Elisa Marsa knew the days of warriors fighting singly against organized dynamic units of the enemy were over. The Army had to change. Pam sat drinking with a few oil lamps lit, sketching on paper, drawing battlefield scenarios, organizing their simple charge into battle into an approach to open a locked foe, armoured and presenting pikes. Pam designed the heavy long axes that would open the shield wall, let her warriors into the body of the amoured animal, where the battle would dissolve into melee, not orchestrated troop movements with pikes. Pam thought. And there was no one better to rebuild the fighting ways of Thrane.
It was lonely sometimes when you were the best your people had, knew it, and knew the times called for someone better.
Pam gave orders knowing they would be obeyed. They came from the best fighter in the Three Realms. But could she do more, like Elisa did, speaking poetry to her fighters before the clash, during the painful suspense. Elisa always talked just enough, just the right words, just enough to hold in your heart as you fought. She was a wizard of words, and her word spells changed hearts, put belief in victory in each woman.
“Old friend, I want you to begin reading poetry.”
“I can’t read.”
“Riga is coming along well with letters. She’s going to teach you, with me looking over both your shoulders.”
“Why reading now? Gods, why me?”
“Most captains can’t read, nobles either. Reading makes writing possible soon enough. Writing is power. The more you do it, the more words work your will on people, even masses of people. Words are the doors to the human heart, ever left ajar for the poet.”
“That’s for bards and poets. They write the speeches.”
“And how are my speeches received, all Three Realms knowing I write them myself?
“Are you asking me if you write as well as a poet?”
“No, I’m better than all our poets.”
“And humble for that”
“People know the words come from me, that I have done my own word-work, which inspires the commons and the lesser lords.”
“The big lords think you’re a fop.”
“They will come around, and I have noticed some of them tearing up when I talk. I feel the major nobles of the Realms secretly admire my speaking and letters and pamphlets but are pretending together to think it’s foppish. They want to believe they don’t need to change how they rule. Watch that change.”
In the first few years of the war there were ten battles, all on the coast of sea-facing Thrane of the Realms. All losses. Elisa and Pam had commanded the last four, losses, but near things compared to the first six. Elisa’s wild tactics were working. The enemy attacks were spacing out, weeks and months between. Thrane and Elisa had taught Drakelis the Realms would always fight them and make them pay for every invasion.
Then Elisa had come up with her best silly idea. The costume. She sat up late with wine and a singer and a team of her best tailors and armourers, all living in Fulkirk, her larger of two towns on fat, fast rivers coursing through Thrane. She created a new uniform for Thrane, painted armour and cloaks. The morning three days later, they had the livery that went over the armour and the breastplate, backplate, and thigh plates and grieves. Painted the armour.
On the sixth day of her waging the war assisted by tailors using fashion and armourers she donned her armour and livery. Pam thought she looked like a stage player in costume. But something else, too. Something you didn’t want to fight, or speak against. Pam felt something new was on their side, just looking at Elisa in her armour. Something to make them brave on the battlefield.
“It looks like a flag.”
“Clever, old friend. What else would it be. A flag that you wear and kill with. That guards your life. A flag to unite all the lords and commons.”
The 11th of May, 1236. Spring, raining, dark and thundering. The battle on the beach of Brunesford County it would be. Lord Selena was waiting for them on a broad grassy hilltop, afraid, though only Pam saw it. Elisa ignored it.
“Are you ready to win today?” Elissa asked Lord Selera.
“Lord Elisa, look at their campfires.” It was still dark in the morning, sun not yet risen. A thousand campfires surrounded by a squad of ten women each shone in tight dots across a mile long stretch of the beach, the grassy hill three miles away, viewing the beach for miles in either direction. Almost twice as many soldiers as Thrane.
“Nothing to say about the new colours?”
“Beautiful, lord. In fact…” She beheld Elisa deliberately, taking her time. “Words are in this cloth, these colours!” Selena was amazed. She was not a woman who understood art, but she seemed to feel something strongly from the livery.
“The whole Realms army must wear these colours! The whole Realms are represented, blended.”
