Grand

“The reed survives the storm, but only in the shadow of the oak.”

– Proceran saying

Princess Adeline’s hospitality had been flawless, but it was still with some irritation that Cordelia left the grounds of her Salian estate. Neither the wine nor an exquisite rack of lamb had loosened the Princess of Orne’s tongue enough for her to reveal where she stood on the matter of the provisional superintendence. The other woman had greatly risen in influence in the east since the disgrace of House Odon of Bayeux during the coup had ended the family’s former prominence. Her position was further strengthened by the unspoken truth that Princess Adeline was Rozala Malanza’s voice in Salia, which have her some draw over the other members of Princess Rozala’s bloc in the Highest Assembly. That she’d been noncommittal at dinner was not promising.

Riding briskly through the darkened streets of the capital, the First Prince of Procer mulled over the issue as her escort swept ahead to clear the way. She had spent a great deal of goodwill forcing through the measures that had bought the help of the Titanomachy, but not so much that she should be seeing opposition for opposition’s sake at the moment. Considering that Rozala and her followers were usually broadly in support of motions that would secure further funding for the war effort – as granting the office of First Prince the right to appointed superintendents to temporarily supervise the princely collection of taxes doubtlessly would – the hesitation must be coming from the perspective that having such a right would grant Cordelia herself too much power.

Perhaps a compromise could be arranged, the fair-haired prince mused. One of Malanza’s supporters appointed to the head of that newly founded office, and a motion in the Highest Assembly legally binding the measure to the end of the war against Keter? There was some shouting ahead and Cordelia spurred on her mare, only good manners keeping a frown away from her face. Four of her personal guards were arguing with what looked like an officer of the Salian city guard, tones rising. The First Prince approached, dismissing the young guard who tried to argue that it was all being handled, and reined in her mount just in time to hear the source of the argument.

“- coming back from a ceremony under House auspices, I can’t let you disperse them,” the Salian officer was heatedly saying. “You’ll have to go around.”

“Do you quite understand exactly who it is you’re speaking to?” Captain Anton flatly replied.

It would be good for her reputation to give way to the commons if nothing else, Cordelia thought, and painted a soft smile on her face as – the only warning was the glint of torchlight on steel, behind the shutters. Without a single word of warning the three shutters on the house to her left were torn down, clearing the way for crossbows that promptly fired. She threw herself back, so that her horse might take the bolts instead, but her reaction had been too slow and… A pale red blade carved through the air with a whistle, the Swaggering Duellist cutting down the projectiles with impossible swiftness. Landing poorly on her elbow, Cordelia still had enough of her wits about her to keep her voice calm as she gave her orders.

“Catch them,” the First Prince of Procer said. “Alive.”

 Agnes had been right, Cordelia Hasenbach grimly thought. They had finally learned to get around her foresight.

“Two of them swallowed poison,” Louis de Sartrons, head of the Circle of Thorns, calmly said. “The third man knew little, even when put to sharp question, but we confirmed his identity. His husband was arrested, we will see if there is more to be learned.”

Cordelia slowly nodded, sipping at her lemon water. Uncle Klaus would have teased her for not even reaching for a proper bottle after a brush with death, if he still spoke to her at all.

“Praes?” she simply asked.

“It was a sloppy operation, by the standards of the Eyes, but I will not dismiss the notion,” the skeletal old man said. “We gutted their ability to operate in the Principate after the coup, it could be a reflection of that diminished ability.”

The Prince of Rhenia prided herself in her ability to read others, and though Louis de Sartrons had always been a difficult one – as was only befitting of one of three great spymasters of Procer – in this particular instance his thoughts were not deeply hidden.

“You do not believe that,” Cordelia said.

“It might have been Praesi crossbows used, but the Silver Letters got their hands on some stock after the Black Knight was captured,” the older man said. “Some leftover rebellious elements seem a more likely culprit to me, though they will have a backer.”

A Proceran backer, he left unsaid, and that meant a crown. The finest of her spymasters believed that someone in the Highest Assembly was trying to kill her. The blonde Lycaonese hid her dismay by sipping at her lemon water once more. Even now? Gods, even now? She snuffed out the anger that rose before it could turn into something uglier, something dangerous. Cordelia set down the cup, mistress of her own mood once more.

“Keep me informed,” the First Prince said. “That aside, the original reason for this meeting still applies. You have word from the League?”

Louis de Sartrons, thin as a stick and balding, spent a moment watching her before finally his lips quirked.

“Indeed,” he said. “The Magisterium of Stygia is reaching out to us through informal means. They are interested in the Grand Alliance, and Procer in particular, brokering peace in the region.”

Of course there are, Cordelia thought. Were she a less courteous woman, she would allowed herself a nasty little smile. General Basilia, fresh off her success in installing Princess Zenobia as ruler of Nicae, had negotiated a truce with the rulers of Atalante and with her northern flank clear had begun to march into Stygian territory. She’d not even waited for the Magisterium to declare war on her, catching them by surprise, and several of the small cities that Stygia and Nicae regularly fought to rule over had immediately rebelled at the news. The chaos had the magisters unnerved, and rumor had it that Delos was not only disinclined to help but looking at snatching a few border territories for itself.

The Secretariat, for all its scholarly reputation, was just as opportunistically cutthroat as the other rulers of the Free Cities.

“Allow me to guess,” Cordelia airily said. “We must help them, lest wicked Basilia take all of the Free Cities, and they will offer a few concessions to sweeten the bargain.”

“They offer to break ties with Dread Empress Malicia,” Louis de Sartrons replied, sounding faintly amused. “And not to make offensive war for twenty-five years following the peace, save for the four thousand soldiers they would lend to the Grand Alliance for war against Keter. The usual bribes and gifts were added, of course, as it their way.”

In other words, the Magisterium wanted to hide behind a treaty for a quarter century as its rivals returned to warring against each other and wanted to buy this at the cheap price of abandoning an ailing ally and sending the oldest of their slave phalanx to die up north instead of disposing of the aging soldiers themselves.

“Put them off,” Cordelia ordered.

It was tempting to try to make a bargain while the alliance they backed – Basilia and Zenobia – was on the rise and before it dissolved into backstabbing as most Free Cities alliances did, but it would be a mistake. If Stygia lost a battle or two on the field as well as a deeper cut of territory, it would offer much better terms. Besides, the First Prince would not intervene too deeply in the region without first holding council with the Queen of Callow. General Basilia was under Catherine Foundling’s patronage, containing her without the Black Queen’s assent would be… indelicate.

“I will see to it, Your Most Serene Highness,” the spymaster replied. “As for Mercantis, we have confirmed that Merchant Prince Mauricius is taking bribes from the Tower.”

Cordelia’s teeth clenched, though she hid it. Bribes, so that he might help along the end of the world? The utter selfish madness of that was infuriating. What good would gold do when the Dead King was at the gates of Mercantis? Did Mauritius believe he’d be able to buy a peace with death?

“He is not their man, however,” Louis de Sartrons noted. “We intercepted some communications of the Eyes, and it seems that Malicia is rather displeased that he is taking the coin without delivering on what is asked. Though the man remains untrustworthy, Your Highness, I believe that his intent is to play us against Praes and enrich himself as much as possible in the process.”

Which, while morally repellent in every war, was something that the First Prince could work with. Procer was already deeply in debt, but Cordelia had been gathering resources for this very eventuality. Artworks, artefacts, ancient treasures that her predecessors had filled palaces with. There would be talk in the Highest Assembly at a Lycaonese like her ‘pawning off’ the wonders of her southern precursors, but let them talk. If it kept the Principate afloat, she was not above allowing the edges of her reputation to be tarred.

