Memories of a Shieldmaiden

There were a few iterations of how I wanted to tell this story before it ended up coming back to a fairly “standard” prose narrative. But if you thought “The Empire” was preachy, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Enjoy this classic medieval fantasy short story where some of the dark-edginess of modern culture has finally gotten through to me.

From the order of Nerstad Shieldmaidens, this text comes from the 322nd year of yellow. In memory of Amy Knudsen, her mentor Brenna Varlsen has recorded some of their dialogues from memory to instruct future initiates. May they survive this perilous path for longer.

I greeted Amy on a warm summer’s eve at the citadel, and we began the pilgrimage in high spirits. We hadn’t really spoken before, and chatted a little at first on light topics (oddly enough she went on about her favorite fruit, Raspberries, for almost an hour). For a girl sent to the order as an orphan, and who had never farmed her own meals, she had a lot of opinions about fruits and vegetables.

I recently had a watch on the citadel parapets at midday, perhaps Amy was one of the girls I saw sneaking out to the forest during lunch time. You’d think a militant order centered around justice would be quick to punish such girls, but I always felt that missing lunch was punishment enough (I knew that Abby, the sternest kitchen mistress alive, would never dole out an extra meal to an initiate no matter the sob story). It was also a general policy that if they couldn’t protect themselves in the forest, even as initiates, then they would never succeed in protecting others. So I did not bother to report it, and without an investigation I never really found who was sneaking out that day.

The pilgrimage is traditionally an initiate’s first taste of the real world, and Amy had a fairly sheltered upbringing in the Citadel. I had my doubts that she’d continue to wander after the year of pilgrimage. Shieldmaidens are ostensibly an itinerant order and so we train to travel the world and bring justice to all. But a wandering life is not for everyone, and the order is quite relaxed about it if a Shieldmaiden wishes to stick around the citadel or settle down with some farmer. You’d never achieve veteran status if you did that, but I could not imagine Amy reaching veteran status after we first spoke.

I recall vividly our first real conversation after several hours of walking. Amy had been silent for a while, and seemed annoyed by the time she suddenly spoke up. “Why aren’t we there yet?”

“Amy, where exactly do you think we are headed?”

“I assume we’re heading to Kerlsvald to the North,” Amy replied, “I mean, my pilgrimage is about visiting the villages of Nerstad and it’s closest.”

Every pilgrimage seems to start this way. I don’t know if it’s youth or the year spent studying theory inside the cold stone walls of the citadel, but every initiate seems to be impatient at first. I tried to answer patiently, hoping it might rub off. “You have much to learn still, and that is what your pilgrimage is truly about. The first thing to learn is discipline and travelling the wilderness, so we will bypass by Kerlsvald and reach Lemmersvald in about a week.”

“A week of trudging through the wild?” sputtered Amy in shock, “A week of sleeping on rocks, foraging for nuts and berries, and twelve hours of walking a day?”

“Did you expect the life of a Shieldmaiden to be all battle and glory?”

“No, but I didn’t expect it to be all walking! I want to help people, be with people (or beat up people), not wander around in dead space.”

I suppressed a chuckle before replying, “Welcome to the warrior’s life. If our presence can solve problems for people, it is in bringing that presence to them that the real value lies. Usually anyone with the capacity and forethought to come to the citadel is strong enough to handle themselves. So while none of our order are just here to walk, get used to doing a lot of it.”

She didn’t talk much the rest of that week. I don’t think she was too happy with me.

Eventually we reached Lemmersvald and I gave the customary introduction at the village square. “We are Shieldmaidens. Does your hamlet require aid to seek justice?”

“Yes, thank the light you have come,” replied the village elder immediately. He was so enthusiastic I’m amazed he was able to stand still while I delivered my line. He continued, “Bandits stole our cattle last week, and they have been taunting our village ever since.”

“Taunting?”

“Yes, at night they scrawl charcoal messages on the walls. They demand tribute if we are to ever get our cattle back, but we have nothing we can spare.”

“We’ll take care of any ‘tribute’. Do you know where we can find these bandits?”

“No, they are masters of the night and slip into the shadows before they can be seen.”

I answered with a confidence born of experience, “Don’t worry, we’ll find them.” Amy stayed impassive by my side as we were led to one of the charcoal messages, pretending she knew how to track bandits perfectly well already. As we began to walk around the edge of the village, she finally began to ask the right questions.

