19 10 2008

It was a red dawn.

I stood on the wall looking over the field of battle. My sword hung at my side, dragging me perceptibly downwards as I stared at the scarred earth. The land that now was clawed in furrows had been our most prosperous farming district. Oily black smoke billowed upwards to choke our once-beautiful city. The enemy had taken to burning their dead and our dying where the wind would sweep their stench to us. Some of our children had fallen sick from the unclean air.

I turned away, facing now inwards. The Great Kings had formed our city out of white marble and bluestone. Now red streams laced the streets where the blood of our wounded ran. Before the end of the day these same streets would run with rivers of lifeblood bled by our women and children.

There were far too few of our men left. We could not hold the city.

Already the remaining men had begun to look somber. Even those who were not of the Guard could tell that something was terribly wrong. I clapped a hand on the shoulder of the nearest Watchman. It was time for the meeting of the Guard. Our king was dead and the laws of our people left power in time of war to the Commander of the Guard. Any fully commissioned officer of the Guard could attend our meetings, but our force was stretched too thin. Only the Captains could be spared and not all of us.

Normally we would have met in the great hall of the castle. Since the king’s burial, though the castle had been turned over to house refugees and the wounded. The Captains of the Guard met on this day in our long house in the West district of the city. My post was on the West wall and it took me little time to reach the long house. It was long enough, though, for my gray boots to become stained again in blood.

I entered a room smelling strongly of beer, sweat, iron and fear. My seat was to the right of the Commander. I was his second, a shaky promotion gained in recent days as more and more of the Captains fell to the maddened horde of the enemy.

 “Men!” The commander was a tall man, standing a head over the rest of us, and brutally handsome. His fingers were stained in rust, his face unshaven. We all looked the same, long-haired, tattered and haggard. In peace such slovenliness would have earned us dishonorable discharge. It was a mark of the times that we had ceased even to get attention from the civilians for our filth. “Men!” He repeated himself, slamming an empty tankard on the solid table. The men found seats.

          “We have lost. You all know it. I want to talk to you now of disbanding and sending you all out with groups of the women and children. The enemy wants the city, we are incidental. If they have the city they have the ports and the Light. They might let some of us go.”

          “My Lord!” A man named Smiten, his hair pulled tightly back stood to his feet. “We cannot risk it! The enemy would take the women for slaves and kill the children. We cannot send them out of the city!”

          Another man stood up. “I agree, Lord. The Light has never let the city fall. We can trust Her.”

          The Commander sank into his chair, turning to me. “Gabe, what would you do?”

          “Sir, I have a wife and three children still in the city. I cannot send them willingly out into the clutches of the enemy.” There was a grumble of accent. “But, I am even less willing to trust the Light.”

          A quiet hiss went through the room. I was bordering on heresy but I no longer cared. “We have not seen the Light for three generations. Her house has been silent for fifty years! Who among you has seen even one of the Women? Her handmaidens have stopped going out among the people. Nor have any new handmaids been added to their numbers. We do not even know if the Light still lives!”

          “The Light does not die.” A short man across the table stood slowly and fixed me with his eye. I knew him, a fierce fighter and a devout man. He had been a Captain since I was a simple man-at-arms. “Nor has She been silent. Our city has been safe, has it not? Not one of the enemy has set foot within our outer walls. Do not speak heresy unless you wish that to change.”

          “I know little of the Light, but I know much of battle. And this is a battle that we cannot win.”

          “The Light will save us.”

          “Then let Her come off of her damned hill and do it!”

          “Silence!” A woman’s voice rang out above the tumult my words caused.

          Every man in the long house turned as one to stare at the woman standing at the end of our table. No-one had seen her enter and we were shaken.

          Her face was hidden by a layer of veiling, her hair by a cloak, her hands by sleeves and her feet by a velvet dress. The impression was one of unrelieved darkness.

          The Commander spoke first, “Who are you?”

          We could hear the smile, though we saw nothing but her eyes. “A handmaid.”

          Another rumble laced through the room.

          The Commander’s face relaxed ever so slightly. “Why have you come?”

          “We were told that this night the final decision would be made; whether to stay here in the city or to disband and attempt to flee. I was sent because She cannot risk the wrong choice being made.”

          “The wrong choice.” I was back on my feet, furious that I had sat down without realizing it. “What gives you the right to assume you know the right choice?”

          “She does.”

          “Then let her come and tell us.” I turned to the Commander. “I will not leave my children here to die because some chit of a girl tells us to.”

