The camp is large. They have been gathering for days, and now as dusk begins to redden the sky, the last stragglers are arriving and settling themselves. Among the trees, in the small clearings and at the edge of the wood that fringes the field, small cooking fires flare near tents and bed rolls.
As you walk through the camp you see women of all sizes and colors dressed in every imaginable costume. Some clearly from warm climbs in light cloth, other women wrapped in heavy woolens brought from the coldest parts of the world. None seem in discomfort. All go about their tasks with practiced ease and chatting with their neighbors.
The other thing you notice, indeed you cannot help but notice, is that everywhere are arms and armor. Swords, bows, knives, flails, maces; every manner of cutting, slashing, and thrusting weapon devised for warfare is seen. Helms, shields light and heavy, gauntlets, bracers, boots, sandals; metal, wooden, bamboo, stone pieces fashioned to protect the vulnerable human form are scattered, hung, bundled and resting everywhere. It is an army gathered, and they are equipped for a great battle.
The deepening night brings the cleaning away of meals. Now the fires are lighting the final reparations. Cleaning, repairs, sharpening, adjusting, polishing are accompanied by conversation. At first it is general. The weapons, however, turn the talk to battles. Some recount a lifetime spent defending, attacking, or just holding ground. They show their scars and say
"This one was almost fatal, but I refused them that victory, at least."
Other women anticipate their first encounter, with fear.
"I have lived a quiet life, but I knew I must face this battle, so I have come."
They talk of what has happened, and what may happen. Fear, anxiety, anticipation, doubt, excitement are palpable everywhere. Each campfire lights the faces of women, some hardly more than children, others with the lines earned in years rising too early, working too hard, and resting too little.
There is a hum throughout the camp, felt as much as heard, and every woman becomes aware of it. For the first time they know how large the army is, and how necessary each of them is to it. Each begins to look to the dawn with impatience.
At last, they begin to arm. Some fumbling with unfamiliar things, unsure of the proper adjustments, dropping bits, getting pieces on backwards and upside down. The veterans calmly assembling their kit with practiced ease. Everything settling into its accustomed place, worn to a perfect fit. And then they move toward the assembly point. Twos and threes, small groups, large units, moving into a stream and flowing to the rally.
Now they can see the numbers of women gathering. The dawn light dances on the polished weapons and armor. The sounds of clanking and footfalls, the scattered conversations, the rustle of clothing grows as the forces begin to concentrate. The energy they had begun to feel the night before is building and intensifying.
They are assembled. The talk fades away to silence. The energy that seemed ambient is focused. They feel it rising in them. Each woman realizes that it is rising through her, she is a wick drawing it from the ground and feeding it into air that envelops them.
Somewhere, a sword is slammed against a shield. And again. And again. The sound rings out over the entire army. Now others begin. Scattered, far apart, without pattern. More begin. Weapons against shields, against armor, rammed to the ground. And more join in making a chaotic play of percussion throughout the army. Slowly it begins to coalesce, getting tighter and tighter, until the whole army is beating as one drummer. From one end of the force to the other they feel the beat within them as the energy rises.
They begin to move forward as one. They come to the field where the battle is set to begin. They array themselves not in rank and file, but as one body thinking and moving without hesitation. They stand in place, all of them now having moved from the trees to the open sky. The beating never stops. They face the lines of their enemy across the field. The rows of opposing forces look to them, and see a shimmer like heat rising from the ground. The white waves rise from the women and fold around the army. The striking of weapons continues like a heartbeat. There is no other noise. The lines shift and begin to edge backwards.
Then the laugh rises above the rhythm of the beating. It is joy made sound. It begins in the center of the women arrayed, and flows outward. It rises and falls and dances above their heads. It is the light rising from the ground and flowing from the lungs to the throat and springing from the mouth. And it becomes song. It is a song they have never heard or dreamed. It pours out of every cell in their bodies. Each woman sings her part as if she had always known it. And she has.
The ranks facing them begin to loose shape. Here and there, soldiers are breaking for the rear.
Then the women open their hands letting the weapons fall. And still they sing. And they loosen the armor until it too falls away. And the song grows stronger and deeper. And they look to their Queen as she faces at the head of the army. The song rises through them and flows around them. She raises her fist, and they answer with theirs. And the song grows. She turns now to the other end of the field. From behind her the song continues to flow. Now it lifts her from the ground. She too laughs. And she drops her hand and steps off, singing, to take the abandoned field.