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The gate was not going to hold. It was obvious from the tower windows, and the men in the courtyard could see it just as clearly. Yelarra could see the weaker ones stepping back already, looking for an escape route.

Somebody was going to have to rally them.

She ran from her window, racing through corridors and down stairs. In the rooms she passed, she glimpsed cousins stuffing jewels into their corsets, hoping to be able to bribe their way to safety. Some hope. In the dining hall, she saw her mother sitting calmly at the head of the dining table, a glass of wine by her hand, seemingly peaceful and in control. The other women there were probably comforted by this, but Yelarra knew what her mother kept in the secret compartment of her ruby ring.

Faced with a choice between noble suicide and the none too tender attentions of an invading army, Yelarra chose to create a third option.

Her brother’s chainmail still hung in the armoury. He wouldn’t be coming back for it, and they were a fairly similar build. She slipped the tunic over her head, cinching it at the waist with a heavy leather belt. His cloak hung there too, the familiar emblems and colours of their house. It might help to rally the troops to see it – but then again, it might also catch and hamper her movements. She turned away from it to look at the weapons racks.

There were no swords left. They’d all been handed out to the men who were supposed to be defending them. The pikes and spears, too. There was, however, one very large hammer, a ritual gift to her father many years ago. She remembered him pointing it out to her one day, saying it was a fearsome weapon in its own way. It wouldn’t cut a man’s arm off, but it would pulverise his armour. Or his head.

Her mother had chided him for that. Not a suitable thing to tell a young lady, she’d said. But then, Mother had always prized the subtlety of poisons over brute force.

Yelarra hefted the hammer. It was heavy, but she was strong enough. It would do. She grabbed a helm and strode out into the courtyard.

The gate was shaking badly now, trembling under the impacts of the enemy’s battering ram. The men had gradually stumbled backwards – there was a clear ten feet behind the gate where they should have been scrambling to reinforce it.

“Somebody’s knocking, boys,” she yelled. “Are you going to run away and stain your pants like frightened children, or are you going to give them a proper welcome?!”

The men turned to stare at her. One found the courage to approach her.

“Milady, you shouldn’t be out here. You should stay in the tower where it’s safe.”

“Safe?” She sneered at him, gesturing with her hammer at the men huddled at the back of the courtyard. “With these snivelling runts to defend us?”

She raised her voice as the battering ram struck again, determined to make her taunt heard across the yard.

“If you’re men, behave like it. Let’s take this fight to the enemy. Open the gates and let them have it!”

She settled the helm over her dark hair and turned to face the gate without waiting to see if they were rallying behind her. Chains rattled as the gates began to move.

Somebody, at least, had heard her.

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: For Three Word Wednesday this week we have the words Hamper, Pulverise and Taunt.)

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