- Engage a sense of fun.
“I’m just saying violence doesn’t solve everything.”
“How can you say that! You’re a mercenary?”
“You solve with violence for a living!”
“Yeah, well! What you eat for breakfast, who your friends are, who you fuck, all solved through violence.”
“Well, there are factors.”
“Yeah, like, I didn’t go up to you one day, and punch you in the face, and magically we were friends.”
“Ugh, fine! Bad example. Well, look: Just because your and my story begins and ends with violence doesn’t mean all stories are framed in violence. I mean, most people live their day to day without a need for killing.”
“Nobody, not even the boringest banker, lives their day without killing. They’re just too removed from it to remember.”
“No, that’s not—”
“Yeah, think about it. The banker can’t have meat with his meals but for the animal that died. He can’t work in a building with an address but for the veteran who defended his street. He can’t—”
“Yeah, but he doesn’t—”
“But he does. Whether he himself wields the knife or he pays a man to do it. Separation by abstraction is not actual separation.”
“‘Separation by abstraction’? Have you been talking to that priest again?”
“It’s just—It’s just what we’re talking about.”
“What you’re talking about. What I’m talking about is how most issues aren’t settled by violence.”
“Right, and I’m saying they are.”
“I think you’re the one that’s going too abstract here. Think about a man buying a potato at market. I mean, he could just take the potato and run. A man could probably feed his family just by disrespecting the system. In fact, everybody at the market could just take and run, and there’d be too much chaos for any vendor or guard to stop any particular thief. But that’s not how markets work.”
“The threat of violence maintains order.”
“Market detail is boring as hell! Order at the markets isn’t maintained by guards. With or without them, the majority of the market would take place exactly as it does. Guards deter pickpockets, they don’t create normal business.”
“Ah, but I think you’re wrong. I think it’s exactly the maintenance of peace that prompts normal business, and peace is maintained through violence and an ongoing threat of violence.”
“No, see, we’re employed when the peace is broken. The peace is broken by force and repaired by force, but peace is maintained by agreement and adherence to that agreement.”
“Ah, whatever whatever, John. Gah, you’re going to talk at me about this all morning, and we’re never going to get anywhere.”
“Hey, now,” John replied, sounding a little wounded, “you’re not adhering to the rules of engagement.”
“What rules? We’re just talking,” Charles answered.
“Yeah, we were, but you’re stopping.”
“Stopping isn’t allowed in the rules? We have to talk til we drop, til we die, til the violence of time settles our lives? Or even past then, and we have to wait for our throats to rot?”
“Well, when you put it that—”
But Charles stood before John could really get into his wounded character, which he could maintain for hours for any perceived grievance. “Let’s stop this. We have a big day ahead of us,” Charles said. He helped John to his feet off the sandy rock where he’d been resting.
“A big day?” John asked.
“Did you forget where we are?”
“We’re sieging Nissand. But there’s no reason to suspect today will be any different than yesterday.”
“Yes, John. Today’s a good day for a fight. A great day! A day for violence to settle some things.”
“A good day for a fight doesn’t mean there will be a fight,” John argued, but he smiled. “Did you—?”
“Yes, I prayed,” Charles said. “I threw the dice, I read the cards, I sat in silence and wonder.”
“I still feel that’s out of character for you.”
“Act in faith, and fiercely.”
“That’s your motto.”
“Yes. And through that the motto, I came to feel it in my bones: Today is a day for glory and for victory.”
John tensed his mouth in thought. “Will we survive the day?”
“Roll for it. See what we get.”
“Oh, don’t make me. That’s so silly.”
Charles punched him in the elbow. “Roll! It’s tradition.”
John sighed and pulled a small six-sided dice from his belt. He hefted and rolled it in his hand for a moment, blew on it for luck, and threw it in the hard-packed and dry sand-dirt at his feet. It landed corner-down and popped up into the air, rolling and bouncing for a moment before settling: Four.
“High and even,” Charles read. “A good roll. And same as me—”
“Of course it’s the same,” John muttered.
“—and looks as though we just might make it.”
“What are the odds on matching rolls again?”
“Well, one in thirty-six, a priest told me once.”
“One in thirty-six for every time we’ve done it?”
“Well, I each time it’s one in thirty-six, but if we’re going to add them all up, I suppose it’s more over time. But as you’ve seen, for us it’s guaranteed.”
“We should take bets,” John replied hesitantly. “How long have we had matching results?”
“As long as you’ve doubted that they should be matching.”
“And how many snake-eyes have we survived?”
Charles rolled his eyes. “Just the one. But today is not that day. Today is a day of glory!”
“Maybe they’ll surrender, and the conflict will resolve without violence.”
“Threat of violence is violence enough. And I read it in the cards: Some blood will shed today.