“How are you so sure we’ll find the bandits?” Amy was speaking softly out of the corner of her mouth, as if she thought the villagers had never conceived of an initiate or apprentice. But she had to admit to me that she didn’t know what to do, and I had to explain it to her. That’s the whole point of bringing her along, after all.

“We’ll start by searching for clues,” I explained, “ ‘Masters of the night’ could just mean that the villagers here are heavy sleepers. But if the bandits were really clever, and didn’t leave any clues, we can lie in wait for the next set of messages.”

“Just lie in wait? You think they’ll just come back and scrawl something else instead of attacking?”

“Of course. If they wanted to sack the village we’d have found a charred ruin, instead of some ashen graffiti on the side of a hut. They don’t want to attack, and their stupid pride probably keeps them from walking away.”

Amy was incredulous as she responded, “So we’re just going to bet on the bandits being stupid?”

“Not bet. We’ll check, and take advantage of it if they are. Look there, those footprints lead away from the scrawled message.”

“The villagers must have seen that, they’d have told us if the bandits left a trail.”

I continued to explain to her, “Why would farmers look for a trail? You saw their meek expression, they would not hunt the bandits down themselves. Nor should they, when a source of impartial justice such as ourselves is near.”

Amy was pensive for a moment before asking, “Then are we the ones making them meek?”

“Not entirely, but you said that as if it were a bad thing.”, I continued to lecture, “It is better for society to limit the number of individuals capable of violence. No matter who hunts down the bandits, bloodshed is a distinct possibility. I fight so that others need not face that harrowing event, and I trust in the order’s teaching and discipline to keep our own capacity for violence from becoming a similar problem to banditry.”

“We’re nothing like the bandits! We would never become like them!”

By this point I ceased to argue with her. The nature of violence would become viscerally apparent to her when we found the bandits. They were not hard to find, and the fight was short and sweet. Amy did little more than hide behind her shield and watch, about what I’d expect for her first real taste of battle. I had an easier time with initiates coming from a troubled past, who had already experienced violence. Sometimes I’ve had to confront initiates about this, but Amy started the conversation while we were herding the cattle back.

“Why did they all have to die?”

“Justice demanded it.”

Amy shot back, “But the teachings forswear revenge as having any relation to justice.”

“It is not demanded out of revenge for the past, but to ensure justice in the future,” I said, a lecture I had given many times before, “We gave them a chance to repent, a chance for them to give us some reason to believe they will not continue to act unjustly. They refused. With such an eloquent lack of defense, we must assume that to leave them alive will lead to further unjust acts. A Shieldmaiden protects the weak, and that protection is only truly there if unjust acts are prevented – not merely undone.”

“But the strong always have the potential to abuse their power!”

I chuckled at this. “You do not know true strength. Perhaps it is the fault of the order, for our motto of ‘protect the weak’ is not the whole story. We protect those who cannot protect themselves against injustice, but many who perpatrate injustices are themselves weak. They are weak of heart, for they cannot resist the allure of passion or some strange voice in their head, but we will not protect them. If we could protect them from themselves we might, but that is beyond the skills of our order. So we protect others from them, with weakness abounding in many of the players. Even us, at times.”

Amy seemed confused as she proffered forth another question, “So the bandits we just defeated, they were weak?”

“Indeed they were, and be grateful for that,” I explained, “Men have always been stronger than us, hence the age-old tradition of making armies from men exclusively. But that is not a universal law, merely a trend. We train our bodies hard, every day, to get and maintain our strength. Our efforts push against that trend, make us exceptions to the rule. Were criminals always as trained and conditioned as our disciplined order, we would surely fall.”

Amy was not convinced. “But our great shields provide an indomitable defense, how could we fall to mere bandits?”

“The shield provides a great defense, but an opponent strong in mind can be patient, and defeat it.” I felt I was repeating her entire year of study as I continued to explain, “Recall the bandits you fought; they would waste their energy striking the shield and then expose themselves to easy counter attack in a rash attempt to attack around it. They did not know how to fight, and did not wait for you to make a mistake.”

“The bandit leader looked much tougher, yet even he was not able to beat you.” Amy clearly remembered well the only part of the battle which could be called a challenge.

