much younger than Vivs, maybe we should marry those two. Surely she won’t fall back into self-doubt and a lack of self-worth when we literally decide her love life for her.

    Hakram: Cat, do you not want to discuss the practicalities of this so that we blindly walk into Hanno’s crisis and/or dead so you can ride it into a darkest hour scenario for you to struggle and stab your way back to dawn again?

    Cat: Nuns and snowballs!

    Hakram: *Sigh* Ignorance it is.

    Liked by 9 people

  12. Xinci

    You have to admit a foundling named Arthur is insanely appropriate for a heroic story in Callow. Anyway what a tempting fruit, Cats got a chance to possibly further influence those following her groove. But on the other hand…mentorships tend to get you burned. I am honestly rather curious if she could learn anything from the Perrigan to manage a mix of Black and Tariqs style of mentorship, maybe coupled with some kind of group training that would eventually be at cardinal.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. So I’m going to step back from the doomsaying and Cat’s paranoia and suggest the following:

    1. If I’m correct, Arthur is the first new Callowan hero to emerge under Catherine. This is kind of a big deal, even if the Truce and Terms immediately make it into a nightmare of subordination and that’s what Catherine is thinking about. It means that the transition period when Callow went dormant waiting for where Catherine’s story goes is over, and they’re geting new heroes again – ones that work FOR Catherine and not opposed to her!

    2. Arthur’s role has absolutely nothing to do with Hanno’s. Callowans have a staggering variety of Knight Names, and while White would have fit him, Hanno’s taken that one in an ENTIRELY different Role.

    3. Mentorship is not automatically a death sentence, and refusing mentorship is a trap of its own. Tancred died in a very immediate sense becuase Cat refused to take him under his wing – she walked away to do things on her own while other people watched over him, and, well, yeah. Sometimes to make the story go the way you want it to, you have to accept a risk. I understand that Cat’s traumatized by Amadeus’s “seriously you gotta kill me”, but I think taking a Squire under her wing is the right thing for her to do in this instance. It’ll give her control over a very dangerous situation, and SHE WANTS IT LOOK SHE WANTS IT. IT TUGS ALL HER STRINGS. Like… come on. Cat. Just take the gift. It’ll legitimize the shit out of whatever you want to do if you get this new baby Squire doing it.

    4. SQUEEE CAT’S BACKSTORY IS RELEVANT AGAIN

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Shveiran

      With all the reservation stated below, I too really hope she mentors him, yeah. That would be awesome.

      I’m such a sucker for mentor stories with intelligent characters.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. Sinead

      I am not saying that Cat may be over reaching in her paranoia, I still think the hesitance in immediately sweeping Arthur under her wing is fine considering that the issues between her and Hanno arose because Hanno saw her as overstepping her boundaries. Her trying to thread the needle on this is not a bad first step. Hell, I don’t exactly see her not taking Tancred as a protege a mistake because Cat didn’t have a whole lot to teach him about his Role. To me the mistake wasn’t about the not taking him as a mentor (the kid needed to sleep while she did her work), but instead the fact that she let her guard drop in enemy territory.

      I am not saying that jumping directly into a mentorship role doesn’t have it’s risk (and acknowledge the point that Cat’s view of mentorship as a death sentence is from rather brutal scarring from the Praesi system), but immediately calling her hesitance a mistake to me is a bit much.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Sinead

          That’s fair. I had read the arc at the time as “I am a war priest not a mage, you are better off learning from those other than myself” even though there was that monologue of if she stepped into a mentor role. At the time I read it as “I cannot handle your education fairly as well as everything else” as a well reasoned response and missed the symbolic nature of the decision.

          Heck this is a good arc to address the fact that Cat’s experience makes any succession role == death and murder (Squire -> Black Knight, climbing the Tower, etc.)

          Liked by 3 people

  14. Shveiran

    You know, I just love how… brazen EE has made Contrition.

