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Lawrence Watt-Evans

The Guardswoman

Dear Mother,

Well, I made it. I’m a soldier in the City Guard of Ethshar of the Sands, in the service of the overlord, Ederd IV.

It wasn’t easy!

Getting here wasn’t really any trouble. I know you were worried about bandits and… well, and other problems on the highway, but I didn’t see any. The people I did see didn’t bother me at all, unless you count a rude remark one caravan driver made about my size.

He apologized nicely after I stuffed him headfirst into a barrel of salted fish.

After that everything went just fine, right up until I reached the city gates. I asked one of the guards about joining up, and he made a rude remark, but I couldn’t stuff him into a fish barrel — for one thing, he had a sword, and I didn’t, and he had friends around, and I didn’t, and there weren’t any barrels right nearby anyway. So I just smiled sweetly and repeated my question, and he sent me to a lieutenant in the north middle tower…

I should explain, I guess. Grandgate is very complicated — it’s actually three gates, one after another, with towers on both sides of each gate, so there are six gate-towers, three on the north and three on the south. And each of those towers is connected by a wall to a really big tower, and then the city wall itself starts on the other side of each of the big towers, which are the North Barracks and the South Barracks. Everything right along the highway, out to the width of the outer gate, which is the widest one, is part of Grandgate Market, and everyone just walks right through if they want to and if the guards don’t decide they shouldn’t. Everything between the inner towers and the barracks towers, though, is sort of private territory for us guards — that’s where we train, and march, and so on.

Anyway, the gateman sent me to a lieutenant in the north middle tower, and he sent me to Captain Dabran in the North Barracks, and he sent me back to another lieutenant, Lieutenant Gerath, in the north outer tower, to see whether I could qualify.

I had to do all kinds of things to show I was strong and fast enough — most women aren’t, after all, so I guess it was fair. I had a foot race with a man named Lador, and then after I beat him I had to catch him and throw him over a fence rail, and then I had to pick up this fellow named Talden who’s just about the fattest man you ever saw, Mother, I mean he’s even fatter than Parl the Smith, and throw him over the fence rail. I tried to find nice soft mud for them to land in, but I’m not sure if they appreciated it. The lieutenant did, though.

And then I had to climb a rope to the top of the tower, and throw a spear, and on and on.

The worst part was the swordsmanship test. Mother, no one in the village knows how to use a sword properly, not the way these people do! Lieutenant Gerath says I’ll need to really work on using a sword. That prompted some rude remarks from the other soldiers about women knowing what to do with swords, only they didn’t mean sword swords, of course, but they all shut up when I glared at them and then looked meaningfully at the fence rail and the mud.

By the time I finished all the tests, though, a whole crowd had gathered to watch, and they were laughing and cheering — I never saw so many people! There were more people there than there are in our entire village!

And I was exhausted, too — but Lieutenant Gerath was really impressed, and he vouched for me to Captain Dabran, and here I am! I’m a soldier! They’ve given me my yellow tunic and everything.

I don’t have a red skirt yet, though — all they had on hand were kilts, and of course I want to wear something decent, not walk around with my legs bare. It must be cold in the winter, going around like that.

Anyway, they didn’t have any proper skirts; they’re going to give me the fabric and let me make my own. And they didn’t have any breastplates that fit — naturally, one that was meant for a man isn’t going to fit me. I’m not shaped like that. The armorer is working on making me one.

I asked why they didn’t have any for women, and everyone kind of looked embarrassed, so I kept asking, and…

Well, Mother, you know we’ve always heard that the City Guard is open to anyone over sixteen who can handle the job, man or woman, and everyone here swears that’s true, so I asked how many women there are in the Guard right now, and everyone got even more embarrassed, but finally Captain Dabran answered me.

One.

Me.

There have been others in the past, though not for several years, and they wouldn’t mind more in the future, but right now, there’s just me.

I guess it’s a great honor, but I wonder whether it might get a bit lonely. It’s going to be hard to fit in.

I mean, right now, I’m writing this while sitting alone in the North Barracks. I have my own room here, since I’m the only woman in the Guard, but even if I didn’t, I’d be alone. Everyone else who’s off duty went out. I asked where they were going, you know, hinting that I’d like to come along, but when I found out where they were going I decided I’d stay here and write this letter.

They’re going down to the part of the city called Soldiertown, where all the trades people who supply the Guard are. I’ve been down there — to Tavern Street, and Sword Street, and Armorer Street, and Gambler Street.

Except tonight, they’re all going to Whore Street.

Somehow I figured it would be better if I didn’t go along.

Well, I guess that’s about everything I had to say. I’m a soldier now, and I’m fine, and I hope everything’s fine back home. Say hello to Thira and Kara for me.

Your loving daughter,

Shennar

Dear Mother,

I’m sorry I haven’t written sooner, but I’ve been pretty busy. The work isn’t all that hard, but we don’t get much time off.

Well, I could have written sooner, but…

Well, anyway, I’m writing now.

Everything’s fine here. I got my uniform completed — the armorer had a lot of trouble with the breastplate, but he got it right eventually. Or almost right; it’s still a bit snug.

I’ve been here for two months now, and mostly it’s been fine. I don’t mind standing guard at the gate, or walking the top of the wall, or patrolling the market, and so far I haven’t had to arrest anyone or break up any fights. Not any real fights, anyway — nothing where picking someone up and throwing him away didn’t solve the problem.

And my time off duty has been all right; most of the men treat me well, though they’re a lot rougher than I’m used to. I don’t mind that; I can be rough right back without worrying about hurting anyone.

But I’m not sure I’m really fitting in. I mean, everyone’s nice to me, and they all say they like having me here, but I don’t really feel like I’m part of the company yet, if you know what I mean. I’m still the new kid.

And it doesn’t help any that once every sixnight, all the men in my barracks hall go down to Whore Street, and the whole place is empty, and I can’t go along.

The first time they did that I just sat nere and wrote to you, and then tidied up the place, and kept busy like that, but the second time I was determined to do something.

So I tried going downstairs to one of the other barracks halls — I’m on the fourth floor of the North Barracks — but I didn’t know anybody there, and they were all busy with their regular off-duty stuff. The only way I could see to get in on anything would be to join the game of three-bone going on in the corner, and I’m not very good at dice, so I didn’t.

Then I tried going into the city, but I went in uniform, and the minute I walked into a tavern everyone shut up and stared at me. That wasn’t very comfortable.

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