Shield Wall

It’s about the shield wall, everything. All your cavalry and skirmishers are no good if the shield wall collapses. If it holds, your skirmishers and horse save so many soldiers’ lives for the next battle.

Oh, my darling children, this is the fundamental line. After that things become complicated. Some soldiers will die. Care for your wounded: help them. The dead, they have loved ones, family. If you like, that means compassion on your part is military efficiency. You save lives and therefore grief. If you don’t like, it means you lose credibility as a leader of your people and the general of your armies.

The people will turn against you. It takes them less time to realise you are useless. Less, because it takes you longer. When they do, it is too late to hope for compassion.

My troops were at their absolute best at Incarthaea. We could have taken that city easily. We didn’t – I’ll get to that later.

Spherulin looks like an easy take if you want conquest. But they are so subtle. Their city is ringed, as you know, with forest. All their power goes into that. An army can get lost, panicked for no reason. Legend has it some armies in the past simply disappeared.

I gained access to their city – and port, yes they have a huge port deep inland. I assume it’s similarly defended by enchantment, but I hadn’t time to look into that. I went as a trader with three donkeys. The path through the forest was thin, arduous and, at every turn, I was questioned and everything searched. None of the guards ever knew I was an emperor, nor suspected my intention to invade. Or … maybe they did, but knew it would never happen. I don’t know.

Their forests are full of sorcery. Roads move all the time. Look back and the way you came has changed. There is something in the air which confuses. I found myself walking away almost as often as heading towards their city. An army would fail – at least any army I could summon.

I arrived at the city walls, shocked at their condition, low, crumbling and overgrown, they would not stop children let alone an army. All these people’s power goes into the wood. It’s not worth even trying to invade unless you learn more about it.

Of course, a year or two later, I made trading agreements with them and now we have a currency exchange system.

Incarthaea: they are another story, another boundary. I had trained my soldiers to crash into their shield wall, drop shields and attack with their short swords while the third and subsequent ranks hurled weapons. Of course they did just that. This tactic worked everywhere else with devastating results. It worked there too, but only just. The Incarthaeans, despite their numerical disadvantage and fighting uphill, were shocking in their skill and discipline.

We won: they fled back into their city. I sat, exhausted, and watched my soldiers downhill, stabbing the still living but wounded, severing fingers to steal gold rings, cutting off heads to throw to each other for sport, and other things I will not mention lest I feel, or make you feel, sick.

Yes, I could have taken Incarthaea that day. Its white walls, its towers and all. But Incarthaea?all the writing, dance and poetry, all the theatre and wisdom? I could only have taken it with the beasts whom I had failed to civilise.

My soldiers, indomitable soldiers, were my making – but I lacked wisdom. In taking Incarthaea I would have seen the best of everything humanity has achieved destroyed by them on my own orders.

In a moment of profound insight I realised greater and better gods were entering our world.

This is why I would beseech you to achieve something I failed to do. Educate and civilise this country.

Incartha was, and still is, creating something more valuable than any gold we could take.

This, my children, is the best wisdom I can give you. Make your shield wall the strongest. Land and conquest are your wealth, but … but be so careful. There is something wonderful happening, here and there, which is precious and comes from gods. It cannot be take by force – only as inspiration.

©Gary Bonn, 2021