I hoped she had learned from it, but I reiterated the key points to make sure. “He was not, but he came much closer. He did not expose himself with a reckless attack, and were he in peak condition he may well have wrested my shield from me, or knocked me out in the struggle. You do not yet have the experience to spot it, but he had let himself go since he was a true warrior.”

“Let himself go?”

“There have been no wars throughout the land for many years, and his body was more fat than sinew. His practice against these dirt-farmers-gone-rogue would not have kept his mind agile either. You will learn these things, if you survive training.”

More than anything else, this seemed to shock Amy to the core. “If I survive? I have never heard of an initiate falling in battle!”

“As I said, there have been no wars in the land for a very long time. The order of Shieldmaidens is the only martial order left which maintains discipline, and this gives us a great advantage. An advantage we sorely need, given how we are forbidden from carrying actual weapons. But when I was an initiate, shortly after the last war, the bandits were hardened warriors who could not adapt to a peaceful life. Maintaining order was a brutal way of life, and for every initiate who survived her training, two more fell in battle.”

“Wow, I had no idea…” muttered Amy.

She must not have taken the book learning seriously, for I know this was a covered topic. I decided to continue patiently explaining it to her. “Many of the younger Shieldmaidens do not have the experience from that time, and have never faced the uphill struggle that the order had long ago. I fear we too may become complacent and weak in time. That is how people work, and our nature is a force more powerful than even the discipline of the order.”

We were fortunate to have this experience on our first stop along the way, and the previous conversations rehashed themselves many times along the trail. For quite some time after, the villages we passed through had not even minor problems and merely replenished our supplies with their bountiful harvests. This era of peace has its advantages for many, but the initiate before Amy didn’t even see a single person die on her pilgrimage. The harsh reality that a Shieldmaiden faces cannot be adequately described through words alone – fortunately for Amy (though unfortunately for others) we encountered more trouble several months later at Kvarnstenn.

The villagers were already gathered in the village square when we arrived. I gave the formulaic introduction. “We are Shieldmaidens. Does your hamlet require aid to seek justice?”

The village elder stood apart from the rest. “She does!” he shouted, and pointed at a woman tied to a stake, “For succumbing to the temptation of adultery she must perish by the light!”

Amy was too shocked for words. I whispered to her, “In this region, the penalty for adultery is to be tied to a stake until the sun dries you out entirely”. Then I addressed the crowd, “I understand, and will enact justice for you.”

The crowd cheered as I approached the stake, with a sudden change to boos and hisses when I cut the woman down with my ritual dagger. “Cover me”, I whispered to Amy, and back to back we walked out of the village square with their shields raised and the woman laid across my shoulder. Some of the villagers threw rocks, most of which glanced harmlessly off the shields, but we each picked up a few new bruises on our way out. We got off the main road as soon as the villagers were out of sight.

“We can no longer pass through Hallorheim”, I said, “We’ll need to go through the wilderness to the east and out to the next region as quickly as we can.”

“Why?”, asked Amy, “Will the villagers pursue us?”

“No, but they will inform the lord of this land and he will not take kindly to what we have done.”

Incredulously Amy asked, “He likes seeing people brutally executed for indiscretion?”

Sadly I replied, “When it’s peasants, yes.”

“Then perhaps we should visit Justice upon him!”

“That is not for the two of us to determine.”

“Surely it is not merely us who consider him unjust.”

“In this part of the world, it may very well be so,” I said, and fell back to lecturing. “Remember that you have learned Justice from the texts of our order. We are but one faction in this wide, wide world. Each fief in this kingdom has authority to determine its own laws, and this never aligns precisely with our own code.”

Still incredulous, Amy asked, “You mean we’re breaking the law by rescuing this woman?”

“Yes. But we are still bound to do what’s right.”

This just seemed to confuse Amy. She continued her questioning, “Are we to determine what is right for everyone?”

“We can only determine what is right for ourselves. Would you have felt right leaving her to die?”

“Absolutely not!”

“There’s your answer. In a sense, it matters little as to what is the one ‘universal’ right. In the real world what matters is what actions will offend or inspire those strong of arm and conscience.”

“I’ve read that in study many times,” said Amy, still sounding unsure, “But doesn’t this action offend some lord, strong of arm?”

“Well, this is why we take you out to the real world. Not as clean-cut as the texts. Issues like this are rare, for no lord (of strong conscience) would frown upon our execution of proven bandits or beasts. Not every action is so easily accepted, and this is why we have the texts of our order.”

