Blade and powder


Bravus the Knight leaned back in the saddle as his charger Equus cantered through the trees.  Though his back ached and his hands were blistered, it had been a good day.  The local peasants had burned the chapel and market in protest, and risen against their Lord – but Bravus had not been deterred.  Unarmored men armed with farming implements had been no match for the strength of his steel, his years of training, and boundless courage.  Now their bodies mingled with the ashes of their village, providing warning to any serfs foolish enough to defy the natural order in the future.

Yes, it had been a good day. 

The bushes rustled just ahead and a man emerged.  Equus nickered and hesitated, setting his barding a-jingle.  Bravus’s hand went to his sword.  The man appeared as any other peasant, clad in filthy rags and thin-boned.  Bravus narrowed his eyes.  The peasant did not carry a weapon – at least, Bravus thought it was no weapon.  The man hefted an odd device of black metal, about three feet long.  Various flanges protruded from the device, which looked like nothing more than a metal stick.  If the peasant had not been cradling the device as a man might hold a crossbow, Bravus would have dismissed it altogether.

"Going somewhere, Lord Bravus?"  The man’s voice was mocking.

Bravus felt his temper flare.  He drew his sword from scabbard with a steely whistle – a sound that always inflamed his bloodlust.  "You dare speak so to me, the Lord of this land?  Out of my way, worm."

The peasant raised his device – again, to Bravus’s mind, like a crossbow – and a trickle of unease entered his mind.  When the peasant spoke again, all traces of mocking were gone, replaced by barely-controlled anger.  "The Lord God sayeth that vengeance is his.  That is so …. but it is my task to speed you on that meeting."

Bravus moved to click his spurs but a great flash of light and a loud clang sounded, as if someone had dropped a lead-filled chest from the battlement of his castle.  Then another, and another.  A pair of hammerblows struck Bravus in the chest.  Sudden cold gripped his body, save a steady warmth flowing over his back and abdomen.  He cast his eyes down.  Two mangled holes gaped in the metal of his cuirass – a cuirass produced at great cost by the finest smiths in the land.

His limbs leadened and a wooziness filled his brain.  Bravus toppled from his horse.  He barely felt the impact with the ground.  His consciousness flickered out as his heart ceased beating.  His last thought was of the peasant’s device. 

Bravus wondered if he would be the last noble to feel its gentle touch.

******************

So …..

will finish Omega Mage, one way or the other; Mrs. Axe will see to it, even if she has to resort to daily beatings.  I owe it to her to finish, as she has been my #1 supporter and cheerleader.  So I will complete it.

But what then?  Back to writing short stories?  Not exclusively.  I think the novel is my future.  But … about what?  Well, I gots ideas – many, many ideas.

I was considering going with something of a more alternate history of Earth, and braching off at one point, to see what happens.  One of the hurdles I ran into, early on in the conception, was the concept of firearms in the hands of the peasantry.  And that of course, got me thinking (which is always trouble).

I read quite a bit of discussion on the sword vs. firearm argument – most of it from the internet perspective of "who wins in a fight?"  I think the concept is a little deeper than that.  The way I see it, one is a tool of elitists, the other is not.

Swords – or at least good swords – were a status symbol among the wealthy of the middle ages, feudal japan, and other societies.  Commoners often had to make do with polearms, spears, hatchets, and other less metal-heavy devices.  I’ve read in places that for a knight to have a good quality battle-sword, it would cost in the vicinity of $25K of today’s dollars.  Not an insignificant amount.  And a sword is a weapon that requires years of training.  It’s a complex skill to master and it’s as easy to injure yourself as it is your target if you don’t know what you’re doing.  Add in the same factors (cost and time to learn) to the armor, the shield, a good horse and riding techniques and you see that only the very wealthy could afford high-quality weapons.  On top of that, such factors as strength and size of the opponents are certainly in play in a swordfight.  This is not to say that swords are worthless, but I think their worth was always out of proportion to their following. as an awesome tool of war.  After all, I’d bet money that far more people were killed by the bow and arrow than by the sword.

Now consider guns.  By comparison, they are relatively cheap and easy to manufacture.  Guns are easy to use; even using older blackpowder techniques, a user can become proficient in a matter of weeks.  Guns are an equalizer, in terms of the opponent’s size and strength – and a knight’s armor would no more stop the bullet from a modern rifle than a t-shirt would.

What’s my point?  I guess that guns are much more egalitarian.  An armored knight, with years of training, carefully-honed skills, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment … can be destroyed in the blink of an eye, from a distance at which the knight cannot retaliate, by an illiterate peasant armed with a $300 rifle, and a few weeks of practice.  And not discount the value of human life, but rifles and peasants are easier to replace than knights.

No wonder the samurai banned the possession of firearms from the peasantry in the 1600s (or 1500s, or whenever it was).  They had to maintain that grip on lethal death-dealing, lest anyone realize they were just as fragile and expendable as the rest of us.

So, my quandary is this:  if I have a large semi-oppressed people, who suddenly have the means to overthrow the people against them – and the impetus – why would they not do it?  How would the overlords keep them focused on an external threat?   It’s a major plot hang-up but I would rather resolve it before I wrote the story, as I don’t want people looking back in ten years and saying, "Can you believe this crap was published with this huge plot hole?  Dan Brown did better than this."

(Muse:  You really think people are going to be discussing your stories in ten years?  Good God, you are full of yourself.)

Sigh.

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