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Armed, dangerous, and dumb as hell

Over the years I have often remarked that leading a vast army is a delicate thing. No other activity combines the physical rigors of maneuvers in the field, the intellectual challenges of outsmarting one's opponent, and the intuitive demands of keeping a large group of unruly armed warriors from killing one another. This is perhaps most clearly shown when it comes to the gentle art of how to lead barbarians to their doom, since in this circumstance not only must a commander maintain the trappings of military order but do so when the deck is fatally stacked against them.

A friend of mine once got hired for an entry-level position with a nomadic horde. Almost immediately she sensed low morale among the shock troops and the grooms. It was not fostered by the captain, who was cruel but fair, but by the stress of the actual work load. Being a people-oriented person, she set about to make it her aim to boost the morale of the barbarians she worked alongside, initially just talking to the lackeys on breaks, asking questions and getting to know them as individuals. Next, she asked people to have mare's milk and blood lunches with her, something none of the other Amazons had done because they were too busy. They made time. Instead of eating lunch on their respective mounts, once a week they got together and went out to pillage some food, away from the looting environment and the stress, and she gradually began to notice a boost in morale. If someone had a problem, whether they were on the move or busy sacking, it would be she who would speak with them to work out the issues, with the tacit approval of their commander.

They arranged outings around the ides of each month with any among the cohort that could spare the time from their busy schedule, sometimes to share skins of fermented grain squeezings and sometimes to raise bloody sacrifices to what gods they had in common, just little things but important when it came to keeping good morale. Desertions and suicides started to decline and duels between the ranks showed signs of leveling off. It was all going very well up until they were decimated by a bad stretch of weird necromancy and the band was demobilized. My acquaintance was able to parlay her success in smoothing over stresses in the barbarian tribe into a second career as a combination business consultant and motivational speaker.

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