“But you just said…” interrupted Amy.

“I know what I said, and I’m still saying it if you just hold your horses,” I said. I began to despair of my patience rubbing off on her, but kept trying as I continued my train of thought. “We are a martial order, with some authority for use of force handed down to us by the King himself. That authority was handed down with those texts specifically in mind. Our disagreement with local lords takes place at a higher level. Lord Fjarnsen can bring this to the king, and I believe he has at the congress of lords in the past. If the king decides we must change our laws, we may have to do so. If the king decides Fjarnsen must change his laws, the same. I do not know what transpired in his conversations with the king, except that we have not had to change our laws yet. But this adds more real world complexity, as I cannot be sure we have not changed our laws in the months since we left, or that the village was sticking to something outdated, or if Lord Fjarnsen has been told to change by the King. Even then, he could have refused.”

“He cannot refuse the king!”, interrupted Amy, ”No-one has dared that since the war”

“Oh he would not directly refuse the king.”, I said (patiently, for an interruption was long over-due), “But if he merely paid lip service to the king’s wishes, the law may only change in a book that no-one reads. Even in a best case scenario, the laws could have changed on the books but it will take time for those changes to reach the village elders. Who may not even be willing to hear them, without a show of force from their Lord.”

“With all this uncertainty, how can we possibly uphold a law we don’t know?”

“If you don’t know *a* law, you were herded out of the citadel too soon,” I said, beginning to feel that was the case, “We must do what we can with what we have, and you cannot discard the laws of our order as you learned them just because of a possibility that they might change. Especially since it has been over twelve years since even the last minor revision of our laws”.

“And what of offending that lord, Fjarn-whats-his-name?”

I sighed, “That’s why we need to keep walking.”

We saw no-one until we reached a nunnery outside lord Fjarnsen’s fief. I’m sure there’s a reason that several nunneries are just past the border in several directions, and I’ve had to use a few of them in my time. We left the woman we saved there, and I like to think that she recovered from her ordeal and adapted to the life of a nun. But she could never return home after that.

We eventually reached the end of Amy’s year-long pilgrimage, as little else happened after Kvarnstenn. A lot more quiet villages, although we did help talk down a drunk in Vennanstenn (she thought she was a swan, but jumping from the inn roof would not have been a graceful feat). We also broke up a brawl in Berissen (one man said another had stolen his knife, but without finding the knife in question we were forced to abandon that and move on). We returned to a surprisingly disquieting scene at the Shieldmaiden citadel.

Amy was peering ahead of us when she asked, “Brenna, why would the circus be visiting the citadel?”

I looked as well, and did not like what I thought I saw. “It wouldn’t… those tents aren’t for a circus.”

“But then what’s all that wooden scaffolding for? Looks to me like they’re building a stage.”

“They’re building the housing for a mobile battering ram,” I said, “The citadel is under siege.” I could forgive her for not recognizing that, open war is not an expected part of a Shieldmaiden’s life and has been left out of training entirely in recent years.

Amy scoffed, “We can’t be attacked, we have a divine mandate passed down by the King.”

“All the mandates in the world won’t stop that battering ram as well as our steel gates can. Come, we need to circle around to the southern hills.”

That just seemed to confuse Amy, and she asked “We’re just going to leave the citadel? When it’s under attack?”

“Do you want to fight that army on your own?” I asked, half-jokingly, “There’s a rallying point in the southern hills. We can find any other Shieldmaidens who have returned since the siege.”

Nestled in a slight valley, we found a camp with around a dozen Shieldmaidens. They were in the middle of interrogating a captured messenger when we arrived. Bloody and bruised, he was already up to the ‘spill the beans’ stage. As we approached, we began to overhear his hurried explanations.

“The message I have begs lord Niels to return home immediately. I’m sure he’ll assent, if you just let me deliver it.”

Veteran Caitlin was conducting the interrogation and she barked back at him, “I’ve read the missive, it’s a feeble attempt at begging.”

“You don’t know lady Niels, this is the strongest tone I’ve ever seen her use. We’ll all be out of here by sundown, I swear.”

“All? I didn’t know Niels was so influential among all these lords.”

“No, not just him,” the messenger continued to blabber, I’ve heard that all the ladies have ordered their husbands back. I carried a lot of messages between lady Niels and her friends recently, they’re definitely conspiring about something.”