          The tension in the room swelled perceptibly. Most of the men in the room would die before saying what I was saying.

          The girl turned to the room and raised one white hand. Instantly the men calmed down. She had no similar effect on me.

          “My dear Gabe, your words are forgiven you. You were not born here and so are not held to our traditions. Regardless, the decision is not yours to make.” Her face tilted to fix the Commander in an iron gaze. “You and your men have done well. Prepare for battle today, send your men out in force. Every one able to hold a weapon should be sent. The women are to be allowed on the battlements. The children can be done with as their mothers see fit.”

          Our Commander simply nodded. My blood was boiling at the thought that this child in skirts was condemning us to death, our women to torment.

          “When all are assembled, if everything is done as I have said, you will have your deliverance.”

          A shout greeted her words, the men were changed beyond recognition. Their faces were lit with joy. When I turned away from them to look for the girl she was gone. It was only then that I realized that she could not have been a handmaid. There had been no new handmaidens for years and she could not have been more than fifteen. Bile and panic rose up in my throat. There was no sign of the Commander, instead his Third stood on the table shouting out orders.

          For hours I searched for him. I abandoned my post, taking only moments to find my wife and tell her to prepare to leave. She was already busy packing a bag for the children to take with them to the palace, where most of the children of the Guard were going. She would not listen to me, rumour having reached her of the girl’s words to the Guard. My wife was native to the City and so believed. I did not have time to argue with her, figuring that if I could get to the Commander the whole plan would be called off. The girl must have been a sorceress of the enemy sent to confound our last efforts.

          The men had already been sent out of the city gates by the time I tracked down our Commander. He stood at the head of a ragged column of civilian volunteers. Within hours every man who heard the rumor was requesting to be out on the field. I saw shopkeepers, clerks and aristocracy mingling with seasoned Guard and Watchmen. The sight made me sick. It would be that much easier for the enemy to wipe us out.

          I reached the Commander just as he was surveying the facing army. They were fifteen times our number, clad in evil black with blue and green banners flapping in an unfelt wind. My voice was stilled in my throat. The enemy was just out of bowshot, too close to flee and just far enough away to make any last effort futile. Many of the men around me were armed with nothing but rude clubs and stones.

          It was then that I felt the men behind and to either side of me stirring. As far down the lines as I could see the men were pulling apart, making a way for something. The ripple finally caught up to me and I felt myself step aside as a young girl advanced between myself and the Commander. She turned her head only once, to smile at me, before facing forward and continuing to walk toward the enemy. She was dressed in simple white, her feet, arms and throat were bare. Thirty other women of varying ages, dressed identically, were now advancing over the field.

          They stopped halfway between the two armies. The youngest of them stood slightly forward. I could hear her commanding the enemy to remove or be defeated. A mocking roar of laughter was their only reply. She stepped back into the line.

          Without cue or command all thirty women began singing. It was a complicated melody, soaring upwards or sinking low with shocking quickness. The enemy seemed baffled, but a squad quickly gathered and made a quick charge towards the women. They burst into blinding white flame where they ran.

          Another squad. More flame.



          Eventually the commanders of the enemy realized that something strange was happening. A normal sorceress can only lay out that kind of power once. A gathering of the same can repeat it several times though with diminishing strength. White witches do not work in flame.

          It was then that, with an evil howl, the entire army came running towards the women. The concussion of air when they hit the women’s power felled our entire force. Men rolled on the ground, ears bleedings and half-blinded from the light. The flames burned clear and quick, though. When I gathered myself to stand I saw nothing but scorched earth and a remnant of the horde fleeing into the distance. I could hear nothing but I threw a glance over my shoulder and saw the women on the wall dancing in triumph.

          The Commander stood slowly. I turned to congratulate him but was stopped short. His face was wet with tears. He stumbled out onto the field and fell to his knees beside a small white form. I followed, confused.

          When I reached him he was cradling the form of a woman, her body broken and her face the ashy paleness of death. In sudden realization I looked left and right and saw twenty-nine other small, pale piles.

          They had died to protect us. We who witnessed that day have never forgotten, nor do we doubt that the Light shines still.







2 responses

20 10 2008
Jennifer James

Whoah. Seriously good ending. I like it! What made you think of this?

20 10 2008

I was driving home from church and this idea of young virgin women saving a city by sacrificing themselves just come up and walloped me. I like the idea of them singing the enemy into destruction and dying themselves in the effort.

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