I want to talk about Cassian...
Because of course I do. But I have been having some thoughts about him and his position both within the Inner Circle but also what he does in a wider sense for Rhys and the Night Court and the challenges he must have faced in doing so.
“And we’re not lesser faeries, though some try to call us that. We’re just—Illyrians. Considered expendable aerial cavalry for the Night Court at the best of times, mindless soldier grunts at the worst.”
“Which is most of the time,” Azriel clarified.
I want to consider how this idea must have shaped Cassian (and Azriel)’s time in the Night Court. This is the court a large chunk of which rejected Rhys – the most powerful High Lord in Prythian’s history in part because he was half-Illyrian. I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to imagine that this prideful court might not have reacted altogether that well when their armies were placed under the command of a bastard born pure Illyrian warrior like Cassian.
To them the Illyrians are ‘expendable’ or else ‘mindless soldier grunts’ they’re arrow fodder, they’re the consistent vanguard that does the brunt of the damage and takes the brunt of the blows from the oncoming battle and protects the far more important, far more valuable High Fae and faerie warriors of the Night Court behind them. They’re a shield and a battering ram, a tool to be used and little more.
I can’t imagine that they took well to having Cassian placed over them as commander, no matter how he might have proved himself in battle these sort of stereotypes and ways of thinking aren’t something you overcome because of a few good war stories. I can only imagine the backlash that Cassian suffered as a result of this and how these people he would lay down his life to protect more than likely thought him entirely unworthy of his position, unworthy of respect, unworthy of the honour of command, unworthy to lead them.
But I don’t really want to focus too much on that aspect of it. I want to focus on Cassian. And I want to focus on the way in which I think he would have won these warriors over (because he still commands Rhys’ armies. If he’d been unable to do so, unable to earn their loyalty and obedience he wouldn’t)
Methods of controlling/keeping subjects and inferiors in line is something that is brought up in this series. It’s not given a huge amount of attention but it is there. Tamlin is a good example of the other side of Cassian’s coin.
Tamlin and the Spring Court before him is steeped in a tradition of control and control through fear. This is seen on a small scale with the way in which Tamlin responds to Lucien pushing back, he belittles Lucien, “Did I ask for your opinion?” and uses his considerable power to punish Lucien for an insolent look (a punishment we’re never shown which adds to the sense of fear)
But it’s seen on a larger scale with the Tithe. People are expected to pay their dues to him and they turn up and do so yes because it’s a symbiotic balance in a way – they provide for Tamlin and he keeps them safe – but also from the fear of him hunting them down and executing them if they don’t do as they’re commanded.
This method is no doubt successful but in the long term it has some very serious, gaping flaws. Ruling with fear leaves little room for anything else and I don’t think it inspires a whole lot of loyalty or respect.
The flip side of this is I think the method that Cassian would have used to bind his warriors to him. I can’t see Cassian ordering brutal punishments or executions for those who refuse to fall in line with him (largely because initially this would likely have meant executing pretty much everyone) I don’t think fear or brutality would have appealed in the least to Cassian (I don’t think he’s a pushover; and if someone betrays them or acts out of turn he will punish them) but initially, making people fall in because they fear him isn’t something I can see him doing.
I think Cassian would have won them to him with love. With compassion and empathy and that heart of his. I think Cassian, the greatest warrior Rhys has ever known, doesn’t use that aspect of himself to command fear and make his men too terrified of his wrath to disobey them – I think he inspires love in his men and I think this love breeds the loyalty and respect that Tamlin is lacking which is why Cassian has been so successful as a commander in the past.
Rhys loosed a breath. “…I’ve witnessed Cassian rip apart opponents and then puke his guts up once the carnage stopped, sometimes even mourn them.
There’s such compassion in Cassian, raw, strong, utterly unapologetic compassion. I think that in spite of being one of the strongest Illyrians in history and being loaded with the killing power, despite everything that’s been done to him and everything he’s seen Cassian retains quite a tender heart. Which is so rare from this type of male character? The cocky warrior with the skills and title to back that up is allowed to have that gentleness to him, is allowed to respond to the things he’s done in this way, is allowed to throw his guts up after killing, is allowed to mourn his enemy because he feels what he’s done so keenly.