“Something being a virtual revolt at home if the men don’t return now?”

“Exactly!” said the messenger, getting excited, “Just let me hand this to lord Niels, the siege will be lifted in no time! No-one needs to get hurt!”

“I’ve heard that one before,” replied Caitlin, not excited at all, “Tie him up with the other prisoners. Who’s this?”. She moved to look at us, standing nearby.

I stepped forward and spoke. “Veteran Brenna and Initiate Amy, we just returned from pilgrimage.”

“It’s good to see you well Brenna. I gather you saw the situation for yourself?”

“The citadel under siege. I never thought I’d see the day.”

“A calamitous time, but the result of something even stranger last month.”

“Another ‘virgin’ birth?” I chuckled.

“That’s hardly strange, and certainly no reason to go to war,” said Caitlin snippily, “The elder sisters decided to rewrite the arms restrictions of our order.”

“Shieldmaidens were being armed with swords?”

“And halberds,” Caitlin added, confirming my hypothesis. She continued, “Some nice stuff, all steel, and I don’t know where they got it from. But it wasn’t handed down by royal decree, I can assure you of that.”

“No wonder there’s a siege then. The local fiefs must have considered that an open act of aggression.”

“Exactly, and they started to rally their armies to put us back ‘in our place’. The siege started almost a week ago now.”

“Have the King’s troops arrived?”, I asked as dread began to take root, “For either side?”

“No sign of a royal contingent yet. He always seemed to favor our order, but the charter with his seal does forbid us from carrying arms. I don’t know what he’ll do.”

Amy jumped in with a hopeful expression, “Maybe he’ll just let this blow over. The messenger said the armies were being called home already.”

Caitlin and I both laughed at that. But as my initiate, it was my duty to explain to Amy why. “You didn’t think it was odd how his every sentence explained how great everything would be if we just let him go?”

Amy seemed a little hurt by my mild mockery, but continued, “It looked like you had beat him already, isn’t that supposed make them tell the truth?”

“Your pilgrimage was supposed to introduce you to violence, so you should know that’s not how it works.” After I said it, I realized that that was too condescending for the point to get across.

Amy exploded, “Then why hit people during an interrogation at all? If they aren’t going to tell you anything more, there’s no need to make them suffer.”

“It does make them talk more, just not necessarily truth,” I said, trying to return to a less-judgemental lecturing tone, “It gets them scared and they’ll say a lot in a panicked attempt to survive. But if the truth won’t help them survive, they won’t be thinking of it.”

“That doesn’t sound worth hurting him for.”

“It’s not a good thing to do, but Caitlin was right to do it. It’s the lesser of two evils, when we need information in order to keep the order alive.”

Perplexed again Amy continued to ask, “Wait, I thought you just said we didn’t get any information. Wasn’t he was just mewling to save his own skin.”

“He did talk, you just can’t let his conclusions get to you. He was probably telling the truth about the ladies of these fiefs trying to get the armies recalled. I gather that was what his letter conveyed. I just don’t share his optimism that it’s certain to work.”

Realization seemed to dawn on Amy, as she speculated, “I guess if these lords are here already, after spending all the time to mobilize their armies, they would have discussed this before they left home.”

“I wouldn’t bet on that either. Some will certainly persuade their armies to return. True power belongs not to those who have the strength but those who wield it. Many a story I’ve heard where the lady of the fief holds the real power.”

“Stories like ‘The moon of Njorlstad’?”, said Amy mockingly, “That’s make-believe, I expected better from you Brenna.”

I blushed, “I wasn’t referring to those stories (although that is one of my favorites). It can happen in real life. Sometimes. It really depends on the people involved and the situation as to who’s really in control, and you may never know those details well enough. I can’t pick that out with certainty for any of the fiefs camped here.”

Caitlin scoffed, “I know enough about lord and lady Niels to know that he won’t back down just because she asks.”

“So there goes the point in re-delivering that message,” I said, “We’ll need to lift the siege on our own.”

“Not just on our own”, interjected Caitlin, “Lord Paol and some other fiefs have promised to send forces in our defense.”

“They support us rewriting our own mandate?” I asked.

“I haven’t asked”, she said quickly, “but his letter states that attacking the citadel is unacceptable. That’s good enough for me, if their troops ever get here.”

“When will they arrive?”