The sun rose. The campfires were disbanding. The suspense began, the horrible waiting before the first stroke, the first run at someone on the other side.
“Let me hold the centre while you take your knights against their weaker flank. I will punch forward at the same time and force a choice on them.”
“Divide our focus?”
“Divide theirs. Our aim is true. You will be striking, I will parading as the main thrust, which you will deliver to the heart. Drakaris camps their commanding officers close to the front. Cleave to them. I will occupy most of the army so you can catch the Drakaris general. My new unit, axewomen, will open their armoured skin and let us in to butcher those gangs of helpless pikewomen. Today we win the first battle.”
“Do you really believe so, Elisa? Your lordship?” Lord Selena asked.
“We’ve almost won before and gotten closer everytime. We have more axes to open more holes this time. Remember, Lord Selena, how fearsome we are. Greatest warriors in the known world. When their pikes and bodyshields fail, they will run. And we will follow and slaughter, sending unspoken words to Drakaris of their mighty invasion force that failed to return.”
“You are easy to follow, Lord Elisa. Your women must love you.”
“We tolerate her strangeness,” Pam said, Selena looking at her and smiling.
“Pam the commoner. Derria you’re from? And now First Sword?”
Pam opened her mouth to speak. Elisa raised a finger.
“My lord Selena, Pam has taken a dozen of my fanciful ideas for winning against Drakaris and picked the ones that work. She improved them, made them work on the field every time they seemed to be about to fail.”
“Forgive me, Elissa. Pam, forgive me. I know you are our greatest warrior. But warriors are not leaders.”
“I’ve learned the forms, logistics, and maneuvers. And I’ve learned by doing.”
“I apologize. And place my trust in you both to hold Drakaris while we extend our thrust to the heart of command. A bold plan.”
“Thank you,” Elisa said, bowing slightly to her vassal lord.
“You honour me by letting me lead the attack. The glory will be yours.”
The army of Drakaris assembled rapidly into twelves armoured formations, beasts that were impossible to beat while their formation held.
“The glory will go to the Realms and every fighter. Fill their hearts with the light of hope. After that, all will be well.”
“All will be well,” Selena said, eyes fixing Elisa, tearing up.
The armoured foe, in twelve armoured monsters, advanced slowly towards the hill and stopped a mile short of the hill, denying Thrane the higher ground.
“Is it time for your words,” asked Pam.
Elisa didn’t answer or look at Pam but walked to Lord Selena.”
“Speak to your warriors first before leading them into the battle.”
“What will I say? ‘Advance?'”
“Say “Women, warriors of Thrane and Three Realms, what we do in battle today will light the way to victory over the foe. We have slain the iron beast before. Today we slay them all.”
“But that’s a speech for court and lords.”
“Ordinary women have the same hearts, need the same firing of their courage.”
Lord Selene mounted a horse, rode to the head of the army.
“Warriors, I usually tell you “advance” and do my best to fight as hard as you do. Today, Duchess Elisa says I should say something more, and here it is: we have found the way to open the armoured beast. Without their beast, they are no match for our arms. Today we finish making the victory we started making three battles ago at the coast of Thoria.”
The women yelled, screamed, clanged their swords and axes with passion, smiling. Smiling in the pouring rain, thunder, chill, and fear. The fear was turning to hope. Hope turned to righteous anger and rage in them. They were more than ready.
Pam felt a shiver run through her. Now she understood why Elisa wanted her to learn to read, write, and most importantly, speak–to the warriors, to the lords, to the common women. Poetry.
Elisa smiled as she returned to her friend.
“I almost forgot the words I’m so eager to for the fight to start,” Elisa said. “How could I forget the words.”
“She spoke well.”
“I knew she would. She changed my words, but that’s good.”
Lord Selena led her force to the flank of the army and gave the command to advance. The enemy was silent. Thrane was silent, but intense, the desire to fight showing in each angry, bloodthirsty step.
The Imperial forces contacted Elisa’s host first, which she insisted protruded forward to ensure she met combat first. Elisa’s sword had struck first in two battles Pam had seen. Two in four. Reckless leadership, but that was why the clever woman had Pam next to her.