Cassian is a warrior at heart. Born and bred and trained to be one of the best killers in Prythian but I think he’s far deeper and more complex than that. He is not only a warrior. He is a trainer and a brother, a friend, a lover and a dreamer. He is not defined by this warrior status. He is not a bloodthirsty killer who delights in battle and argues for war as the way forward in every instance. He is a fighter – the best Rhys has ever come across – but he doesn’t relish it. He doesn’t relish violence or death. He doesn’t take any pleasure in it. He doesn’t claim glory from the things he’s done or the title he holds.
“Cassian shrugged, wings tucking in tighter. “I command Rhys’s armies.”
As if such a position were something that one shrugged off.
But for Cassian that is the way he responds to it because that may be the title that he holds but it is not who he is. It does not define him. His pride does not lie in the number of warriors he has at his disposal, the number of men he can send to slaughter and die. It does not lie in the great, bloody deeds he’s done in war. It does not lie in the people he has killed. It lies in the people he has saved. Which is why Cassian mourns his enemies, the people he’s killed, the people that need not have died, the people that might have been saved and weren’t. All of them. Friend or foe.
When she finally noticed Cassian, she looked up at him.
His voice was rough as he said, “Five hundred years ago, I fought on battlefields not far from this house. I fought beside human and faerie alike, bled beside them. I will stand on that battlefield again, Nesta Archeron, to protect this house—your people. I can think of no better way to end my existence than to defend those who need it most.”
This I think is one of the most telling and important moments for sussing out who Cassian is and that last line in particular I think is one of the most defining Cassian quotes I can think of. It tells you what he values, it tells you what he loves, it tells you why he fights which is the most important question for someone like Cassian in the position that he’s in. He must always be ready to fight and die; he must always be able to rationalise it and justify it and live with it afterwards especially when he responds to death the way he does: he must know why he fights and what for.
This is a man who fights because he must. This is a man who fights not for glory or honour or riches or legacy or for the simple pleasure of violence and killing. This is a man who fights for love. For compassion. A man who does these things because he has to, to protect those who cannot protect themselves - for this he will die, for this he will blacken his soul and bloody his hands with the acts of war that make him sick to his stomach again and again and again. To defend those who need it most.
The wrappings around my hands were now mere smudges of soot. Cassian’s upraised palms remained before me—ready to take the blow, if I needed to make it. “I’m all right,” he said quietly. Gently.
And maybe I was exhausted and broken, but I breathed, “I killed them.”
I hadn’t said the words aloud since it had happened.
Cassian’s lips tightened. “I know.” Not condemnation, not praise. But grim understanding.
This whole scene is beautifully written and put together and incredibly moving and it’s something I fully intend to meta on and pick apart much more completely than this when I reach it again in ACOMAF. But for Feyre for her recovery, for her grief and guilt this moment where she expresses it out loud is a huge turning point for her and incredibly important. But for Cassian too, for understanding him it’s hugely important for his character as well.
This was one of the first moments where I truly saw Cassian; saw the man behind the fighting leathers and the cocky smiles, saw to that burning heart he has inside. This is a point at which you realise that Cassian is a fighter and a warrior and a killer but in spite of all that, deep down, I don’t think that’s what defines him the most. It’s not the core of him, it’s not the heart of him. It’s an aspect of him, a very important one but it’s not the be all and end all of his character or existence.
Which again is something we very rarely see from characters like Cassian who are built up to be great warriors and fighters. They’re so rarely allowed to have the raw emotion that Cassian has. They would so rarely be allowed to make an admission like this, to respond in this way to an act of selfless heroism. He doesn’t try and rationalise it for her or justify it or offer her glory or try and brush it off. He doesn’t pity her. He doesn’t condemn her. He doesn’t praise her. He just understands her.
This is a man of empathy. A man who looks at Feyre Cursebreaker, the girl they hero worship for the thing that makes her vomit her guts up every single night, the thing that torments her awake and asleep, the thing that makes her feel that ‘it should have been me’ and simply says ‘I know’.
Cassian understands this, understands her, because when history remembers them their legacy will not be cold sweats and fickle dreams. It will not be their grief and sadness for every death on every side. It will be as heroes. With no thought of the price of that heroism, the weight they carry, the blood they can never wash off. It will remember him as the army leader, one of the strongest Illyrians in history, the greatest warrior of his age. It will remember the people he killed. The great deeds he performed. The slaughter and the glory of the warrior incarnate. I hope it does not forget why. I hope it does not forget his heart.