“Any day now.”

And that was the very next day, when the reinforcements arrived. The look-out saw a few hundred men-at-arms and a dozen or so mailed warriors on horseback flying the colors of lord Paol, so Caitlin led the handful of Shieldmaidens out to meet them.

Caitlin greeted him as he dismounted, “It is an honor to meet you Lord Paol.”

Paol gave a friendly response, “The honor is mine, Shieldmaiden. What may I call you?”

“My name is Caitlin, I am a veteran of the Shieldmaiden order. I speak for those trapped outside by the siege. We got your message that you were prepared to assist us.”

“Attacking an order endowed by the king is tantamount to treason. We could not stand by and watch it happen.”

“We appreciate your concern,” came dryly out of Caitlin’s mouth. But she didn’t want to have a political discussion while the siege was still ongoing, so she quickly continued onto the military situation. “The besieging forces are camped about two miles to the north, we estimate five hundred men-at-arms and they’re building a siege battering ram. We’ll have to strike soon.”

Paol jumped in to continue that thought, “Right, before they can use the ram and gain access to the citadel. We must save your people.”

“It’s really more so that we get a favorable engagement.”, said Caitlin, falling a bit into a lecturing tone herself as if Lord Paol were but another initiate, “There is certain to be a sizable contingent, at least a hundred warriors, inside the citadel. When we attack, they’ll sally forth to open a second front. But when the ram rolls up to the gates, they’ll sally forth to capture the ram whether we’re there or not.”

Paol was impressed. “Sounds well coordinated. How are you in contact with them?”

“We’re not. We just have enough strategic training that I’m pretty sure of what they’ll do. Haven’t you been trained in the art of war?”

“Well, I did pick up a few things from that climactic scene in ‘The moon of Njorlstad’…”

“Never mind,” said Caitlin in an even tone, even while she was chuckling to herself on the inside, “We’ll make it work. Ready to go?”

“If we can, we should give the men a day to rest. Tired soldiers would be a disadvantage we can ill afford with these numbers.”

So the men-at-arms spent the day putting up a crude camp and taking it easy, while the Shieldmaidens went through round after round of exercises and drills. The next day they attacked the besiegers’ camp and the battle got into full swing. As predicted, the forces inside the citadel sallied forth and overwhelmed the sentries near the gate, before joining in on the battle at the camp. When the army of Shieldmaidens descended upon their camp from behind, the besieging force routed. Many of the attacking lords ran away as well, and all without a single casualty in the host of Shieldmaidens from inside.

The outside force, with Paol and Caitlin, fared much worse. Caitlin and Amy died gloriously, like many of us who led the charge, and almost a third of the men-at-arms. But the siege was lifted, and the order declared victory.

I never intended for Amy to get this kind of introduction to violence on her pilgrimage. Even the day before the battle I thought she had finished her task, experienced the world, and would probably end up spending her days picking raspberries for the citadel. But there were no more days for her, no more raspberries, and for once the justice of our victory felt hollow by association.

Caitlin was also one of my dearest friends, as was Sigrid (a Shieldmaiden I had gone on pilgrimage with many years ago, also fallen in the charge), and I cried in secret for them all night. We’re not supposed to, and I probably shouldn’t have added this to the official recount, but it’s true. Facing death every day means little if it is my own, or that of a pathetic unshaven bandit who has signed his own death warrant. But with the death of several of my friends at once, it was too much to just bury my grief. Almost everyone in our order knew one of the fallen and, though no-one dared speak of it then, I know I was not the only one to cry in her pillow that night.

There was a memorial service for the fallen Shieldmaidens. Amy had changed so much over that year that no-one else could recognize her. Or maybe it was because her face had been caved in by a mace. Still, it gave me the chance to identify her to the elders and assure her place among the honored dead. I may have stretched the truth a little, but she had returned to citadel (completing her pilgrimage) and immediately given her life in defense of the order. Thus I justified naming her veteran Amy Knudsen, and to this day her bones lay in the catacombs among our finest warriors.

Soon after that a messenger appeared, from one of the routed lords claiming that he had sent to the King who would soon appear to crush the order once and for all. Even sooner after that, another messenger carried royal writ authorizing the Shieldmaidens to carry arms. It bore the Queen’s seal, and was framed in the main hall of the Citadel for all to see. It marked a decisive end to this short chapter of war.

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