A few hours later, Charles looked with satisfaction at the battlefield that lay between them and the high walls of the city. Lunch had passed and the sun was burning high in the sky before the army–of which Fortune’s Favored were a fraction (but a significant fraction)–began to muster. The new guys in Charles’s company had complained when he began forming them before the army-wide call went out, but the veterans got them in line, and the whole company felt a sense of satisfaction when his prediction came true. Though they were professional soldiers, Charles’s prediction of good survivability for the troop in combat today kept spirits very high: the veterans knew that no battle had never proved Charles wrong.
He knew the city Nissand’s citizens must feel desperate. Their resources were cut off, and Mellon’s call to war and swift reaction to Nissand’s solitary refusal both took Nissand by surprise, and beyond that no individual city could be prepared for war with ten of their closest neighbors.
With no real preparation and no hope for relief, the city’s only options were to fight off an army many times its size or to surrender. Politics had cut off surrender as an option: To give in would cost the Governor Balm his office, and possibly his life. The unknown of many more lives Mellon might demand before allowing the Nissand back into the fold kept the rest of the city’s wealthy families in line.
“Men!” Charles barked. “The enemy is surrounded, likely underfed and definitely underslept, and there’s little to no chance they want to fight us. Keep this in mind if forced to confront or even kill your neighbors.
“Do not break formation! Do not pursue those who give flight. We have only to break the will of the city’s rulers, and this siege will end. We do not need to steal the city’s pride, only break their will.”
“Hurrah!” his men answered.
Mellon’s needs–the larger war on the horizon, across the straight with the wine merchants and goat fuckers–had paid for Fortune’s Favored to grow in size thirty percent. New farm boys and slaves filled his ranks and were the most likely to break ranks, which could not be allowed. After the gods, a shield wall was the most guaranteed means of victory, and any loose brick could compromise the wall’s stability. For this, he had mixed his new recruits throughout the wall, both to give them elders to look to for strength and inspiration, and to make any failures as distributed as possible.
“John,” Charles said, turning to his right, “what’s your guess about whether violence will be needed today?”
“Some, but not a lot, as you say,” John answered. His face was grim under his helmet. “Bronze on bronze, wall on wall may make this the most difficult battle we’ll face during the war.”
“I doubt today will be so hard, or for the long war we’ll be so lucky,” Charles said grimly.
“I’m sure you did a reading. Is that what it said?”
“I only asked for today.” Charles held his head high. “The auspices are good. Some trick will break the leaders’ will.”
“Some trick?” John asked.
“Yes, of which we were not informed. We will play our part and hold the line, and nothing more.”
Charles sat his horse and his men stood in silence in front of him, all baking in their armor under the bright afternoon sun, some hiding their skin under the shadow of their tall shields. The squads nearest them around them muttered and chattered some, but the army waited patiently in formation. Then a crack and groan silenced the field. The city’s gate was opening.
One phalanx and another left the city under the watchful eye of wall-striding archers and the curious onlookers camped out on any of the city’s closest spires. Mellon’s army and Charles’ men listened to the armored footsteps of the soldiers marching out and making their own formations under the wall. Before long, all the foot soldiers had formed rank, each with a mounted commander behind them to bellow orders and lead the charge. If only they hadn’t waited so long to leave their walls, they might have been with Mellon already, and his army would have already marched to real war.
Mellon himself and a team of the other city leaders trotted their horses out to the safe zone closest to the defending army. Charles felt it significant that city leaders other than Mellon were here: they had not marched with their armies and must have been summoned for this particular moment. Was the outcome here already decided, and all today was just raiment and show?
Mellon bellowed from on horseback, “We are not here to fight a sister city. We are here to collect men for the honor of us all. You are not here to fight a sister city. You are here to protect the wealthy among you who were too slow to answer my call. Lay down arms, and come join your brothers, and we shall go to glorious war.”
A man who must have been governor, for who else would have the authority to answer Mellon’s call, shouted out a reply that Charles could barely make out, “We are here to defend our city. We are sad to see that our regional neighbors are our attacked. Leave us in peace and go have your war elsewhere.”
“We have not stayed for weeks to leave empty handed,” Mellon called back. “You who have resisted for weeks will not see victory but through me.”
“If you must have war, then you shall have it. Nissand will not submit.”
Mellon answered softly, but his voice rolled across the plains like thunder and may have even been heard on the wall: “The gods hear my prayer.” Then he bellowed again, “This city will not fall and need not submit. It is only you who do heed your neighbors. May the gods smite you, traitor.”
“Traitor?” Balm called back in shock. “I rule my city as I see fit–”
But he broke off, and Balm’s little figure disappeared off the ramparts, and figures along the wall began moving around in an indecipherable commotion. A murmur of confusion ran through Mellon’s army, and Charles heard some of his own men curse and mutter coward and other choice terms.
“Quiet!” Charles ordered. His men responded, but he felt the tension all around. He felt his horse’s spirit go tense like it did just before battle. Charles patted its neck.