She and dozens of others with Pam ran between the pikes and brought axes down into the body shields, shattering them, destroying shield and travelling further to slay enemy soldier often. Holes opened in the beast.
A blow from an enemy pike struck Elisa’s shoulder and she almost dropped her long axe.
Another pike struck Elisa in the stomach. Pam stood right next to her, too late to stop the blow. There was a clang and the weapon stuck in. Damn–through the plate.
How bad was the wound? Would Elisa die?
Elisa bent over and fell to her knees.
Pam took the head off the soldier who had speared Elisa. Took to Elisa’s side.
“Are you all right!”
“Just had the wind knocked out of me,” Elisa rasped. A long slit of a hole appeared in her breastplate. Pam knew the enemy spearhead; with a slice that wide, it would have gone deep, through the skin on Elisa’s back. But there was no blood, no wound.
Pam reached down to take Elisa’s hand, help her up. Elisa’s black hair seemed to be catching fire. Silvery fire. Elisa’s hand grasped hers, glowing slivery white and like the rest of her, through her armour. Silvery light fell from her upon a hundred of us.
Elisa didn’t know yet. She commanded to attack at the top of her lungs! She and others, Pam starting to follow, ran for the holes in the beast. Found ways in, and soon the Thranians had dropped long axes for swords and begun to butcher the soldiers, nearly helpless against the lifetime of duel fighting that warriors in the Realms lived.
Three more armoured foes closed on the ground where the first armoured beast had been all but slaughtered. Elisa ran forward to meet them, an orb of light higher than a cathedral steeple and wider than a castle surrounded her, shone on both armies. Pam followed, not knowing what to expect, not understanding the light.
The gods, taking sides? Since when? But it had happened. Elisa’s skin turned a lethal blow, and in response had begun to shine with silver light.
The women of Thrane began to cheer and there was a pause in the fighting. Elisa broke the pause, the horror of the enemy, and struck off an enemy soldier’s head. About the slain women, a dozen enemies fell dead, unwounded. The gods. The light. Elisa.
“What’s happening?” Pam shouted in her friend’s face, in a lull in the fighting.
“Not sure. Keep fighting. It doesn’t matter. We’re winning!” Elisa said.
The general on the opposing side surrendered to Lord Selena, who had trumpeted a cease fighting order to her army. Elisa wanted to spare the women, enslave them.
Elisa Marsa of Change, as the other lords called her, had beaten an imperial army. Had the light mattered? Certainly. It had put fire unheard of into their warriors. They had thought they were following the gods themselves once Elisa began to shine.
“We would have won without the light,” Elisa said at campfire that night, eating a leg of mutton with her vassals and Pam. They had finished burying the dead, so few this time, and setup camp for celebration and storytelling about the fighting.
“Where does your light come from? Are the gods with us?” came the question from Lord Selena. “Do the gods speak to you? What did they say? How soon will we win the war?”
Pam winced to hear the childish questions spoken aloud. Even though she wanted to ask them herself. Elisa ate happily, content. Victory. How Pam and they all had needed it. Needed to believe in themselves.
“I saw you turn the pike. And many of my women swear they should have died in battle, but for the light shining on them. Many survived fatal blows. The gods are with you, Elisa. Your lordship. “
“The gods chose a worthy people to blass, not a single woman, if they have chosen. We won the fight before the gods took any interest. We’ll win with or without the gods”
Pam smiled. Elisa welcomed the gods and miracles, but didn’t ever make them part of her plans. She loved the dreamer of a woman.
“Elisa fought three losing battles before today. No light then,” Pam pointed out.
“This, from your captain?” asked a scarred lord with fresh stitches in her young face.
“My soldiers speak their minds on my command,” Elisa told her.
Elisa changed the hearts of the Three Realms that day. Pam was confused. Worried. The gods were not an asset you could manage in war. What if they turned their back on Thrane in the next fight?
This is background material for the real story “Light,” a short story post of the same name. Read it for a nice Christmas warmup and moodlifter.
Please have a look at my over twenty art builds for Christmas gifts at my Gallery page. Lots of story in every build!