Held to High Standard

In the thick of the fighting all that long summer: a leather-lunged voice raised in stern dispute, and a pen worn down to the rachis with writing, Pythia of Mericourt is hounded on all sides, by those who love her as much as those who hate her. “Whore of the people,” they call her. “Every son’s mother.” She rattles her saber against her thigh, and keeps her guns loaded and lashed against her side.

In the long march to the palace, she is there at the front, high and mighty and furious on a horse, whipping them on, a voice crying out for justice. She has herded cattle and sheep; revolutionaries are no harder.

There is a moment — just one, not long — when they break down the doors, where she feels the world shudder and tilt toward change. For that heady second, all seems possible, everything become thinkable.

Alas, no: the world is vast and the groove of history is deep. Twenty years later they have locked her away, “for her own good,” and she bears them prophesy; witness of another world, where the women she led were armed and unbroken, where the banner of empire was never sewn from the skin of revolution.