    “LOL, there is a new Named with your old Name in town, he could destroy your legacy simply by being who he is, you can’t mentor him or risk dying, he is one of yours so killing him is a danger in itself, the White Knight can’t mentor him in the middle of a war with fucking Keter or he risks the narrative trap himself, and Hanno is the only one you can keep this house of cards up with, AND ON DAY FUCKING ONE WE ARE GOING TO SEND THE BOY VISIONS TO REFORGE THE MAGIC SWORD OF YOUR FIRST NEMESIS.
    Whose inheritance also happens to be completely at odds with what you are trying to build, from his Good-vs-Evil Eyes to his Racist Toes.”

    I mean, there is being a little shit, and then there is…this.

    Also, I’m really worried about Hakram. It has been said often that prostethics can be hijacked by necromancers, and now he is going to become a cyborg so close to both the Dead King and Catherine.
    I really, really don’t want Catherine to be forced to kill him after he starts moving according to a will not of his own.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I am thoroughly skeptical towards

      1) the idea that the sword reforging is meant to kill Catherine. It feels like a prophecy trap kind of thing, where if Catherine tries to stop it it’ll bite her in the back in the most ironically horrible way Fate can come up with, but if she ignores it and lets what happen happen doing the right thing instead, it’ll pass her by;

      2) the idea that Contrition somehow “engineered” this sequence of events as an actor that can be assigned qualities like “brazen”. It fell into place because there was story room for it, Choirs don’t have agency in that sense and don’t have THAT much influence on new Names forming;

      3) the idea that he somehow endangers Hanno in any way other than literal (same as any other kid hero). Very, VERY different story tracks.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Shveiran

        Isn’t it?
        I think that’s just the branch of magic needed to link artificial limbs to living bodies.
        After all, if making the limb in stone would bypass the issue, why would warlock ever have made a prothesis vulnerable to enemy spellcasters for a Named? Especially one that would be a high priority target for the Truebloods – you know, the guys with a lot of arcane spellcasters on the payroll?

        Like

        1. I don’t think stone would have worked. Hakram is getting a steampunk style prosthetic, it requires high tech of the kind the Arsenal can generate, but Warlock on his own… honestly probably saw no reason to bother to, for some random guy following a kid he disliked in the first place.

          Liked by 4 people

              1. Shveiran

                Yes, and? There were multiple mentions of the necromancers-can-control-artificial-limbs, most notably in Book II. If it never comes up, they are probably better edited out.

                Liked by 1 person

                  1. Sinead

                    Right when he got the hand it was mentioned, but I was always under the impression that coming into his Name nullified the issue as he is Hakram Deadhand. Cannot find the passage where I got that impression though.

                    Book 2 Chapt 11

                    “…The naked bones were just as dextrous as when they’d been hidden under my adjutant’s flesh and muscle, though they were now animated by necromancy instead of more natural means. He got no sensation from the skeleton hand, he’d told me, though he could roughly gauge how much pressure he was putting on something when holding it. I could feel the threads of magic that kept it moving according to his will, feel how they dug into his body and used his soul as fuel to maintain the enchantment. I was fairly sure I could tie my own threads to puppet the bones if I tried, which meant any decent necromancer could likely do the same….”

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. Yup, I also remember it being mentioned ONCE. I also remember the same being mentioned for undead!Cat at Liesse 1 which was super adorable bc she was like “Masego holds my strings BUT WHAT MAKES ME WORRIED IS ANOTHER NECROMANCER COULD TAKE THEM OVER”. Best cousins.

                      Anyway, the third time something similar was brought up – and the time it actually fired – was Cat’s anti-fae soul scaffolding post-Dormer. Masego had warned her that they’re a vulnerability, but Cat forgot about that entirely in her plan against Diabolist and got controlled.