“Find out the price,” the First Prince of Procer evenly said. “But pass word along to the Painted Knife: she now has free rein to hunt Praesi agents in Mercantis as she wishes.”

The City of Bought and Sold could do with a reminder that the Grand Alliance had teeth of its own. Cordelia drank the last of her lemon water, slowly so that the angle of her arm would never be boorish, and allowed herself a long breath as she set the cup down. Tired as she was, there was more yet to do.

There was always more to do.

It was embarrassing for Cordelia to be forced to mediate in the matter, not because her authority had been called on but rather because the dispute involved one of her closest allies.

Prince Renato Braganzo of Salamans, who had followed his brother into being one of her partisans and bared sword in her defence during the botched coup. The mustachioed Prince of Salamans had been painstakingly polite since he had been invited to sit but could not quite his anger for the man across the table. Prince Salazar Arazola of Valencis, eldest child of Princess Leonor and her successor since her abdication at the Princes’ Graveyard. The young man was more aggressive than his mother had been – Leonor had been careful never too lean too closely the way of the First Prince or her opposition – but he’d also signaled an open mind to aligning himself more closely to Cordelia’s politics than she’d been willing to entertain.

Which made it all the more unfortunate that the two princes were one the edge of open war.

“There isn’t a noble south of Cantal that doesn’t know the Bonito Finales are in the service of the Arazola,” Prince Renato bit out.

“The crown of Valencis holds no such contract, as I have told you more than once,” Prince Salazar evenly replied. “Further accusations, Prince Renato, would be a matter of honour.”

Renato was a seven-sun duellist, from what Cordelia recalled, but while Salazar might still be on his fourth sun he was a reputation as a sharp sword and his lesser rank was rumoured to come largely from his lack of formal matches. The First Prince had been following the dispute long before it reached her seat of power, the Silver Letters – temporarily under the authority of Louis de Sartrons, making him the most powerful spymaster in the history of the Principate – having tried to ferret out the truth of the claims made on each side. Prince Renato was understandably furious because a dozen towns in western Salamans had been extorted by a fantassin company, the Bonito Finales, who had even dared to sack a town when it refused to ‘pay extraordinary taxes’.

Said company had been in the pay of the House of Arazola for decades but never formally, as it was used largely for strikes at its Valencis’ neighbours that the princes of Valencis did not want publicly tied to them. It was an open secret in Arlesite lands who the Bonito Finales answered to, however, which meant that though difficult to prove by legal means Prince Renato’s anger was well-founded.

The trouble was that, according to the Silver Letters, Prince Salazar had not ordered the mercenaries to attack Salamans. The fantassins had not been paid in six months, which Cordelia’s agents believed to be the reason they’d taken to extorting towns. Prince Salazar, however, could not admit as much without also admitting to House Arazola having attacked its neighbours for decades with the Bonito Finales. With the younger man’s hold on his throne still shaky and his treasury near empty, admitting to that was the kind of mistake that would see him overthrown by an ambitious cadet branch of the Arazola. Worse, Prince Renato had sent some of his horse too unseasoned to campaigned against the dead at the border of the principalities and done some provocative forays into northeastern Valencis as a sharp warning. No skirmished had ensued for now, but Cordelia knew it was only a matter of time if this kept up.

“I am sure His Grace only meant to express frustration at the raiding on his lands, Prince Salazar, not to impugn your honour,” the First Prince warmly smiled. “No doubt you would be just as incensed had a Valencian town been sacked, as any worthy prince would.”

The young man eyed her warily but slowly nodded. Good, Cordelia thought. So long as Salazar recognized that extorted tribute could be repaid but a sacked town was a much starker offence, this could be salvaged. People had died, but the First Prince must ensure than this conversation would not end in a way that made the number swell.

“These… animals came from the south,” Prince Renato said. “From Valencis. Do you deny that too, Your Grace?”

“These are troubled times,” the Prince of Valencis replied. “Neither roads nor countryside are settled. If bandits passed through my lands I offer my apologies, but who is to say if this is true? They could have come through Aequitan instead. Princess Rozala took much of her soldiery north, her holdings have grown turbulent.”

So had everyone else’s, Cordelia knew. With so few armed men remaining in the southern principalities and such heavy burdens being forced onto the people, an increasing amount of commoners preferred to riot or turn bandit rather than let themselves be squeezed any further. And though Salazar might think himself clever, trying to push the blame onto Princess Rozala – a common adversary to Cordelia and Prince Renato – he had blundered. The Prince of Salamans reddened at the sight of what would seem to him the younger royal trying to slither out of paying for his crimes, and the First Prince simply could not allow one of her finest generals to be troubled over a matter to which she had no real relation.

Besides, the backdraft in the people’s opinion should Rozala be recalled or condemned over something like this would be… severe.  Her popularity had only risen since her stunning victory at Trifelin.

“One cannot bring such an issue to trial before the Assembly without evidence,” Cordelia said, her tone a warning to the furious Renato. “Though I expect, Prince Salazar, that you understand hosting such reprobates would be worthy of censure.”

It would not be treason, not even under the terms of Cordelia’s yet-to-be-repealed crusade authorities, but it would represent a failure of a prince’s sworn duty to ensure the safety of the lands he ruled over. To depose a prince over something of this sort was not a precedent anyone would want to set, given that every principality deal with banditry to some extent, but censure would pass without trouble given that it was a largely symbolic measure. Or would be, the First Prince knew, were Prince Salazar’s hold on his throne secure. A censure would do just as well as a confession of misdeeds, for the ambitious cousins of the Prince of Valencis seeking a pretext for overthrow.

“Of course,” the young man replied, bowing his head. “I would not tolerate the presence of murderers in Valencis.”

Cordelia smiled pleasantly, knowing she’d led him to stand where she needed him to. Should the Silver Letters come through, as Louis de Sartons believed they soon would, then this could be settled neatly. Presently, however, Prince Renato looked on the verge of speaking in ager. Best to end this before he could. The First Prince elegantly wielded her precedence over the two in etiquette to prevent them from directly addressing each other until she called the conversation to an end, hinting at Salazar that he should depart first. Perhaps sensing he had made a misstep, the young prince followed the unspoken suggestion and left her to speak with Prince Renato a little longer. The older man calmed, after being offered a second cup of tea, but the anger was still in him.

“I will not let almost a hundred deaths go unanswered, Your Most Serene Highness,” the Prince of Salamans told her. “Justice must be had.”

“And it will be, rest assured of that,” Cordelia calmly replied. “War, however, would be disastrous.”

“I dare not recall my riders until those mercenaries are hanging from gallows,” Prince Renato replied, a tad coldly.

“I would ask no such thing,” Cordelia smiled. “It seems unwise, however, for them to continue their forays into Valencis. They only serve to warn the bandits of their arrival, making the coming hunt more difficult.”

The mustachioed prince, for all that in some ways he was more openly emotional than most Arlesite royalty, was no fool. He grasped the message she had sent: that there would, in fact, be a hunt.

“Perhaps there is truth to what you say,” the Prince of Salamans reluctantly said, then sighed. “You have been a true friend to the House of Bragzanzo, Your Highness, and so I will take you to your word. The order will be sent.”

“You have my thanks,” the First Prince said, inclining her head. “I understand the trust that has been extended.”

The older man looked faintly rueful.

“Then allow me to offer words on wisdom as well, Your Highness,” Prince Renato said. “The opposition to the matter of provisional superintendence you mean to bring to a vote in the Assembly runs perhaps deeper than you know.”

Cordelia maintained her calm with great effort, face betraying nothing. Her silence invited elaboration.

“I have been approached,” the Prince of Salamans said, “by other sitters of the Highest Assembly. Concerns were expressed as to the power such a measure, even if temporary, would concentrate in the office of First Prince.”

