Though only a tertiary character, Captain Vola, Queen Viarraluca‘s middle-aged cavalry commander, has been my favorite character to write so far. Vola comes from a nomadic people on the eastern continent, known as the Verleki. As nomads, everyone in Verleki culture learns to ride a horse. From an aesthetic standpoint, I tend to visualize them as being fairly similar to the ancient Scythians and Sarmatians. Tactics-wise, I see them as an amalgam of these Black Sea tribes, as well as the Huns and Mongols, with perhaps a bit of the Apache and Sioux thrown in. Much like the Scythians and Sarmatians, in Verleki culture both men and women ride into battle and are required to kill a foe in combat as part of their rite of passage into adulthood.
In her twenties, well before the beginning of the story, Vola was captured by a rival tribe and sold into slavery in the west. Eventually she was purchased by General Derron, the commander of the soldiers of Kel Fimmaril, under Queen Viarra’s father. Recognizing Vola’s prowess with horses and brilliance with cavalry tactics, Derron offered Vola her freedom in exchange for training and leading Kel Fimmaril’s cavalry. Eventually, after losing his first wife, Derron married the crazy horsewoman. Later, when Derron taught the young Viarra how to fight as a heavy infantrywoman, Vola contributed to the training by teaching her to ride and fight on horseback.
I tend to imagine a culture where women are required to ride into battle as being one where those who survive to adulthood tend to be very, very tough. Vola’s knowledge of horses and cavalry tactics are very important to her character, but I want her most prominent characteristic to be her overall toughness. Vola has dark, leathered skin from her years of riding in the sun, wind, and winter. Her face and body are covered with tribal tattoos and ritual scars from rites of passage or battle. I imagine her as being thin, but with hard, wiry muscles from years of combat. All in all, I want readers to understand that Vola is one bitch you don’t mess around with.
Vola gets dehorsed during the battle of Kel Fimmaril, breaking her leg and getting captured by the attacking army from the rival city-state of Andivel. The attackers, who have never seen a Verleki before, are completely baffled and somewhat afraid of her, to the point that none of them want to torture her for information. I dedicated the opening part to one of the scenes from chapter 3 to showing their confusion. It’s not long, but it was incredibly fun to write and incorporates my favorite Ancient Greek insult.
Captain Onil found himself completely baffled by—and rather terrified of—the cavalry officer they’d captured from Kel Fimmaril’s army. They’d stripped and bound the woman while she was out cold, with the intent of interrogating her. But now that she was awake, none of their soldiers wanted to actually hit or torture her. Even naked, with her hands bound and her left leg broken, torture seemed like a fruitless—and possibly suicidal—idea. The woman was fucking spooky. She had wiry muscles, soldier’s build, warrior’s demeanor, tribal tattoos, and ceremonial scars—all daunting attributes. She was tough. She was ruthless. And Onil was fairly certain she could kill people with her bare hands.
But most disconcerting was the fact that she kept laughing at them. “Have you worthless shits ever given any thought to trying to be less fucking stupid?” she taunted Onil and the other gathered hoplites. “You want to know about our queen? Viarraluca is the greatest ruler Kel Fimmaril has ever had and is a hundredfold more competent than those four backbiting fuck-heads whose asses you soldiers have to keep wiping for them. Either you can surrender, or you can die like idiots and only your catamites will mourn you.”
“Captain Onil, a moment?” Onil looked up as Captain Bevren walked over.
“Hello, ruggedly handsome,” the cavalrywoman catcalled at the approaching hoplite captain. “You’re far too pretty to be in such contemptible company. Forget those young, soft brothel bunnies you’re used to. Let me show you what a real woman can do.” She gave a tiger growl. “Don’t worry about my husband—he’ll probably laugh when I tell him about it.” The dark-skinned woman wriggled suggestively, managing to look terrifying yet perversely alluring at the same time.
“Has she been like this the whole time?” Bevren asked.
“You’re the first one she’s tried to come onto. She just insults the rest of us,” Onil explained. “We’d gag her, but that sounds like a good way to lose a hand.”
“See, you’re learning already!” the horsewoman cackled.
“Join me in my quarters, Captain,” Bevren told his colleague. “We need to talk.”
“Oh-ho! Is that how you swing?” the cavalrywoman hooted as they walked away. “It’s alright, sweetie: I take no offense. Manly love for manly men, I always say. Here, I’ll give each of you one of my best horses if I can watch!”
*Author’s note: the city-state of Andivel is ruled by a tetrarchy, a form of oligarchy where the city is ruled by the heads of the four most prominent noble families in the city. Vola’s reference to “four backbiting fuck-heads” is intended as a shot at their leadership.