In the distance, he saw the spears of Nissand’s army waver and lower. A murmur of voices carried across the plain, their confusion apparent. Over the next few moments, the voices grew louder, punctuated by shouts and one solitary wail that silenced all. Then one shout rang out– “Retreat into the city!”–and the phalanxes turned face and went back through the gate.
“Mellon!” the same voice called out. “Come to the city, and we’ll meet as friends. Our gate is open to you, your captains, and as much of your host as we can fit.”
“Ja-eel,” Mellon answered, “what has happened?”
“Come, friend,” Ja-eel called. “You and your prayer have won.”
“Trickery,” John scoffed, amused. “Your cards never fail.”
“And some bloodshed,” Charles reminded him.
“Men!” Mellon bellowed back at his army. “Advance to the wall!”
A quick ripple of sound filled the plain as soldiers lift their shields from the ground and settled in for an armed march. They passed Mellon and his entourage, covering the few hundred yards to stand at the foot of the gate in a few moments. Charles hung back behind his men to see whether the archers on the wall might loose in some treachery, but no arrows flew, and quick enough Charles could see their pained and anxious expressions.
“Saigan!” Mellon called from behind. “Enter.”
Saigan, beloved hero of Sinai, called at his men and commanded them to enter the city with shields held at battle-mobile height. They entered the gate, and he followed ahorse.
For a heartbeat, no new sound came from the city but renewed murmuring. The Saigan called out, “It’s safe! We may enter.”
“Advance!” Mellon commanded, and his army moved in. On the other side of the gate were piles of thousands spears, swords, shields, and bows. Soldiers stood two-deep along the city’s main roadway. As Mellon’s army filed into the city, shields and spears held high, they had to file themselves along the same lines, standing within breathing distance of the soldiers that this morning had been their enemy. Charles, Saigan, and the other horsed leaders stayed in the middle of the column, riding towards the city’s main plaza. There, the famous sea-god Nemanes’ fountain spouted, and one citizen stood astide the fountain’s rim. More disarmed city soldiers stood two-deep around the perimiter of the forum, and citizens and solders not included in the display crowded the plaza’s other street and burst from surrounding windows and roofs.
“Hello!” the citizen called to the horsed captains. “Please, fill the plaza with your men and let Mellon through. If our city was ever at war with you, then we surrender.”
The captains and soldiers did fill the plaza and then some, leaving Mellon’s armed soldiers to line the entry street with Nissand’s disarmed soldiers. In this fashion, Mellon and the other city leaders entered Nissand and paraded through the streets to the plaza.
“Ja-eel,” Mellon said, approaching the fountain. “What happened here today?”
“Murder,” Ja-eel answered. A gasp ran through Mellon’s men. “Governor Balm was shot by an archer during your parley.”
“Dishonorable,” Mellon replied.
“A most unfortunate way to die,” added Henna, city leader of Lennos.
“A revolt was almost inevitable,” Ja-eel said. “The city did not support Governor Balm in his delay, and the siege affected the city’s morale.”
“Defiance will not be allowed!” Mellon shouted angrily. “Not from the city’s leaders, not from the lowliest urchin. This archer may think he has done me a favor, but I will show him my gratitude through swift justice.”
A look of shock flitted across Ja-eel’s face, and the group suffered a moment of silence. “He died in the execution. He tried to flee in the confusion and fell from the wall to his death. His mangled body is still at its foot.”
“The gods justice arrives on winged feet where I can only ride a horse. Relationships forged in law rule us all. That is our convenant as a free region, and our promise to meet the gods’ expection.”
“Yes,” Ja-eel responded.
“Good. We shall not linger.” Mellon turned to shout down the long street to the gate. “Nissandi men, re-arm! Find pleasure tonight, and say your goodbyes. Tomorrow, we begin our march to where roads end, and when they begin again, we will find our enemy. Tonight, we feast!”
A cheer went up through the men, and Charles cheered with them. A sweet victory, a parade and feast, all without taking a risk with the new recruits. Mellon and the other city leaders dismounted and approached Ja-eel, each shaking his hand in turn. As the shouting died down, Charles commanded his men: “Enjoy the feast, but return to camp tonight. Find comfort where you can, but maintain order above all.”
“Hurrah!” his men answered, and with that he dismounted, handing his horse off to one of the new recruits with the short order to take the wall to the stable nearest the gate.
Charles clapped John on the shoulder with a squeeze and said, “Well, have you ever been inside the walls of Nissand before?”
Why does Ja-eel get to lead the city after the governor’s murder? (Should his name even be Ja-eel?)
What’s the name of the region the cities belong to? (Did Greeks think of themselves as “Greeks”? Did they have a cross-city regional name?) Why is this even a Greco-Roman hybrid?
Charles and John’s names are stupid considering all other characters. Rethink all character names given setting and cultural context.
Charles should be a commander in a city’s army, not a mercenary group. Why would there be mercenaries anyway?
The city name Nissand annoys me for some reason.
Yo, where all da women at?