“It’s going to be hard,” Enkhergal had warned her, “Too many ‘companies’ of whores, or fools being sold as cannon fodder on a gimmick. Everyone is going to think you’re a joke.”
That was over a night of drinks and conversation a year and a half gone, after a chance meeting in Nexus. As it turned out, an actual, demonstrable Dragon-blooded forming a mercenary band drew eyes no matter who that Dragon-blooded happened to be hiring. While plenty of onlookers did their share of jeering and ribald jokes, the few who had turned out soon snowballed into a scale, then a talon.
Now, a full wing of spearwomen, swordswomen, light cavalry and archers stood outside Captain Ping’s tent, awaiting her battle orders.
She splashed water on her face, and checked the straps of her plate in the mirror behind the washstand. All seeming in order, Ping took up Trueheart from the weapon rack, the weight of the black jade feeling familiar and potent in her hand, before ducking under the entrance and joining her soldiers on the field. Silently, her bodyguard- four hand-picked soldiers from the elite of her band- fell into place behind her.
Enkhergal was right. It had been hard, at first. Most national militaries were roughly egalitarian when it came to women soldiers, but the same could not be said of mercenaries. Even the famed Lady of Thunder admitted she traded hard on her reputation as a Marukan horselord. This was something Ping knew well- back in the day, half the reason why Jian had lead their little band without protest from Jun was because of the advantage it would give them in representation. It was struggle, with her first little handful of soldiers, to find valuable work.
For most of her life, when she was mute, Ping had let the men she worked for determine her identity. First Lin, then Jian. So when she finally struck out on her own, not having men involved seemed symbolically important, despite the difficulties it posed. But she was still Exalted, chosen by the Earth Dragon for her prowess and passion in battle. She had years of strategic and tactical experience under great generals, and if logistics was still a struggle from time to time, well, there were no shortage of experienced quartermasters for hire in the home city of the Merchant’s Guild.
But as it turned out, there were hundreds of soldiers too green to be considered by a more professional company, and too female to be taken serious by rougher bands. With every success, word had spread, and recruits turned up, including more than a few veterans abandoning established bands to march along their fellow women.
Now the Black Lilies were an experienced, battle-tested company on the eastern front of Linowan, defending the borderlands against Haltan skirmishers. Their standard, a black fleur-de-iles on yellow, held proudly by bannerwomen in a dozen places in their battle line.
Tansy, the eyepatched and battle-scarred former healer who served as Ping’s right-hand woman, was there to greet her from the front lines. “Beastmen in the trees, Cap’n, wolves and stags and and such,” she reported, “Scouts’re reporting back to camp, as ordered.”
Ping nodded. “When they appear, we’ll want fire arrows into their back ranks, to make them stupid and drive them forward,” she ordered. As Tansy nodded, Ping said, a little bit louder, “Hey, Tansy, do you know why they say beastmen have long pricks?”
Tansy grinned, experienced with this by now, replied, “I dunno, ma’am, does it have to do with them bein’ taller than men?”
“Yes, indeed. They have much more blood so it takes them longer to go down after you prick them,” Ping replied, to a chuckle from the ranks of spearwomen nearby. It wasn’t a good joke, but Ping knew it was important to appear relaxed in the face of danger.
As Tansy dashed off to relay orders to the archers, Ping levelled her spear at the forest ahead, and channeled Essence into her voice. “Blades up and eyes forward, ladies! The beasts on the way and it’s time to earn our keep!” As the officers down the line relayed her orders, and the air filled with the sound of three hundred soldiers taking battle position, Ping could only grin.
“Dancing Spear” Ping was a mute little girl only good for being a soldier and pining after men who spoke for her, she thought. A woman like that would never be able to lead half a fang of cadets, nevermind a formidable mercenary band.
These days, she was “Gardener” Ping, and with her Black Lilies she would forge a new story for herself.