                      That gun has already fired! And I don’t remember any more mentions of prosthetics specifically being a vulnerability to make there be another one.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    2. Shveiran

                      It was also mentioned after the battle of Marchford, where Black and Catherine discussed the issue of her leg.
                      He said that, technically, she could regain full funcionality by cutting of the leg and replacing it with a magical prostethics, but that such an action would carry this risk.

                      Liked by 1 person

            1. Magitec, emphasis on “magic”, the “tec” part mostly referring to the fact the joints can move and hold shape and the like because that’s how the mechanical parts are shaped.

              The magic isn’t necromancy, anyway.

              Liked by 1 person

    2. Frivolous

      I expect that the choirs have zero understanding of tact or timing. That’s for favored humans like Tariq or Hanno to explain to them, and perhaps why favored humans exist, so that the choirs don’t bungle.

      Perhaps Tariq does for the Ophanim what Catherine does for Sve Noc. Maybe he acts as a limit for angelic ambitions and tells them when a plan is foolhardy.

      Clearly it’s foolhardy here. The Hashmallim bungled their approach to Arthur.

      I actually feel pity for the Hashmallim now. Catherine and Masego and Akua are much much more skilled and powerful than they once were.

      If Akua could scheme to capture an angel when she was still Heiress, she and Masego and Catherine can do something absolutely nightmarish to Contrition when they work together. And Masego will happily write a report on it while listening to the sounds of angels screaming in agony.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Darkening

        While yes, they probably have the *capacity* to pull something like that off, I imagine it would be highly alienating to Tariq and a number of other heroes and the other rulers would likely view a captive angel as unhappily as Cat and Levant are viewing Cordelia’s Angel Nuke, so it’s unlikely they’ll go that far.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Frivolous

          First, you might not have to capture an angel to teach it a very painful lesson.

          Masego was present when Anaxares crashed the Seraphim party. He probably took notes.

          Second, would the heroes who are not already tied to Contrition care? Hanno didn’t seem to mind when Catherine cursed at Endurance.

          It’s not like villains care if a demon or a devil gets ganked. I’m not sure heroes have much friendliness towards angels apart from their rare confidants like Hanno and Tariq, and then only towards their patron choir.

          Third, the Liesse Accords only ever mentioned making illegal the bringing angels to Creation. No one ever talked about forbidding the punishing of angels, probably because it was inconceivable.

          Liked by 2 people

  15. ninegardens

    So, aside from everything else, can I just say:

    This is the kind of chapter I read for.
    I get that the war is a thing. That the battle chapters matter, and that chapters like this only WORK between battle chapters…. but the beats of Tired Cat, Tariq conversation, Hakram debriefing, and Arthur (with the dread return of Penitent blade!) is just like, absolute gold.

    I did NOT expect that blade to return. And Tariq is a treasure. I love that he was such an antagonist before, and such an ally now, *and that didn’t happen via changes to his character*. Don’t get me wrong. Tariq grows and evolve (slightly), but I love that him playing different roles in the story is the result of consistent characterization and changing *context*, and that’s cool.

    Liked by 9 people

  16. Burnsy

    I’ve only had this gay heroic squire for one chapter, but already I love him.

    Genuinely, as a queer reader, I really appreciate how often and casually LGBT+ characters just… show up in this story. It’s really refreshing, and honestly ruined a lot of other fantasy for me because… why am I reading this, there’s not even any gay people in it.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Konstantin von Karstein

      Yeah, same for me😏 I am always disappointed when there’s no gay character in a story, EE spoiled us😁

      I really hope he will not be killed in the next chapter, and that he will survive till the end of the book😅