The fair-haired prince did not bother to note that the measure could be enshrined by law as limited in length, knowing the objection went deeper: it was the precedent that her fellow princes were uncomfortable with. They saw it, she suspected, as the first step towards making her office as a queenship over Procer. Power granted in a crisis could be granted anew, with lesser pretexts, or simply never set down at all. The worst of them would be the most scared, she thought. Those who had been underreporting the taxes due to high throne for years, if not decades, and were now afraid that their crimes would come back to haunt them.

As if Cordelia wanted to start a civil war in the middle of a struggle for the Principate’s very existence, as if she did not simply want the princes and princess of Procer to simply obey the laws they had agreed to. The surge of fury kept her from speaking for a few long moments, revealing more than she would have wished. The other prince looked, she thought, almost sympathetic.

“No doubt there is truth to what you say,” Cordelia Hasenbach echoed, her smile a careful artifice.

Once she knew the right questions to ask, answers came in battalions.

It was a conspiracy, but not the kind that Cordelia was used to breaking. It was not the old politics of the Highest Assembly, the tiresome but predictable factionalism that came of jostling for prominence in that hall, but an altogether older game. It was fear not of the implacable for in the distant north but of the very high throne she sat, of what it meant. Her reforms, though passed into law by vote after vote, had stoked that fear to new heights and it had spread like a sickness to even people she had considered close allies. Princess Isabelle of Tenerife, a steady supporter since her ascension, had turned on her. So had Sophie’s younger brother in Lyonis, even as he swore by letters to follow his abdicated sister’s old friendships.

Orense, Arans, Bayeux – so much for Arsene Odon returning the mercy she’d shown him in the wake of the coup – Segovia, Cleves and finally Orne, the very same Princess Adeline who’d hosted her on the night where assassins had struck. Adeline was, her spymaster believed, if not the leader of the conspiracy then at the very least its most influential member.

“It is a large bloc,” Louis de Sartrons said, “but not large enough to defeat a motion in the Assembly you might put forward.”

“It is,” Cordelia replied, shaking her head. “While I have patronized most of the fresh sitters in the Assembly, they will not remain under my guidance forever. When an opposition bloc this large is unveiled, it is certain to draw in some of them.”

If nothing else, some of the crowns in her debt would seek to free themselves of her influence by aligning with her opponents. Worse, the moment she no longer had a clear majority in votes several of her looser allies would reconsider lending their own. The Lycaonese vote was solid, as were Brus and Salamans, but aside from that perhaps the only one she could rely on if hard-pressed was the Princess of Creusens.

“You are certain that Rozala Malanza has no role in this?” Cordelia asked, indulging in a rare instance of repeating a question already asked.

“We have personal letters of Princess Adeline specifying that she was not to be informed,” the spymaster said. “It appears to be the Princess of Orne’s own initiative, and she believes that Malanza would not react amenably.”

Cordelia dismissed the older man, needing to be alone with her thoughts. The nights of Salia had warmed, allowing her to have her windows opened for the breeze to whisper through, and the First Prince of Procer leaned against the windowsill as she looked out at the city below. When had Princess Isabella turned, she wondered? Had it been forcing Gaspard Langevin to abdicate for scheming to betray their allies in the middle of a war that had done it? Or perhaps evern earlier, the decree that’d obligated every prince to make the sum of their debts and the identity of their debtors known – a necessity, if Cordelia was to bargain with Mercantis for the realm. It could have been the Principate-wide restrictions on exported metals, the ordained sale of all grain reserves beyond a certain amount to the high throne, the tax of on the sale of any warhorses sold outside the war effort or even the repeal of the ancient ban on silver from the Dominion being allowed into legal Proceran coinage.

Necessary measures, Cordelia had argued before the Assembly, and always they had agreed.

And now nearly a third of that same Assembly was scheming to defeat her proposal for superintendence, even now reaching out for support among her own allies. It was not a negotiation that Princess Adeline was attempting, that much was clear: the numbers she’d already gathered would have been enough for Cordelia to take her seriously, for a genuine attempt at a compromise over terms to be made. The Princess of Orne wanted her to lose a formal vote on the floor of the Highest Assembly for the first time since the failed coup, a stinging and public rebuke.

“Was I truly so much of a tyrant, Adeline Sauveterre, that you could not even attempt words?” Cordelia murmured.

And she had been careful, so very careful, not to step on toes beyond what survival demanded. For every decree passed Cordelia Hasenbach had set three aside, never brought them to light out of a desire to avoid being seen as taking advantage of the crisis to push through her reforms. Many would have helped, cut away some of the many tumorous growths the Principate had accrued over centuries of venality and corruption, but the First Prince had chosen to use her influence only sparingly. Gods Above, she had fought the White Knight and bargained with the Black Queen to preserve the rights of the same royals now sharpening knives for her back. Had she truly been so domineering that this should be seen as earned, as courted?

Cordelia placed a hand over her heart, where the last words her cousin would every write her stayed with her. How many of her kin, of her people, had she sacrificed for the preservation of the Principate of Procer?

Enough, Cordelia Hasenbach thought.

The First Prince sent for the same spymaster she had dismissed, as she had orders to give.

Prince Salazar was smiling, expectant. He had reached out through intermediaries to inform the Silver Letters of the same conspiracy that Prince Renato had told her of days ago, adding that it had approached him. No doubt he expected his support was about to be bought with a resolution of the dispute in his favour. Cordelia instead had her attendant – Léonie, today – present him with three parchment sheaths.

“A gift, Your Highness?” the Prince of Valencis gamely asked.

“In a manner of speaking,” Cordelia replied. “Two of these are transcriptions of letters your mother exchanged with Captain Raoul of the Bonito Finales, regarding raids into Aequitan and Salamans that were undertaken at her explicit order.”

The young prince went very, very still.

“Fakes,” Prince Salazar hotly said.

“The signature is an assumed name, but the handwriting is hers,” Cordelia said. “Your cousin, Lady Francisca, has attested to this by oath sworn under the auspices of the House of Light.”

“A transparent plot to ruin my good name, surely Your Highness can see this,” the Prince of Valencis tensely replied.

“The third,” Cordelia said, “is a letter you will receive by noon from a captain in your service, reporting that he has found the same company holed up in the town of Salanera. Near the border with Aequitan, I believe. They appear to be in collusion the ruling lord, having bought his friendship with a cut of the loot from Salamans.”

The young prince paled. This was, they now both understood, not a negotiation. It never had been.

“Your principality troops will join those of Prince Renato in capturing these bandits,” Cordelia said. “The crown of Valencis will offer appropriate reparations to the crown of Salamans for the extortion and the sacked town, which took place due to its negligence. It will also send the ruling lord of Salanera to Prince Renato so that he might be tried in the royal court as accomplice to all these deeds.”

Prince Salazar’s brow creased ever so slightly as the younger ruler grasped that he was not going to be personally being attainted for any of this. That no mention of his mother’s letters had been made. Cordelia pleasantly smiled.

“I understand you were approached for an alliance by interested parties,” the First Prince said.

“I have, it seems, already chosen my side,” Prince Salazar said, a tad drily.

“So you have,” Cordelia evenly replied. “Accept it regardless.”

The Prince of Salamans was no Arnaud Brogloise, monstrously ruthless in the service of the greater good of the Principate, but he would serve her purposes regardless.

“What a lark that will be,” the prince sighed, accepting the brisk turn of the Ebb with some grace. “And what I am to uncover your behalf, Your Highness?”

“Do you know, Your Grace, what the legal definition of warfare is according to our laws?” Cordelia asked.

Prince Salazar cocked an eyebrow. It was elementary knowledge, to a prince.

