Saturday, June 25, 2005

King of the hill

A king stands on the grassy peak of a hill, at some point between the Romans sodding off and the Normans sodding on. From this vantage, he has a great view all round. He can see his lands, his wealth... and the enemy army down in the valley before him, preparing to wage war.

The king is surrounded by his closest, most loyal, most able men. Around them are their best men, and so on and so on, the king's army commanding all the hill. Each concentric ring is another rank of soldiery, the outer bands full of peasants and farmers paid housecarls, even idle men here by accident of fate. Some out at this range might not even know the king's name.

Housecarls from the Bayeaux TapestryAround the perimeter of the king's defences, men with shields jostle up close, creating a protective wall. They will be the first to engage the foe, the first to die. And because of this, they are fiercely proud. They might be well-paid, but it can never be enough.

The king looks out, over the heads of his army, down on the enemy mustered below. He feels safe on his hilltop, surrounded by his garrison. He is restless, sure the land under the enemy's feet rightly belongs to him. He might even be a bit bored.

'Let's show 'em what we are, then,' he says.

The men beside him nod, and pass the order outwards. Word makes it through the ranks, leaking through to the proud shield-bearers on the perimeter. The shield men take up the call. They get the message, and yelling it for all they're worth, they charge.

At best, these men will be decimated and their king will win the day. At worst, every one of them, and every one of the men behind them, is dead. Their first wave will be crucial, and they have to believe that the rest of the king's men are close behind them, with them all the way.

'We're leading this,' they say to themselves as they break against the enemy's own wall of shields. 'We're leading this,' as they fight and hack and die, smashing themselves and the king's message against the unyielding foe. 'We're leading this,' they say, as they fall, broken bodies trampled into the mud by their own comrades.

Their names will not be remembered. These men are fodder, for all the king cares. All that matters is that there are people so willing to carry his word into the fray.

Today, they would be his advertising agency.

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