A strange and sudden demand made by a military hero. The princess had not spent much time with him since the summoning, and here he was months later, the Hero of The Western Cliffs. Demanding she strip for him.
"What ever do you mean?" She asked.
"Do you want to accompany me to the eastern front or not?" He replied.
As per her recent letter, since the defence of the west was proceeding as he had laid out, and his attention was once more turning eastward, she wanted to see warfare from his perspective. He was unique among the summons, perhaps too unique she now thought, but none could deny his accomplishments.
"Very well. If it must be done, it shall be done."
The princess told her attendants to leave, much to their shock and horror. But they obeyed nonetheless, knowing that there was no talking her out of it. She requested that the hero leave as well, which he did.
After some time, still hesitant and therefore slow to remove her clothing, she was ready for him. It was an activity she'd not engaged in prior, her chastity valuable in political matters. Still, she was reaching the age when even royalty was, under more favourable circumstances, expected to marry regardless of political gain. She just hadn't expected such relations to occur under these circumstances.
Standing naked, in as dignified a manner as she was able, she spoke toward the door; "I'm ready."
As she had expected the Hero of the Western Cliffs to walk in and claim her for his own, she was quite taken aback when instead walked in an elderly gnome and two assistants. The two gnomes were clearly employed in making articles of clothing, and the other was a gruff looking dwarf whose profession she could not guess at.
"We have arrived, your highness, to fit you for armour." The gnome in charge said as they all bowed.
She was dumbstruck, but played it off well. To be nude in the presence of those who will be making your clothing is a natural and familiar experience for someone of high standing.
Her measurements were taken as usual, but the dwarf had her assume many poses to take additional measurements and measurements of angle and curve.
At some point in the process, though she did not notice until afterwards, the summoned hero entered the room and took notes of his own.
"Sir hero, I must say this has been a jarring experience." She complained at him. "You make such an uncouth demand of me, without any passion or promise on your lips, and my expectations..."
She trailed off and turned a darker shade of red than at any point during her measurements. She didn't know what she had thought would happen, but to nearly say it out loud was the most embarrassing moment of the day.
"I don't know what you expected, but I apologize for getting your hopes up. I can't have you on the front line, or even in the command ship really, wearing the kind of frilly thing I've only ever seen you wear.
Obviously the armour I've commissioned for you will be more refined than the standard of my battalion, but it will not be showy or fancy or frilly. Its' sole purpose is to keep you alive, as armour should be.
I'll also be commissioning a custom trench-gun and sidearm for your use, and training you in their safe and effective operation. You'll likely not have to use them much, but I would be remiss in my duty if you found yourself having to, and being unable."
"This is highly unusual." She responded.
"These are the conditions for you to be at the front. They are already far lower than those of my battalion, but in the time we have available, I can't do more. If you see fit to learn combat utility magic, you'll have to do so on location."
"Do you mean to imply I am inferior to your common soldiers?" She said, now red for another reason.
"In terms of combat readiness, indeed. You've not been trained as they have, nor have you experienced combat in any form. As I understand it the enemy first showed up while you were a child. I'd be hesitant to bring you along at your current age if you were going to be a standard soldier.
Every member of my battalion had combat experience before I chose them. Then I trained them in modern tactics and strategy, and trained them in the use of firearms. Each of them is worth ten spear-men, even under less than favourable circumstances.
Strategically speaking, your value is less than one spear-man in a war like this. But you're young. If you wish to become a Warrior Queen, you will have plenty of both time and opportunity."
This was clearly not the answer she had expected. Nor was my rebuttal on the topic she had originally meant. But she had no logical argument to put forward.
She kept it to herself, but at the time she thought; "This man's concept of war is so foreign, so far outside the normal protocols, I may never understand them. But this is why I need to go. This is what I need to see."
The princess was resolute in her conviction to experience this man's war. She would not be put off by the discomfort and embarrassment. She knew that if she didn't see it for herself, she would never know what she didn't know.
