It would be much better if war was organised like a pay-per-view event. You set a date, give everyone time to prepare, book a fancy arena with a boxing ring or octagon or whatever shape is considered best suited for the occasion, and then you beat the crap out of each other.
And afterwards, even though you talked a lot of shit about each other, you hug and compliment your opponent on a good fight. Bloodied and bruised, face like a bowl of overripe fruit, you let go of your anger, your hate, and you honour your enemy, your brother in arms.
That’s how we see combat between men. Honourable and character-building. The noble art.
That is not how war works.
The only point of war is to win. You can sign up to all the conventions you want, when shit gets real, no one’s going to play by the rules. Lawyers will find ways to turn war crimes into semantics, but we all know napalm is fucking napalm.
In war, if you can go into the boxing ring with a gun, you do. If you want to take your mates in with you, there’s no way to stop you. 1v2? 1v5? All’s fair in love and war, so they say. And they mean it. For both. And no one calls them on it. No one says, “Hey, douchebag, we actually have strict guidelines for both.” Because deep down we know it’s true. We pretend it isn’t, but no one ever thought of having sex with someone who wasn’t their spouse and then suddenly realised they couldn’t because they’d signed a contract.
“Damn, I really wanted to bang my secretary but my wedding contract specifically states I can’t, and I signed on the dotted line, so it’s legally binding. Damn, damn, damn.”
The fact you have to put it down in writing in the first place already shows it’s going to be a problem. If you have to make someone promise not to do horrible shit, at some point, they’re going to do horrible shit.
Those of us not interested in destroying all who stand in our way have limited options. Fight, knowing you’re going to lose to cheaters. Cheat and level the playing field. Run away.
Running away only works if they don’t come after you. Sometimes they don’t. But human beings have a habit of reproducing and spreading and filling up available space. Eventually, you end up back in the ring. It’s kind of unavoidable.
The army approaching from the East wasn’t hard to spot. The dust cloud they kicked up as they rampaged across the plain bloomed up in all directions. Stealth mode was not active. Not so much Seal Team Six as Lizard Team One Thousand. They were still some way off, so we didn’t have to panic. Yet.
“Why are they coming this way?” I asked the experts (everyone except for me). “Shouldn’t they be heading for Dargot?”
“Hmm, that’s where they were most likely headed,” said Gabor, thinking, or calculating. “Chances are their scouts saw some movement over here and they diverted to investigate.”
“Can you talk to them?” I asked Keezy. If we could avoid fighting altogether, that would be ideal.
Keezy, still disguised as Marv, still making me very uncomfortable, shook his head. “Perhaps, if they were only Vargau. But they are led by Intui…”
Vargau were the regular lizardmen. Aggressive but dumb. Intui were the smaller, yellow lizards who rode giant wasps. Even with all the dust, the small dots buzzing around the cloud were easy to see. They were arseholes. They had used brass against trolls before and the trolls all knew it. The trolls were not keen to engage.
“Okay, then.” My only alternative was to go big. Going home was not an option.
I’d left Jenny back at the camp readying the eunuchs. I’d also managed to convince Laney to stay there. When facing wasps, it’s best not to take along a girl who makes it a habit of kicking hornets’ nests.
When we got back to the camp, everything was packed up and ready to go. I sent them off with Jenny and the trolls towards Requbar at a slow march. Then I went to get the ogres.
The signal from the spires had stopped and the ogres were calmer. Bunnicorns jumped in and out of their laps, which would have been cute if you didn’t know any better.
Maurice and Claire looked mildly anxious, as you would when surrounded by monsters, but they were holding up well. Some prejudices are harder to shake. I explained what I was going to do and they were happy to follow my orders which didn’t involve them coming with me.
The Ogre Magi was not concerned by news of the lizardmen. She, I think, would have been happy to fight an enemy she could actually see—and probably have a decent chance of winning—but I told her I’d take care of it, which impressed her. But only because she didn’t know any better.
Maurice and Claire led the ogres to catch up with Jenny’s army.
I made my way to where Flossie was waiting. Her and Dudley were lying against the sleeping dragon, possibly post-coitially. Nyx was sitting on the dragon’s back, also sleeping. Probably good for them all to have a rest now, considering what I had in store for them.
The dragon had already eaten, but I got Flossie to top him off with a few more veggies. Then we took to the air.
It didn’t take long to reach the lizard army. They spotted us and sent a small group of wasps to investigate, but I had Flossie keep us high until the last moment. And then we dive-bombed.