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Gerionar

      Actually I have a hard time finding “normal”, heterosexual couples with traditional gender roles among the cast. Most of the named characters are either single or their partners are never mentioned. This goes double if they are also Named, with good reasons. They have the occasional fling or friends with benefits, but they tend to be rather careful as seen with Cat or Hakram. The other extreme is the asexual love between Indrani and Masego. I think Captain is the only Named we know of who was in a heterosexual marriage, although with reversed roles.
      The side characters often also don’t fit the mold. Masego’s parents were gay. Akua’s parents had reversed roles with her mother being the boss. The other Calamities either had no love life we know of, or, in Malicia’s case, were hinted at to have homosexual preferences.
      Uncle Klaus’s is one of the few examples of a “normal” marriage, although that failed for different reasons. I think Vivian’s parents might fit, as do the parents of the Fisher King. But by now we are pretty far away from the main cast.
      Yet we still assume (and are let to belive) that heterosexual couples and traditional gender roles are the norm in the Guideverse,… at least among the human population. Orcs, goblins, dwarves,… and especially drow are a completely different matter.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ninegardens

        Black and Ranger?
        They aren’t together all the time, but when they are, by the sounds of it they are a classic (dysfunctional) relationship.
        Doesn’t meant Black is “Hetrosexual Classic (TM)”, but still feels like its kinda in the region you’re describing.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Shveiran

        On the other hand, we get so much representation in other media that it feels kind of silly to complain, you know what I mean?
        Besides, there are heterosexual characters: the Rogue Sorcerer, the Kingfisher Prince, the Pilgrim, the Saint of Swords, the Mirror Knight…
        …Uh, that’s a lot of heroes.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Crash

        You’re certainly assuming, but we have not been “led to believe heterosexuality to be the norm”.

        There is no reaction of any kind to people’s sexual preferences, regardless of what they may be. You expect heterosexuality, because that’s the world we live in where that is the “norm”.

        We have no reason to believe this applies to Guideverse.

        Liked by 3 people

  17. Compy

    Its not going to happen but I’d love for buddy boy Squire to become the Grey Knight as he’s permanently caught between trying to do the Righteous White Knight thing and the Actually Achieving Meaningful Goals Black Knight thing. Basically Cat 2.0 I guess.

    Like

  18. Sinead

    I wonder if Arthur could be a leader that helps Callow thread the needle between the knighted nobility of Old Kingdom to the modern system. A thing to keep in mind with this (in my opinion) is that the classic tropes “Knight in Shining Armour” is _true_ in Callow in a way that it never was in history, meaning that there can be seen an actual merit to the system. However, the knight system as it currently stands is at odds with the military doctrine of the Army of Callow. I wonder if it is possible to combine those systems in any way to make something synthesis of the virtues of both systems as far as training goes, if not the path of nobility. Instead Knighthood would be a military equivalent of additional training within the Callowan War College (in my head this comes across as the equivalent of graduate studies which amuses me as much as it saddens me because war is terrible).

    I guess what it comes down to is that I hope that this doesn’t end with Vivienne being deposed or fighting a civil war against nobility and instead you have the resurgence of the Callowan knighthood adapt and embrace some of the changes that has come from the 25 years after the Conquest.

    Basically, I think it would be neat if between Cat, Vivienne, and Arthur, you have the resolution of the issue of Vivienne not having a massive military support that really consolidates the Callowan succession in a way that isn’t just “political marriage” (as those are only symbolic and are relatively weak ties compared to actual cultural changes).

    Another thought that has struck me from the quote of “I am not a heretic” is the fact that there are a few Crow banners within the Callowan legions, and I wonder if the Crows will gain any prominence in Callow as war deities from having the First Under Night as a war leader through the Uncivil Wars* and the (hopefully) Last Crusade.

    *Even if Cat wasn’t First Under Night for the start of these wars, her legend prior to becoming First Under Night made it possible for the Crows to gain prominence in a way that they wouldn’t have in different circumstances

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I mean, right now the knight military doctrine and the Legions military doctrine are working to complement one another in a way that neither could achieve in its own. The Legions very much don’t have their own heavy cavalry, and knights fill that gap.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Sinead

        True, and it could be that just taking a “cavalry forces” approach works well enough. My reasoning for an advance track of the War College is because there is status with knighthood that should be refined through basically putting Knights through officer school to justify in Legion eyes the difference in status within society. Then again, could the structure of the Knight hierarchy be structured as comparable toe Legion structure, nullifying some of the conflicts of two different systems? The knightly orders become the same as a Legion standard, and the differences between the two systems are just the logistics of infantry vs. cavalry.

