The general’s aide-de-camp and a slew of silver-braided officers in tricorne hats milled about in our kitchen-garden. My older sister and my mother, who was still bedridden from the miscarriage, conferred in hushed voices. Mother ordered me to dress in boy’s clothes, I being the only one young enough for the pretense. I wasn’t sure what she thought the danger was.
“The battle of Glis has gone badly for us. By order of the Marshal, we need your aunt,” the aide-de-camp said in his light voice when everyone had trooped into our kitchen, tracking mud over the braided rugs and making the room seem too small.
Father always said we women had such terrible voices that even the cattle were at risk; the Voice being paired with an irritable temper. Mother’s sister had been sent away when she became a woman, because her father feared the havoc she might wreak. And with adulthood my aunt’s Voice would only have grown more powerful.
“My youngest son will lead you to my sister’s house,” Mother said from the bed over the stove, her voice weak and taut at the same time.
I’d never been to my aunt’s house, but I knew most of the way since she lived just beyond the high summer pastures.
We walked off after I’d convinced them the steep trails would lame their horses. My mother’s fear of what the men would do to me made me nervous, but I did notice that some of the officers were women, in spite of their white breeches and funny hats.
The aide-de-camp, who introduced himself as Sieur de Raron, drew up beside me. This close to him I could tell his mustache was coming loose.
Were they all women, and if so, why? I’d always imagined war as a pastime for men.
“Is it far to the Voice’s house?”
“About three hour’s walk, god and weather willing,” I replied, trying to pitch my voice low, just like she did.
“Do you not have the voice?” she asked then. “I thought it ran in the family.”
“It does,” I said. “Through the female line.”
She threw me a quick look. I held her gaze. If she didn’t tell on me, I wouldn’t tell on her. Though, I wondered, who would I tell? Did the male officers not already know of the deception?
Raron put a finger on her mouth. Maybe not.
As she walked beside me as I led them up the trails, it was my turn to ask. “What do you expect my aunt to do for you?”
“I heard her Voice has very strong properties.”
“I’ve heard the same,” I answered.
Huffing and puffing behind me suggested she was searching for words.
“Can she target certain persons?” Raron asked.
I was silent. I had not strictly been told, but I’d overheard my mother and sister talk about my aunt’s powers. Wistfully, it had seemed to me.
“Depends on who you want to target.”
Raron didn’t answer.
I turned and looked at Raron. The others had fallen behind a bit. “You should risk it,” I said.
“What? What do you mean?” she asked.
I said nothing more, and she stopped talking when the rest of her officers joined her.
The old cabin came into view. My aunt stood in front of the house, her hands spinning while her foot pumped the paddle on a churn. She backed away up as she spotted the troupe, dropping the spindle.
She opened her mouth.
“It’s me, Aunt Elisabet!” I yelled quickly.
She allowed us to walk closer. She peered into my face. “I see the resemblance.” She, for her part, looked exactly like my mother, only less care-worn. I would have expected the opposite from her hard and lonely life up here. Maybe a woman birthing many children aged sooner than a spinster.
I had been debating what to do, but that decided me.
“They want to use your voice in the war, Aunt,” I said.
Sieur de Raron frowned and stepped between me and my aunt. “We need your help,” she said. “We.”
The two women stared at each other. Something passed between them.
“Should I start now?” Aunt Elisabet said.
Aunt Elisabet opened her mouth and let her terrible voice roar. I watched the officers with the real moustaches fall, bleeding from their eyes and ears and mouths, and the ones with the false ones stay upright.
Sieur de Raron smiled and ripped off her mustache. “It has been a man’s war so far. Let’s put an end to it.”
We women left the dead men where they’d fallen and started our descent.
Bo Balder is the first Dutch author to have been published in Clarkesworld and F&SF. Her short fiction has also appeared in Escape Pod, Nature and other places. Her sf novel “The Wan” was published by Pink Narcissus Press. Visit her website: www.boukjebalder.nl