We shot past the wasps; they couldn’t keep up with us at that speed. As we approached the deck, the dragon pulled up and skimmed over the lizards who scattered and threw themselves onto the ground.
I could have used the old acid spray and fire combo, but there were too many of them for that to have much effect. Instead, I was going for a backdoor approach. Flossie had arranged with Vikchutni (don’t ask me how) to open bomb bay doors on her signal. She whistled, and a stream of green gas mixed with some sort of liquid fertiliser covered the lizards.
I was sitting at the base of the dragon’s tail. I lit it up.
Napalm is fucking napalm, but it turns out dragon shit isn’t just flammable, it’s explosive. The lizards were decimated. Chaos reigned and the wasps could do nothing to prevent death from above.
Many lizards were blown to pieces, others were set on fire. Flaming lizards ran around screaming, probably as much because of the smell as the burning to death.
We managed a couple of runs, and probably killed or maimed half of them. I ended with a loud, “Dargot sends her regards!” and then we headed for the city in question. At least for as long as it took to let the survivors see where we were going. They had lost many of their number but judging by the eagerness of their pursuit, they only had revenge on their minds.
They weren’t going to catch us and once we were far enough, we ducked down below their line of sight and swung back round to meet up with the others.
I rejoined the ground forces and sent Flossie on ahead to scout for us. I only gave the others a rough idea of what I’d done. Baiting the lizardmen into chasing us to Dargot was all they needed to know. Now I just had to deal with the Queen of Requbar. I had at least a day to come up with my next great idea.
“You don’t know she’s a man,” said Jenny as we rode horses at the front of an army of eunuchs, as you do. “It’s just a guess, isn’t it?”
I’d never ridden before, so I was trying not to fall off. Gabor rode ahead of me. He had tied a rope from my horse to his without asking. He could tell I had no idea how to steer the damn thing and was giving me a tow.
“Yes,” I said, “but if you’re going to make an assumption, choose the worst option and if you turn out to be wrong, it’s a good thing.”
Jenny thought about it for a moment. “So the Queen being a man is the worse option, because a man would be a tougher opponent?”
I could feel the ground under me soften. Quicksand. “Men are better at doing bad. I don’t know if you’re a history buff, but it’s been quite well documented.”
“Sure, sure,” said Jenny. “I’m not disagreeing with you. It’s just, you know, from my perspective you say some peculiar things about women. Like, ninety percent is obviously bollocks.”
“Obviously,” I agreed, curious to see where she was going with this.
“But, the other ten percent is hard to ignore. You aren’t wrong, not completely.”
“No, not completely.”
“And the way you act doesn’t seem to fit with those crazy things you say, but maybe it does, and I just didn’t understand what you mean.” She looked at me to see if I was following.
“Okay,” I said, not really sure I was.
“So I’d like a chance to understand you. No judgements.”
Squish, squish, squish. That quicksand really gets in between your toes.
“Well, the first thing you have to do is establish a baseline,” I said. “Something that is true on a fundamental level. Like two and two is four, so we both know what the building blocks are made of.”
Jenny nodded. “Fair enough. What’s your baseline?”
“Men and women aren’t equal. Equal means the same, and we aren’t. Equally valid, equally important, equally necessary, but we aren’t made the same way so we can’t be equal.”
“I don’t think anyone means it that literally,” said Jenny.
“You’d be surprised. Anyway, can you accept that you aren’t the same as me? I’m not saying better or worse, just different.”
“Yes, of course.” I expected an eyeroll, but she turned her head away. Sneaky.
I wasn’t really saying anything controversial. It’s like the army. You have a captain and you have an infantryman. Both are necessary for the war effort. Both rely on the other and give their all for the cause. And after a day in the trenches doing their duty, they crawl into their beds, equally tired, and fuck. Actually, maybe it’s more like the navy.
The problem is, men always get to be the captain and women are always the grunt. Doesn’t seem fair. But the role is defined by the job. A soldier needed to be strong and aggressive, so men were the first choice. Now, soldiers need to be good with an Xbox controller and a willingness to drop bombs on weddings, so men are still the first choice. Change takes time.
“So the problem is, women aren’t happy with things the way they are, so they want to do something about it. But they aren’t good at fixing things. Fences, radios, gender equality within a patriarchal society, they don’t know where the wires go. So they end up pretending they know what they’re doing and only make it worse.”
“I think we’re in that ninety percent area, now,” said Jenny. Unlike Claire, she could keep hold of her temper. For longer.