“Action undertaken on behalf of a crown that meets the requirements of violence, trespass and righteousness,” he said.

“Indeed,” the First Prince said. “That is, at least, one of them.”

“I do not follow your meaning,” Prince Salazar admitted.

“This definition came after the reforms that followed the teachings of Sister Salienta,” Cordelia said. “The powers granted to the office of First Prince in time of crusade were determined much earlier in the history of the Principate, and so function under an earlier legal definition of warfare.”

Proving this beyond dispute had been difficult, but then the First Prince did have a particularly skilled Librarian at hand. The fair-haired princess amiably smiled.

“You are to find me treason, Prince Salazar,” she said, “that does not know what it is.”

“Prince Florimont Langevin,” Louis de Sartons said.

The name echoed in the silence of the parlour. The Prince of Cleves, it seemed, had not forgiven the forced abdication of his father. That it had been made necessary by a nearly disastrous bout of stupidity that had not only embarrassed the Principate and burned goodwill with some of its most important allies but also nearly drawn in Chosen into Proceran territorial disputes was evidently of little importance. It must be, else why else would the son of Gaspard Langevin not only join Princess Adeline’s alliance but go even a step further and even attempt Cordelia’s assassination?

“He was approached by the last vestiges of the rebellious Silver Letters, not the other way around, but he appears to have embraced the opportunity eagerly,” the spymaster continued.

Prince Florimont had been busier than Cordelia ever knew, it seemed. She had wondered at his lingering in the capital even after the Highest Assembly confirmed him as Prince of Cleves, but believed it to be mere courting of a place as one of Rozala Malanza’s followers through Princess Adeline. What an ambitious young man he had turned out to be.

“Do we have proof?” Cordelia asked.

“Enough to stain his reputation, should we release it,” the skeletal old man said. “Nothing that would sway the Highest Assembly, however. It is all circumstantial, or lesser proof.”

Nothing material and evident, the last meant, or testimony only by individuals who could not take an oath under House auspices – because of past criminal offences, contradicting oaths or possession of magic. It was a dark irony, Cordelia considered, that the last of these three was an injustice she had several times restrained herself from undoing because she’d believed it would have caused too strong a resentment in the Highest Assembly. Neither just nor unjust, she had instead straddled the line and reaped only the worst of what she had sown. A lesson, the First Prince of Procer thought, that was worth learning.

“Reputation is not enough,” Cordelia said.

“I assure you, what we have is suggestive enough the House of Langevin would be made into pariahs,” Louis de Sartons said. “They would be stripped of all allies.”

“Arsene Odon was without allies, after the coup,” Cordelia said. “And now here he is again, dogging my footsteps as part of the conspiracy of Princess Adeline.”

“You spared Clotilde of Aisne as well, and she has held true,” the spymaster noted.

Ah, Cordelia thought, but for how long will she hold?

“Florimont Langevin is not cut of the same cloth as she,” Cordelia said. “You know this to be true. To corner him and let him stew in his resentment would be recklessly neglectful.”

Louis de Sartrons studied her for a long moment, eyes shadowed.

“A decision of sone weight,” the spymaster said.

“It can be done?” Cordelia asked.

“It can,” the old man said. “Should it?”

She met his gaze, unblinking.

“If you remain of the same mind on the morrow,” he finally said, “then I will obey. Yet I request, humbly, that you reflect on this. It is not an order that should lightly be given.”

He took his leave soon after, leaving her to her thoughts. Cordelia had duties she ought to see to, her hours never empty, but instead she had her maids fetch her a shawl and headed for the garden. It was a pleasant enough night out, though not so warm that the First Prince would have gone without the shawl, but that mattered little to Agnes Hasenbach. She wore a long pale dress, already stained from grass and dirt, and the sensible shoes that Cordelia had gotten her last winter solstice. She was also seemingly lost in thought, seated on her favourite bench and looking up at the stars. Cordelia sat by her cousin’s side, letting the silence stretch out.

It was almost restful, to be with someone who required nothing of her.

The Augur emerged from her thoughts after a long while, that short bob of blond hair turning in startlement when she realized she had company. Agnes’ eyes – Hasenbach blue, cold and clear – were confused for a few heartbeats, until her mind returned to the here and the now.

“It is taking longer than it once did,” Cordelia quietly said.

Her cousin sighed.

“Snow falls, rivers flow,” Agnes Hasenbach simply said.

An old saying of their people, warning that rage against the inevitable was wasted breath.

“I have favours that could be called on,” Cordelia murmured, “among Chosen and Damned alike.”

And those that she had not traded with, she could be introduced to. Neither the White Knight nor the Black Queen would be the kind to refuse her this sort of boon.

“It avails us nothing,” Agnes said, sounding surprised they’d not already had that conversation. “It only… ah, it is not winter yet?”

“No,” Cordelia gently said. “It is not.”

“I was following far threads,” Agnes said. “In the south. They grow clearer now, fates are precipitating.”

There was a beat of silence.

“Did you come to ask about Hainaut?” her cousin asked. “It is only light, Cordelia. Blinding. It does not change.”

The First Prince of Procer smiled, the first time today the gesture felt genuine.

“I had though to ask you for advice, in truth,” Cordelia admitted.

“Owls are gossips,” Agnes helpfully replied, “but you can trust a pigeon, so long as it is well-fed. Those of Salia are very nosy, but they do not spread the secrets.”

It was unfortunate that only Agnes seemed able to speak with birds in such a manner, as the blonde princess suspected that pigeons would be staggeringly successful spies should they be put to work. Some of Cordelia’s peers seemed to favour friendships with martial Chosen and Damned, but to her this was frank stupidity: the most useful of such souls in her service was the Forgetful Librarian, who while barely able to use cutlery instead brought to the table the ability to see through ever single correspondence cipher under the sun. Her own spymaster had broached the subject of permanent employment there, and she was inclined to agree.

“There is a choice that must be made,” Cordelia told her cousin. “And I do not know the face of the right answer, should there even be one.”

Agnes studied her a moment.

“This is not a question for the Augur,” she finally said.

“No,” Cordelia quietly agreed.

It was a question for one of the last people in this world she could trust with her thoughts.

“I do not know of Ebb and Flow,” Agnes hesitantly said. “We never learned, any of us. There was always you for it. It was a relief, that it could all be entrusted to you.”

“I sometimes wonder how much I truly learned, Agnes,” Cordelia said. “Every mercy I give is repaid with treachery, every striving for reform met with sullen resentment. It is not that I am unskilled at this game, I know better than that. I simply seems…”

She bit her lip.

“As if, sometimes, I am the only one in that hall that sees Procer as in need of mending,” Cordelia said.

“The Assembly changes too quickly,” Agnes muttered. “Gives me headaches.”

Even odds, the Prince of Rhenia mused, whether she meant their futures or simply their names.

“But when I make choices,” Agnes quietly continued, “I have a rite.”

Cordelia’s smiled eased, and she met her cousin’s eyes seriously.  Agnes nodded, satisfied.

“I make myself remember who I am,” the Augur said. “Where I am, when. And then I ask myself what it is I want.”

And Cordelia’s heart broke a little bit for the cousin she’d known since they were both but girls, for the way her expression wavered when she admitted she so often forgot all these things. But she would take it seriously, the First Prince told herself. She closed her eyes, breathing out. She knew who she was, for it might as well have been branded into her soul Cordelia Hasenbach, First Prince of Procer, Princess of Salia and Prince of Rhenia, Warden of the West and Protector of the Realms of Man. She sat here in Salia, the heart of the Principate, as the realm faced the coming of the end times. Knowing all this, embracing it, what did she want? Survival, for Procer and for herself, but that was not a want so much as a need. She dug deeper.