        Granted, in this case, one would be assigned equipment, not bringing their own, which would break a lot of the influence nobles have over the system.

        I guess what it comes down to in my head is that while I suspect Arthur will in time be a savvy leader and can be trained to stand his own against le influence, his rise to power being military after a generation of war would deepen the damage that Cat’s own freeing of Callow has done to the nation. I honestly feel that Vivienne is the better choice, especially when she has plans to take advantage in the breaks in the political status quo to put in trade deals that could end military conflicts East of the Whitecaps.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I don’t think Arthur’s going to take over the throne unless Catherine and Vivienne fuck up REALLY majorly somehow. What Catherine needs to groom him for is a role as Vivienne’s SECOND.

          He needs to learn from both of them and from the government and military structure they’ve made, so when he gets to really accomplishing his dream he does so intelligently and with mind to context.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Sinead

            Hmmmm, I’ve been writing poorly.

            I don’t really see “Arthur overthrows Vivienne” as a thing that PGtE would do, because I think that really undermines the value of the series. I was more meaning in the sense of a trajectory of such a story taking shape from the pressures of the Nobles.

            What would be interesting if he does become Vivienne’s succesor is that do we not just establish a trend to be the Good aligned version of the Tower, with the idea of the throne of Callow being a meritocracy, not a noble bloodline.

            Cat’s spiritual claim to Callow throne (in the eyes of story) is in part derived from Amadeus’ rule and general use of a meritocracy where he could (as Callow existed under some form of Legion rule). Yes she has other claims from her own successes (as acknowledged imo the best by her interactions with Edward VII), but the basis of her ‘bastard claim’ to the throne starts as being the heir to Amadeus work in Callow, and rising to be his chosen successor.

            If we follow Cat with Vivienne, and potentially Arthur (if he becomes her successor), along with the general culture of meritocracy that will have been placed within Callow over generations, do you start having the role of the Crown as essentially a constitutional monarch? The Accords grows out of a means to restrict Named, and as the birthplace of the concept of the Accords, along with Cat’s own wishes of Non-Named rulers, the Crown of Callow may be more limited than any of the Named crowns of the Age of Wonders.

            Besides, Callow is basically Great Britain anyways, with the Deoraithe being all the Pictish/Celtic occupants before the various invasions.

            Completely random thought I just noticed: the Deoraithe are the mythical Invasion of Ireland in reverse: the Sidhe came in and drove Men out instead of the other way around.

            Liked by 3 people

          2. Frivolous

            Heroes without the correct Role don’t make good rulers. Look at how hard a time Hanno has had with acting as the hero representative for the Truce and Terms. Too many moral and ethical compromises can weaken the connection to Above.

            Arthur might be young enough, and the Name of Squire malleable enough, especially if he gets the aspect of Learn, to adapt to the needs of government work, but it’s an iffy thing.

            Like

            1. You’re putting the cart before the horse.

              People without the correct education and mindset do not make good rulers. People who have not had a history that would give them skills and knowledge necessary for a ruler, do not make good rulers.

              The Role follows from that, not the other way around.

              If Arthur is taught, he’ll learn. What is Name and Role are right now is thoroughly irrelevant except as a hint of how he’ll act about being taught, and what use he’ll put the learning to.

              (One can make a guess about the differences in attitude between a heroic Squire, a Bloody Berserker and a Warlock, for example)

              Out of these, heroic Squire is actually an excellent choice for a future ruler, and apparently one with a lot of precedent: not only is it immediately where Cat’s mind went upon hearling the Name, there was also Akua’s reaction back during First Liesse: she connected the Sword in the Stone with Cat’s Name specifically.