“Really?” I said. “Whenever someone comes along and threatens the status quo—civil rights, national independence, popular uprising—bang! Bullet in the head. When was the last time someone tried to take out a leading figure in the women’s movement? Because you know there are men who wouldn’t want women to truly take over. Women are 52% of the population, in a democracy. If you got your shit together, you could make any law, get whoever you wanted in office, force reforms in any area of life you chose. But nobody bothered assassinating Andrea Dworkin or Gloria Steinem, did they? When the best way to bugger up your plans is to leave you to it, says a lot for how well you’re doing. “
“So women are clueless about politics?”
“No. No more than men. They’re clueless about which battles to fight. If you suck a dick for money and then claim you’re not a whore, you aren’t fooling anyone. Especially if the person you’re complaining to is the one who just paid you for a blowjob.”
“So all women are whores?”
“No, I was just using that as an example of a poor way to go about getting what you want. I want better treatment because I’m not a whore is a weak argument. What you should say is, I want better treatment or no more blowjobs.”
Jenny fought off the grin trying to climb onto her face. “That still sounds like you have a messed up view of women.”
“No, women have a messed up view of each other. I just use it against them, because that’s what men have always done. It’s our party trick.”
There was a glint in her eye. “Yes. So you use the whore example because you know it will get a reaction, and off-balance people are easier to beat in an argument.”
If you’re going to show someone how a magic trick works, you have to show them all the way, even if it means they won’t be impressed by your disappearing rabbit anymore. “Yes. Once you’re tilted, you’re much easier to manipulate.”
“Bit risky telling me that, isn’t it?”
“Probably. Doesn’t matter in the long run. We are who we are, we won’t change now. That’s the other problem you face. You’re looking to change the wrong men. You’re surrounded by all these men trying to get you to do what they want. Get into your knickers, get you to stay home while they go off, pay you less and not let you get ahead. And you spend all your time focused on them. Waste of time. It’s too late. It’s not the guy trying to get into your vagina you need to worry about, it’s the guy trying to come out. Show me a piece of shit man, and I’ll show you a crappy mother who fucked it up for the rest of you.”
“Mothers are to blame?”
“Who else? If you get a defective product, you blame the manufacturer. We all have mothers, and they’re our baseline for what women are. If we don’t treat you well, you might want to reconsider your approach to our first ten years in your care.”
Something was different about Jenny. A minute ago, she was treating our conversation as a silly, slightly amusing diversion as we trotted, unsteadily in my case, through the countryside. Now, her eyes were lit.
“Yes. You’re right. I will be responsible for the man my son becomes.” She turned her head towards me. She couldn’t be scarier if her head had turned 360 degrees. “Our son.”
Fell for the oldest trick in the book like a noob. I thought we were discussing things free and easy, but she had the meter running all along.
“Don’t assume,” I said, valiantly trying to extricate myself from the quicksand now up to my neck. “Everyone thinks they’re going to be a brilliant parent. Everyone’s wrong, and refuses to admit it.”
“It’s hard being a good mother. Being a woman doesn’t make it any easier. It’s more confusing than you think.”
“No, I think it’s quite simple. I could solve most of women’s problems overnight.”
She tilted her head and looked baffled, which was good. No more talk about kids. “How?”
“Easy. Stop buying clothes designed by men.”
“That’s it. Everything would change. You know how they say dress for the job you want? Well, turns out most of you are applying for the position of pampered idiot. And we’re hiring you at seventy pence on the pound.”
“I don’t think that would make—”
“That’s because you’ve been trained to think that way. No amount of sex is going to cure you of that brainwashing. Think about it. Why would men know how to dress you better than other women with the same body bits as you? For what reason are they so keen to do it? And gay men are still men. We create the image you have to live up to and we make you think it was your idea. He drags you down the stairs by your hair and you feel terrible. He buys you a Louis Vuitton handbag and Worth! What the fuck?
“That’s why you’ll never win. We’re marketing geniuses. You lost the day you accepted our greatest marketing slogan. You know what that was? Women and children first. Game over. You all like that one, don’t you. What a concession you forced out of us. We’re over here on the burning bow, you’re over there with the kids. How much clearer do you want the difference in status to be? And you think we’re doing you the favour. You’re such sellouts. I swear, if I ever have a daughter, she is going to think like a human being. She’s going to grow up to be a woman worth assassinating.”
I had become quite heated and maybe got a bit carried away. I took a deep breath and looked over at Jenny to see the damage. She was beaming. She didn’t say anything about my outburst, she just looked straight ahead, grinning like a loon.
Requbar would soon be within sight, but whatever the outcome of the battle, I had the horrible feeling I’d already lost the war.