“I want to make Procer what it should be,” Cordelia Hasenbach quietly said. “What we promise the world it is, only to so utterly fail.”

Agnes nodded, eyes already half-gone.

“Then you know,” the Augur said, “the choice you must make.”

She turned to look at the sky again, going silent, and Cordelia breathed out shallowly.

So she did.

The timing had to be particular so that the proper effect would be achieved. The session for the vote on the provisory superintendence was called at the end of the month, as had been announced, but in the few hours that preceded the royals or the representatives setting foot in the Chamber of Assembly a few events took place in quick succession.

First, as she participated in the charitable distribution of bread to the impoverished people of the Silenin neighbourhood the First Prince of Procer was shot by a crossbow in broad daylight.

Second, Prince Florimont Langevin of Cleves took a crossbow bolt through the back of the head as returned from a visit to an upscale brothel.

Before the hour had passed Salia was a city-wide riot. The Dread Empire was blamed, but there was talk of there being traitors in the Highest Assembly that had helped the easterners. “Too Many Cooks” was heard sung in the streets shortly before cobblestones and rotten fruit were thrown at the mansion belonging to the Prince of Bayeux, though Arsene Odon was far from the capital.

Third, formal messengers were sent to every royal and assermenté in the city to confirm that the First Prince lived and the session of the Assembly would still be held.

Fourth, a mere hour before the session was to be held every member of Princess Adeline’s conspiracy save the princess herself received two scrolls. One held evidence for the dealings of Florimont Langevin relating to an assassination attempt. The other laid out the legal case for treason committed by Adeline Sauveterre.

Fifth, the Pilfering Dicer was tasked with stealing the luck of one woman in particular until misfortune plagued her like fleas might a dog.

And so when the First Prince of Procer entered the Chamber of Assembly, her torso bandaged more for effect than out of need, it was to silence. Every whisper had died the moment she came into the hall. There was still one of them missing, for Princess Adeline of Orne had been unfortunately delayed after she was thrown by her horse, but the session began without her.

“As First Prince of Procer,” Cordelia Hasenbach said, “I declare that every vote held this evening will be entered into the formal public record.”

It was the Alamans here who first understood the threat, not her own countrymen or the Arlesites. It had always been the people of the lakes, of the heartlands of Procer, who best understood the weight the opinions of the people carried. It fell into place, after that, one stroke at a time. Prince Salazar of Valencis brought forth the accusation of treason against Princess Adeline, making the faces of more than a few conspirators pale in dread. Evidence was brought out, mere technicalities – movement of troops through the territory of another prince without explicit permission, an act of war under ancient laws, and the hiring away of fantassins already in the service of another without reparations being offered – but enough that the legal requirements were met.

These were, every soul in this room understood, almost laughable charges. Only a First Prince with unshakable support in the Highest Assembly, with power and influence at their zenith, might feasibly attempt such a transparent ploy without being run out of the Chamber. And still, after the evidence was laid out, only silence followed. And in that silence the howls of the people echoed loudly, the riots that had yet to end. Cordelia Hasenbach watched the Highest Assembly with cold eyes. Which of you, she asked them silently, wants to be known to the mob as the traitor that helped shelter treason? Which of you wants to be known on every whisper as the Praesi hireling, as the turncoat that bickered with the First Prince of Procer while her breast was still bloodied?

Princess Adeline of Orne stormed into the Chamber but moments later, unannounced by heralds, but before she could so much as speak a word Cordelia Hasenbach addressed the Highest Assembly.

“I now call for the vote on the charges of treason laid against Adeline Sauveterre, Princess of Orne,” the First Prince calmly said, voice echoing across the hall.

One after another the votes came, and Adeline went from mocking to defiant to deflated and finally to shaking. Falling on her knees. She was condemned unanimously.

“See her out,” Cordelia ordered the guards.

She called the vote on the provisional superintendence, then, and after not a word of debate it passed unanimously. She saw then in their eyes the belief that it was done, that they were free of this drumming. Cordelia Hasenbach did not free them. Instead she called for a vote on the repeal of the law preventing magicians from taking oaths under the auspices of the House of Light.

By midnight, she had passed every single reform she had ever wanted to pass.

They would unseat her for this, in time, but what of it?

Cordelia Hasenbach knew exactly who she was, and what it was she wanted.

75 thoughts on “Grand

    1. Dathrax

      Looks like Warden of the West is going to be a Villain name. While Heroes fulfill the desires of the Gods Above, Villains fulfill their own desires with the ‘aid’ of the Fods Below

      Liked by 4 people

        1. luuuma7

          You say that, but he’s not exactly good at being dead, if you think about it.

          He’s trying to indecisively choose both life and death without realising that doing so makes him shit at both.

          Liked by 4 people

    1. Fayhem

      I believe there is no difference. Fate is always contingent on the choices of its subjects. A fated choice is simply one that, in the moment when they are called to choose, a person could never not make, and still be who they are. Or to put it another way, fate does not decide; it only foresees.

      Liked by 9 people

    2. IDKWhoitis

      Some arguments can be made that most Names come from an internal passion, and thus are “chosen”. Cordy is remarkable because she brushed up against it once, denied it for the plot it was, and now is fully embracing it.

      I would charge that in all likelihood, it’s a going to be a neutral name, but her opposition is going to paint her as a villain. Possibly corrupted (and/or manipulated) by the Black Queen.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. therealgridlock

        I don’t think warden of the west was used as a Name in this context, merely capitalized as is her office.

        I don’t believe she will come into a name, for several reasons.

        1: she rejected two names already

        2: she avoided names specifically to keep the meddling of the Warner Brothers out of her work

        3: the shaping story in calernia is that leaders can no longer be named, meaning callow, procer, praes, the dominion, etc, all those involved in the story of the liesse accords will eventually either be subdued and sign, or sign eagerly, and that means no more Named leaders.

        When we put together these logical points, it points to either cordelia remaining in power in the liesse years to come, with no name, or gaining a name and having to leave.

        I could be wrong, maybe every leader we’ve seen gets a name, has to leave, and goes to join cardinal, but I would argue that vivienne is too tightly bound to the story of Cats successor to step down from that role.

        We shall see. I am very near the present now.

        Liked by 2 people

    3. Creepcluster

      The one freely chosen is mostly villainous in nature. To be precise, in some sense it follows the ways of below. Allows for personal desires to be part of what you do. Or as Amadeus of Green Stretch said to the Grey Pilgrim “your’s are coronation, ours are confirmation”
      On the other hand the ones decided by fate should more righteous in nature. Need not always be, they should also include more duty than desire.

      It is the neutral names that I am most interested in at this point. My guess is Cat will have a more neutral name in the end

      Like

  1. “The reed survives the storm, but only in the shadow of the oak.”

    – PROCERAN SAYING

    nice take huh

    “Princess Adeline’s hospitality had been flawless, but it was still with some irritation that Cordelia left the grounds of her Salian estate. Neither the wine nor an exquisite rack of lamb had loosened the Princess of Orne’s tongue enough for her to reveal where she stood on the matter of the provisional superintendence.”
    of the what
    it’s rare that I see just. a sequence of keywords that might as well be in chinese for all I understand what the narration is talking about
    i know both these words!
    that tells me nothing!

    oooh assassination attempt! and lol assigning Named to work with Cordy was a good move
    and lmao Agnes specifically predicted that she’d be worked around
    guess that prediction wasnt a supernatural one

    “Cordelia slowly nodded, sipping at her lemon water. Uncle Klaus would have teased her for not even reaching for a proper bottle after a brush with death, if he still spoke to her at all.”
    HOW DARE YOU EE
    HOW FUCKING DARE YOU

    “A Proceran backer, he left unsaid, and that meant a crown. The finest of her spymasters believed that someone in the Highest Assembly was trying to kill her. The blonde Lycaonese hid her dismay by sipping at her lemon water once more. Even now? Gods, even now? She snuffed out the anger that rose before it could turn into something uglier, something dangerous. Cordelia set down the cup, mistress of her own mood once more.”
    😀 😀 😀

    “She’d not even waited for the Magisterium to declare war on her, catching them by surprise, and several of the small cities that Stygia and Nicae regularly fought to rule over had immediately rebelled at the news. The chaos had the magisters unnerved, and rumor had it that Delos was not only disinclined to help but looking at snatching a few border territories for itself.