Little did she know, this was exactly the mindset that had led this strange and curious man to the knowledge and understanding that was winning his war. She would eventually come to this understanding.
Her training was not as comprehensive as that of the battalion, but the month she spent with him, learning how to use and care for her firearms, was the most enriching of her life thus far. In her quest to understand this man, she soaked in all his instructions, words, mannerisms...
She came to see the subtle passion with which he operated this machine. Like a parent, proud of his children, the man used his creation with both grace and resolve. He cleaned it as if it was a precious work of art. And when her custom firearms arrived, she took to the same habits.
The armour came on the last day, so final fitting and alterations had to be made as I was preparing the battalions to march. The command ship was loaded and ready, as were the handful of flying carpets we managed to acquisition. The men were in high spirits, partly from their success at the Western Cliffs, and partly because they were honoured to be accompanying the princess. Though it was unlikely many of them would properly meet her during the campaign.
They all knew this would be different than the west, of course. The west was clear territory, with well established supply routes. They had a few weeks to fortress up the cliffs, and several towns around to supplement their labour force.
Still their original training was based on reports of the Eastern Front. The 'Moving Fortress' strategy was still a viable way to move through heavily occupied territory without losing people on the flanks. Despite their obvious nervousness at going back to the east, this time was different. It was all different.
Just holding the construct of iron and brass gave them a feeling of security. Knowing how it worked, and how to use it to effect, gave them confidence. And now they would have their General above them in an airship, orchestrating the war as one might a chessboard.
Of course this general was never big into chess. Too many rules. Seems to me that if you want to win, especially against someone else capable of playing, you should act in a way they can't predict. Even on the low end of competitive skill, both players have a general idea of what's possible on the board at any time.
The limitation of how each piece can move make the whole game predictable. On the low end, it's obvious once the game is over how it happened. On the high end there are people who have dedicated their careers to studying and predicting chess games. As a simulation of war, chess is a poor model.
In my old world, the much-lauded 'Rules of Engagement' are not actually rules. They're a set of courtesies the major powers of the world have agreed to because they don't want to suffer their consequences. The smart generals ignore most of them outright if it means they can win.
In a war like this, there's no one to parlay with on the enemy side. The other nations all face the same threat, so the established rules of engagement are basically a code of chivalry. Chivalry may have worked in the honourable combat of the past, but it's not going to win against an enemy with no intellect.
Chivalry only works when both sides abide by it. In this case one side isn't even capable of comprehending it. This is why the strategy of summoning heroes wasn't working. The power of even the highest individual has limits. Especially so when they are constrained to a particular way of thinking that limits their strategic options.
Over the course of our trip to the front lines I explained this to the princess. We had gone ahead of the marching body in the airship. I needed an updated map, and to see the best available path to carve.
The enemy advance was unpredictable, but it was observed by some in the early days that the front line would not move constantly. If they moved in stages, and without a determinable schedule, then there must be an unknown factor. Some variable not yet discovered.
When they did move, they would go quite slowly, spreading out, but always with a westward direction. They would move for random amounts of time. Some times they would move for a day and be dormant for weeks. Sometimes they would move for weeks at a time.
There were no charges, no files, no strategy of any kind. When they moved they did so at a walking pace until they encountered resistance. When they were dormant they just sort of milled around aimlessly. It's been observed that they don't sleep, but in this state they shuffle more slowly than usual. They walk around within a few hundred metres of the front line, but don't cross it until the next active period.
On the other side of this zone the enemy is in much smaller numbers. The ones behind keep shuffling forward until they reach the front line zone. The reason for this is also unknown. But it means that once the marching force breaks through the front line our transit to a capture-able fortress will be much easier.
The front line is now so massive that to cover it with my force would require each soldier to be out of earshot of each other. Therefore my strategy is to pierce it somewhere with an available marching path to unoccupied territory.
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