We had a shield 'twixt twelve or ten
Some few had swords; I had an axe
Which once was held by stronger men
Who died by hordes in vain attacks.
Small bands are sent; a dozen each
We face a ring ten thousand strong
We watch intent as old-hands teach
Of downward swing, of strokes gone wrong.
We are a corp of corpses. Soon
No hearts will beat inside our chest;
No breath deform our torso ruined
We see defeat against their best.
The captain sighs and bids us speak:
"Tell me soldiers, each one must say
Before you die: your most unique
In trait or jeers or deed or play."
"I won a race 'gainst all the town."
"My sister wears the fairest face."
"I knit with lace." "I own a gown."
"I paint with flair, and colour graced."
"Can smell perfume; know each ungent."
The captain stayed: "Today? What kind?"
"A distant bloom. A woman's scent."
"A local maid? No? Let us find
This one you scent. Quick runner - you
Shall scout the foe and see if there
Is sign of tents or fine accout-
rements a noble wife would wear."
"Now: fair-face kid, go fetch your kin.
Painter: your brush and canvas too;
The gown I bid with lace to bring
Them here. And rush. So much to do."
The sister, gowned, and laced as wished --
Sprang into life in paint still damp
As art was found in beauty rich.
The General's wife? Yes -- spied in camp.
"Parlez" was done -- we greet his spouse.
"Good lady, true we have not brought
A silk fine spun or sweetbread house
Or precious jewel; instead we sought
Our best to bring. And it is such.
Your husband general will soon know
This offering from us is much
More than a gem or gold or glow.
Would you behold this painting here?"
"Who is that girl?" The lady gaped.
The picture told her plain and clear
That in this world of theft and rape
The battle spoils in morrow's raid
Would not be art or coins or stones.
"Could she please toil as your handmaid?
Could we impart this gift alone?
Please ask your man could he protect
And employ her? There is naught more
In our fine land; he could collect
Her anyway, serving in this war."
"I will consider what you said"
And with a wave we were dismissed
Homeward. We hid and let our dread
Grow full. A knave could not have missed
That ragtag us -- surrounded by
Those giants strong -- were ants in flight
Before a gust of stormy sky.
We waited long. Few slept that night.
The morn brought news of open fields
Of men who went in peace and left
Our town confused. No weapons wield,
Nor arrows spent. No lives bereft.
We sang instead of victory sweet
Through craftful fact and wit acute:
For truth well said can oft defeat
Brute strength, for that it is: just brute.