    The Secretariat, for all its scholarly reputation, was just as opportunistically cutthroat as the other rulers of the Free Cities.”
    This? This is beautiful.

    “In other words, the Magisterium wanted to hide behind a treaty for a quarter century as its rivals returned to warring against each other and wanted to buy this at the cheap price of abandoning an ailing ally and sending the oldest of their slave phalanx to die up north instead of disposing of the aging soldiers themselves.”
    BEAUTIFUL

    “Besides, the First Prince would not intervene too deeply in the region without first holding council with the Queen of Callow. General Basilia was under Catherine Foundling’s patronage, containing her without the Black Queen’s assent would be… indelicate.”
    😀 😀 😀
    Catherine, from the north: I AM GOING TO FUCKING SCREAM IF THERE IS EVEN A SINGLE OTHER PROBLEM THAT REQUIRES MY ATTENTION

    ““He is not their man, however,” Louis de Sartrons noted. “We intercepted some communications of the Eyes, and it seems that Malicia is rather displeased that he is taking the coin without delivering on what is asked. Though the man remains untrustworthy, Your Highness, I believe that his intent is to play us against Praes and enrich himself as much as possible in the process.”

    Which, while morally repellent in every war, was something that the First Prince could work with.”
    I mean, to be fair, robbing Praes is pretty high moral ground

    ““Find out the price,” the First Prince of Procer evenly said. “But pass word along to the Painted Knife: she now has free rein to hunt Praesi agents in Mercantis as she wishes.”

    The City of Bought and Sold could do with a reminder that the Grand Alliance had teeth of its own.”
    BEAUTIFUL
    TIME FOR THE TRUCE AND TERMS TO PAY OFF ON THIS FRONT NOW ❤

    "The young man eyed her warily but slowly nodded. Good, Cordelia thought. So long as Salazar recognized that extorted tribute could be repaid but a sacked town was a much starker offence, this could be salvaged. People had died, but the First Prince must ensure than this conversation would not end in a way that made the number swell."
    GOOD
    PLEASE DO SO

    "With so few armed men remaining in the southern principalities and such heavy burdens being forced onto the people, an increasing amount of commoners preferred to riot or turn bandit rather than let themselves be squeezed any further."
    yeeep 😡 😡 😡

    hum, what's interesting here is the meta knowledge that this is an extra chapter, and therefore nothing can happen here that would alter the status quo we know from the main story, only elaborate on it

    that is what has been happening so far lol

    "“You are certain that Rozala Malanza has no role in this?” Cordelia asked, indulging in a rare instance of repeating a question already asked.

    “We have personal letters of Princess Adeline specifying that she was not to be informed,” the spymaster said. “It appears to be the Princess of Orne’s own initiative, and she believes that Malanza would not react amenably.”"
    ❤ ❤ ❤

    "“Was I truly so much of a tyrant, Adeline Sauveterre, that you could not even attempt words?” Cordelia murmured.

    And she had been careful, so very careful, not to step on toes beyond what survival demanded. For every decree passed Cordelia Hasenbach had set three aside, never brought them to light out of a desire to avoid being seen as taking advantage of the crisis to push through her reforms. Many would have helped, cut away some of the many tumorous growths the Principate had accrued over centuries of venality and corruption, but the First Prince had chosen to use her influence only sparingly. Gods Above, she had fought the White Knight and bargained with the Black Queen to preserve the rights of the same royals now sharpening knives for her back. Had she truly been so domineering that this should be seen as earned, as courted?"
    )= )= )=

    "“Action undertaken on behalf of a crown that meets the requirements of violence, trespass and righteousness,” he said."
    wow lmao

    "Proving this beyond dispute had been difficult, but then the First Prince did have a particularly skilled Librarian at hand. The fair-haired princess amiably smiled."
    dakfjasdf'/asd;lfj;askdjfa;skdfjl
    this is beautiful

    "“Prince Florimont Langevin,” Louis de Sartons said.

    The name echoed in the silence of the parlour. The Prince of Cleves, it seemed, had not forgiven the forced abdication of his father. That it had been made necessary by a nearly disastrous bout of stupidity that had not only embarrassed the Principate and burned goodwill with some of its most important allies but also nearly drawn in Chosen into Proceran territorial disputes was evidently of little importance. It must be, else why else would the son of Gaspard Langevin not only join Princess Adeline’s alliance but go even a step further and even attempt Cordelia’s assassination?

    “He was approached by the last vestiges of the rebellious Silver Letters, not the other way around, but he appears to have embraced the opportunity eagerly,” the spymaster continued.

    Prince Florimont had been busier than Cordelia ever knew, it seemed."
    Hereditary Stupidity, I see

    "Nothing material and evident, the last meant, or testimony only by individuals who could not take an oath under House auspices – because of past criminal offences, contradicting oaths or possession of magic. It was a dark irony, Cordelia considered, that the last of these three was an injustice she had several times restrained herself from undoing because she’d believed it would have caused too strong a resentment in the Highest Assembly. Neither just nor unjust, she had instead straddled the line and reaped only the worst of what she had sown. A lesson, the First Prince of Procer thought, that was worth learning."
    nice 🙂

    …oh wow, Cordelia is starting assassinations? not an easy step no

    "The Augur emerged from her thoughts after a long while, that short bob of blond hair turning in startlement when she realized she had company. Agnes’ eyes – Hasenbach blue, cold and clear – were confused for a few heartbeats, until her mind returned to the here and the now.

    “It is taking longer than it once did,” Cordelia quietly said.

    Her cousin sighed.

    “Snow falls, rivers flow,” Agnes Hasenbach simply said.

    An old saying of their people, warning that rage against the inevitable was wasted breath."
    😡
    yeah I am of course perfectly fine with Lycaonese sayings right now

    "“It avails us nothing,” Agnes said, sounding surprised they’d not already had that conversation. “It only… ah, it is not winter yet?”

    “No,” Cordelia gently said. “It is not.”"
    😀 😀 😀

    "It was unfortunate that only Agnes seemed able to speak with birds in such a manner, as the blonde princess suspected that pigeons would be staggeringly successful spies should they be put to work. Some of Cordelia’s peers seemed to favour friendships with martial Chosen and Damned, but to her this was frank stupidity: the most useful of such souls in her service was the Forgetful Librarian, who while barely able to use cutlery instead brought to the table the ability to see through ever single correspondence cipher under the sun. Her own spymaster had broached the subject of permanent employment there, and she was inclined to agree."
    …I love Cordelia strongly and also very much

    "“There is a choice that must be made,” Cordelia told her cousin. “And I do not know the face of the right answer, should there even be one.”

    Agnes studied her a moment.

    “This is not a question for the Augur,” she finally said.

    “No,” Cordelia quietly agreed.

    It was a question for one of the last people in this world she could trust with her thoughts.

    “I do not know of Ebb and Flow,” Agnes hesitantly said. “We never learned, any of us. There was always you for it. It was a relief, that it could all be entrusted to you.”"
    😀 😀 😀
    one of the last people in this world because everyone else has already gotten eaten!