              (Because the Role is about learning from your elders and social responsibility, it makes good material for teaching a kid to rule)

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Frivolous

                My point was that a Good King or a Good Queen might make a good ruler, because their Name and Role allow for the compromises a ruler has to make.

                A White Knight, on the other hand, does not, because a Knight isn’t supposed to rule. Trying to rule could cause what Hanno is now suffering, indecision and the fraying of their Name.

                Also, cart does come before horse sometimes. Anaxares had negative interest in ruling before he became Hierarch.

                Like

                1. What does a White Knight have to do with this? Squire can transition into a ruler Name if that’s where their Role takes them.

                  Also, Eleanor Fairfax had been a Rebel Knight before becoming queen. Is there a categorical difference between White and Rebel here?

                  Liked by 1 person

  19. Daniel E

    Hmm. We now have the Squire, Apprentice, and a mysterious Ranger-type (Silver Huntress) assembled for the Gods Above. However, I am completely at a loss for Above’s equivalent of a novice Adjutant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They would show up in response to serving Arthur… I note that the house of light in Callow had no qualms in pitching conversion to Hakram, so another orc might well have taken up their offer despite the general awkwardness.

      Like

  20. Aotrs Commander

    Incidently, if anyone were to have thought that 20% sounds kind of low for casualties (especially if you play lots of wargames or something…!), I’ll just note that a 50% casualty rate was so rare in history as to be marked as a catastropic defeat, like Battle of Cannae or 1st-day-Somme bad. 20%, then, is Pretty Bad.

    Though as, Cat says, having so few non-fatal casualties (which normally outnumber the fatal ones) is a stunning achievement for the Legions of Terror.

    Liked by 4 people

  21. Pulling together some of my comments at the top level:

    1) Arthur? Yeah, that’s a little on-the-nose there.

    2) The Name-dreams are not necessarily coming from Contrition as such — for Cat and Black, they acted more like an automatic function of Plot Mechanics. Pulling a sword out of lakes might just be the closest story-match available, so that’s what the dreams focus on.

    However, as it happens, there is another sword available for Arthur, namely King Edward’s! Indeed, that’s currently a lot closer than the Penitent’s Blade, and won’t require reassembly. Arthur happens to be in Twilight already, but even if he doesn’t pick it up this trip, he’s with an army that’s likely to come back here again.

    3) Aside from the chance of Hanno transitioning to another Name (given he’s already in crisis), that business about “Squires always become the White Knight or Black Knight” was received wisdom from the past — and Cat has already been carving new grooves, indeed nearly developing a science of doing so (not to mention picking up massive story-fu powers).

    Gray Knight might not be happening, but if Cat exerts herself and/or young Arthur learns some story-fu of his own, I could easily believe Shining Knight.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. nimelennar

    Since no one has brought this up yet, we have another term relevant to chess in the title of the chapter.

    A “solved game” is one where, assuming both players play perfectly, you know the outcome before the game starts. For instance, Tic-Tac-Toe is a solved game, because if both players play perfectly, it will always end in a draw.

    Chess, from the starting position, is not a solved game. There is a debate about whether it ever will be; although the “position repeated three times” rule and the “50 moves without capturing a pawn” rules for declaring a draw ensure that there are a finite number of possible games of chess, it is a ridiculously high finite number.

    However, when you get down from the original 32 pieces to no more than 7, all possible endgames have been solved. You can look at a board with seven pieces on it, and know who will win (or if the game will end in a draw), if both sides play perfectly. Or, at least, you can look that board up in an endgame database and find out.

    As for why this is relevant to the story… Cat just lost a lot of people, and the Dead King is being forced to make a move. Enough pieces have been removed that the end is conceivably knowable at this point, if someone could see the entire board.

    Liked by 1 person

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