    "“I make myself remember who I am,” the Augur said. “Where I am, when. And then I ask myself what it is I want.”

    And Cordelia’s heart broke a little bit for the cousin she’d known since they were both but girls, for the way her expression wavered when she admitted she so often forgot all these things. But she would take it seriously, the First Prince told herself."
    ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

    "“I want to make Procer what it should be,” Cordelia Hasenbach quietly said. “What we promise the world it is, only to so utterly fail.”

    Agnes nodded, eyes already half-gone.

    “Then you know,” the Augur said, “the choice you must make.”

    She turned to look at the sky again, going silent, and Cordelia breathed out shallowly.

    So she did."
    😀 😀 😀
    and how, pray tell, is it to be accomplished? 😀

    "a few events took place in quick succession.

    First, as she participated in the charitable distribution of bread to the impoverished people of the Silenin neighbourhood the First Prince of Procer was shot by a crossbow in broad daylight.

    Second, Prince Florimont Langevin of Cleves took a crossbow bolt through the back of the head as returned from a visit to an upscale brothel.

    Before the hour had passed Salia was a city-wide riot. The Dread Empire was blamed, but there was talk of there being traitors in the Highest Assembly that had helped the easterners. “Too Many Cooks” was heard sung in the streets shortly before cobblestones and rotten fruit were thrown at the mansion belonging to the Prince of Bayeux, though Arsene Odon was far from the capital.

    Third, formal messengers were sent to every royal and assermenté in the city to confirm that the First Prince lived and the session of the Assembly would still be held."

    this. this is beautiful

    "Fourth, a mere hour before the session was to be held every member of Princess Adeline’s conspiracy save the princess herself received two scrolls. One held evidence for the dealings of Florimont Langevin relating to an assassination attempt. The other laid out the legal case for treason committed by Adeline Sauveterre.

    Fifth, the Pilfering Dicer was tasked with stealing the luck of one woman in particular until misfortune plagued her like fleas might a dog.

    And so when the First Prince of Procer entered the Chamber of Assembly, her torso bandaged more for effect than out of need, it was to silence. Every whisper had died the moment she came into the hall. There was still one of them missing, for Princess Adeline of Orne had been unfortunately delayed after she was thrown by her horse, but the session began without her."

    ok WOW

    "“As First Prince of Procer,” Cordelia Hasenbach said, “I declare that every vote held this evening will be entered into the formal public record.”

    It was the Alamans here who first understood the threat, not her own countrymen or the Arlesites. It had always been the people of the lakes, of the heartlands of Procer, who best understood the weight the opinions of the people carried. It fell into place, after that, one stroke at a time."

    I LOVE THIS

    "Evidence was brought out, mere technicalities – movement of troops through the territory of another prince without explicit permission, an act of war under ancient laws, and the hiring away of fantassins already in the service of another without reparations being offered – but enough that the legal requirements were met.

    These were, every soul in this room understood, almost laughable charges. Only a First Prince with unshakable support in the Highest Assembly, with power and influence at their zenith, might feasibly attempt such a transparent ploy without being run out of the Chamber. And still, after the evidence was laid out, only silence followed. And in that silence the howls of the people echoed loudly, the riots that had yet to end. Cordelia Hasenbach watched the Highest Assembly with cold eyes. Which of you, she asked them silently, wants to be known to the mob as the traitor that helped shelter treason? Which of you wants to be known on every whisper as the Praesi hireling, as the turncoat that bickered with the First Prince of Procer while her breast was still bloodied?"

    I LOVE THIS I LOVE THIS I LOVE THIS

    "“See her out,” Cordelia ordered the guards.

    She called the vote on the provisional superintendence, then, and after not a word of debate it passed unanimously. She saw then in their eyes the belief that it was done, that they were free of this drumming. Cordelia Hasenbach did not free them. Instead she called for a vote on the repeal of the law preventing magicians from taking oaths under the auspices of the House of Light.

    By midnight, she had passed every single reform she had ever wanted to pass.

    They would unseat her for this, in time, but what of it?

    Cordelia Hasenbach knew exactly who she was, and what it was she wanted."
    ❤ ❤ ❤
    ❤ ❤ ❤
    ❤ ❤ ❤

    about time!

    (but this was about principles. about means, and ends that might not justify them)

    Liked by 9 people

    1. ninegardens

      I’m… sad, and kinda worried.
      This feels too much like Cordelia bending her principles when previously she was… pretty fricken sharp edged about them. Sort of Building the Principate she desires at the expense of no longer *being* that principate.

      It…. make sense… but also worries me. Do not like it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would say that she realized that the Principate she was loyal to in spirit and the Principate she was being loyal to in practice were not the same thing, and by trying to do both at once she was also failing at both at once.

        The side she chose, she can now fully commit to.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. Lord Haart

      Oh, sweet summer child. 🙂

      The Age of Names is over, so one cannot call Cordelia a Villain, but these are definitely the actions of a Villain, and a tyrant at that.

      Fantastic writing and I enjoy how Cordelia represents something of a “pre-echo” of our protagonist, though in this case it might be more of a reversal. I think we might be finally starting to see the evil side of practicality just as clearly as this story promises.

      Like

  2. Xinci

    Well, she stuck to her choice, now the question is if her doing it, with this timing will actually see her goals achieved. She was given a chance to make her own way outside of a carefully curated moment when she got marked by the Seraphim. So she has to mundanely reform Procer, and historically Reformers pushing too hard either die or have their attempts die after them. Hopefully, she was clever enough with the legalese to make it binding.

    Agnes rite to remember where she is both a useful one and rather beautiful when one thinks of the scales of her efforts.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. pyrohawk21

      Ah, but this is where Cordelia was clever. She knew that if she did this, it would sound the death knell of her being the First Prince. Which is one of the reasons why she chose to whip up a fervor of the populace against treason and then making it so every vote was public record this day as the path she took for solving the situation.

      Because via this, she has tied all the reforms she just passed as measures linked with ending treason. Which means that every time someone works against the reforms, they’ll have a perception from the populace that they may just be doing so in order to be able to enact treason… The fact that all the reforms likely make their lives much better just means that they’ll have cause to act out their hatred of that perception. And if any of the Princes or Princesses that try to topple her reforms are those who voted for it, or possibly are immediate family of them… Well, obviously they were actually traitors who were part of the schemes of Prince Florimont and Princess Adeline that had been successful hiding their treason at the time. But now they’ve revealed their true colours…

      Liked by 22 people

    2. laguz24

      These reforms get to be from the inside out rather than the top down. There seems to be a groove of people not living up to the heroes’ expectations when the heroes are away from Baroness Kendall to the vengeance target of the painted knife. Both were in good nations but when the lone swordsman and the grey pilgrim were away, they were not Good.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. laguz24

          She surrendered to the squire, this could be argued an Evil act, instead of holding out and giving the lone swordsman time to use the angels.

          Like

                1. laguz24

                  The story doesn’t care about whys or wherefores. What mattered was that she chose to abet evil at the expense of good no matter what it actually entailed.

                  Like

                  1. Story cares about whys or whereabouts when they’re part of it.

                    > But it doesn’t, I thought. We’ve seen it, you and I. That when all there is holding up the choice is a story and the prediction of victory, the story fails. Because if all you do is pretend, go through the motions, then you’ve already lost what could have made it a victory in the first place.

                    The whys very much matter 😀

                    Like

    1. Aotrs Commander

      If in your “freedom,” you tacitly claim the right to abuse others for your own gain; to allow others to satiate their desires at the expense of others still; to conspire to extort others for your own enrichment; to seek for your own power, however small, simply for the desire not be told there are things you cannot do or say, out of stubborn pride or desires that could never be save in your own feelings; if you believe “freedom” as unqualified and unilateral as if it were a physical law, and not an artifical concensus of sentient/sapience, in the face of laws and crimes and abuse and bigotry and factionalism of all types and all forms, however small or large; if you tacitly claim all this in the name of your own ideals, regardless of the harm that would come to others, as “freedom,” you deserve none.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. jamesc9

          I found a Mormon argument for restricting people’s freedoms in order to contain pandemic, in Deseret news, quite by accident. It was that life comes before liberty in the Declaration of Independence, and liberty after you’re dead isn’t worth very much.

          Like

  3. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    coup had > coup that had
    which have her > which gave her
    Agnes had been right (extra space)
    Of course there are, > Of course they are,
    as it their way > as is their way
    patronage, containing > patronage; containing
    quite his anger > quiet his anger
    too lean > to lean
    one the edge > on the edge
    was a reputation > had a reputation
    to campaigned > to campaign
    skirmished > skirmishes
    in ager > in anger
    to high throne > to the high throne
    implacable for > implacable foe
    tax of on > tax on
    collusion the > collusion with the
    be personally being > be personally
    uncover your > uncover on your
    sone weight > some weight
    I simply > It simply
    as returned > as he returned

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Frivolous

    I’d wondered what use Cordelia had for the Pilfering Dicer. This is the very first mention of PD since the start of book 6.

    Now we know. What a terrifying nasty thing that aspect of his is, when used against a political opponent.

    Liked by 12 people

  5. standardtypo

    Typos [standard]:
    coup had -> coup that had
    which have her -> which gave her
    Of course there are -> Of course they are
    as it their way -> as is their way
    patronage, containing -> patronage; containing
    quite his anger -> quiet his anger
    too lean -> to lean
    one the edge -> on the edge
    was a reputation -> had a reputation
    to campaigned -> to campaign
    skirmished -> skirmishes
    in ager -> in anger
    to high throne -> to the high throne
    implacable for -> implacable foe
    tax of on -> tax on
    collusion the -> collusion with the
    be personally being -> be personally
    uncover your -> uncover on your
    sone weight -> some weight
    I simply -> It simply
    as returned -> as he returned
    {what I am to uncover} I am -> am I
    {the right to appointed} appointed -> appoint
    {morally repellent in every war} war -> way
    {at its Valencis’} at its -> at
    {must ensure than this conversation} than -> that
    {every principality deal with banditry} deal -> dealt
    {the princes and princess of Procer} princess -> princesses
    {branded into her soul Cordelia} soul -> soul:

    Liked by 1 person

  6. agumentic

    Men often speak of justice as the middle way, the compromise, but that is the guise of lesser evils. Justice is to uphold that which is right, and there is no place for compromise in this. – King Jehan the Wise of Callow

    For all that Cordelia refused divine mandate of the Name, she remains a woman who had the potential for it. The dream to change Procer into a better realm remains – the means can be earthly or heavenly, but the aim is the same.

    Liked by 8 people

  7. M0och123

    I had not actually realized the parallels of Procer to the USA until now.

    “I want to make Procer what it should be,” Cordelia Hasenbach quietly said. “What we promise the world it is, only to so utterly fail.”

    I mean, the similarities are rather striking now that I think about it.

    Liked by 14 people

      1. beleester

        I’m pretty sure that’s the historical inspiration – an empire that’s not so much an empire as a loose cluster of states, with its component states being not-Germany, not-Italy, and not-France. But it’s hard not to see the analogy to the US – a world superpower, with some genuinely progressive ideals and laws, that’s got a reputation for fighting the good fight… which it unfortunately uses to justify a lot of imperialism.

        Liked by 6 people

  8. > She closed her eyes, breathing out. She knew who she was, for it might as well have been branded into her soul Cordelia Hasenbach, First Prince of Procer, Princess of Salia and Prince of Rhenia, Warden of the West and Protector of the Realms of Man. She sat here in Salia, the heart of the Principate, as the realm faced the coming of the end times. Knowing all this, embracing it, what did she want? Survival, for Procer and for herself, but that was not a want so much as a need. She dug deeper.

    > Cordelia Hasenbach knew exactly who she was, and what it was she wanted.

    She is living according to her name.

    Her not-Name name.

    This reminds me of Catherine Foundling losing her Name(s?) to be whatever it is that is happening in the story right now.

    PGtE is powerful in how it has set up Names and Stories only to challenge the framework.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Frivolous

    Quote: First, as she participated in the charitable distribution of bread to the impoverished people of the Silenin neighbourhood the First Prince of Procer was shot by a crossbow in broad daylight.

    Second, Prince Florimont Langevin of Cleves took a crossbow bolt through the back of the head as returned from a visit to an upscale brothel.

    Comment: I overlooked this on my first reading. Cordelia had herself shot so that she would be inoculated from charges of murdering Florimont Langevin.

    =======

    Quote: Some of Cordelia’s peers seemed to favour friendships with martial Chosen and Damned, but to her this was frank stupidity: the most useful of such souls in her service was the Forgetful Librarian, who while barely able to use cutlery instead brought to the table the ability to see through ever single correspondence cipher under the sun. Her own spymaster had broached the subject of permanent employment there, and she was inclined to agree.

    Comment: Another nasty power, the ability to decipher codes. Forgetful Librarian would be a huge asset to real-life agencies like the American NSA.

    So we know now of 3 Bestowed working directly for Cordelia: Swaggering Duelist as her bodyguard, Pilfering Dicer for stealing the luck of enemies, and Forgetful Librarian as intelligence analyst.

    They make sense. Librarian is a strictly indoors kind of Name. Dicer is more or less the same. Duelist is a martial Named, but not the battlefield kind. He works best in living cities.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. “I was following far threads,” Agnes said. “In the south. They grow clearer now, fates are precipitating.”

    Damn. Could it be Basilia will actually become an Empress? Cat speculated that was her plan but I always thought it was a long shot. Wow, it might actually happen now.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ninegardens

      That.. might actually be part of the plan.
      It would certainly do good things for Preas to have the Empress name yoinked off of them for a few years…. and I can see why Cat would be willing to throw her support behind someone if that was their plan.

      That… would be incredibly cool.

      Like

  11. Hitogami

    This chapter was a masterpiece. Cordelia following through on her dreams despite the loss of personal power that will follow is a beautiful thing. She is most definitely Lycaonase, a people that seem to be dying out now that the Dead King comes for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Tarial

    Well, just caught up with the chapter, glad I caught up on a somewhat natural break.

    I haven’t read anything this size quiteso fast in years (started ~22 September – now), now I’ll be off reading fics and other webserial, but Ippromise I’ll give to the patreon as soon as I get a stable(r?) job.

    Like

  13. “Neither just nor unjust, she had instead straddled the line and reaped only the worst of what she had sown. A lesson, the First Prince of Procer thought, that was worth learning.”

    This is in some ways a metaphor for Cordelia’s whole situation rightabouts now.
    A hero Cordelia would be able to inspire the highest assembly to do whatever was needed to prevent the economic collapse of Procer, and might have refused to lean on Mercantis, taking loans from the Kingdom Under instead, and getting so far into debt that they can’t afford to let Procer fall, making the Grand alliance’s military inferiority to the Dead King less relevant.
    A Tyrant Cordelia would be able to run roughshod over the princes as they try to pursue the interests of the principalities over Procer as a whole, probably being able to squeeze out enough control over the principalities that she could prevent ruinous economic policies, and maybe being able to come up with enough weapons and conscripts that they’re no longer militarily inferior to the Dead King.

    Liked by 1 person

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