Bolstering Bill (Exemplar)
Bolstering Bill was recognised as an Exemplar of Loyalty by the Highborn Assembly of the Virtuous after his stories and legends were brought to Bastion by pilgrims.
He is a character generally believed to have been a pre-Imperial Marcher who appears in a number of comic songs, stories, and poems in various parts of the Empire. They are presented as a simple yet well-meaning soldier, usually wielding a polearm, whose companions encounter any number of amusing or hair-raising scrapes and who survive or triumph with the aid of their companion. In all the stories about Bill, they combine good humour, honest camaraderie, and more than a little tough love with an absolute commitment to never betraying a friend or leaving a comrade behind.
While the truth behind these tales is contested, the character of Bolstering Bill is an Exemplar of Loyalty. Even the critics of the Bolstering Bill stories note that it is likely that many of them recount the adventures of real people, and have simply been ascribed to Bolstering Bill by later generations of storytellers to make them more accessible to their audiences. (see also the Good Neighbour, a polearm sometimes called a Bolstering Bill).
Bolstering Bill is often seen as a patron of soldiers. They are most popular in the western Empire - the Marches, Wintermark, and the Brass Coast - but versions of several stories are recounted by the Free Companies of the League and among the Navarr. Regardless of nation, Bill always wields a pole-arm.
- Bill is without a doubt an Inspiration to people across the Empire.
- Bolstering Bill has left a Legacy in the form of the weapon that carries his name. While some scholars dispute whether Bill had a specific polearm, or used a succession of weapons, reports of a battered-appearing bill that evidences powerful abilities in a crisis are commonplace in the Marches. According to these tales, the pole-arm disappears of its own accord after a short time - actively seeking out someone else who is in need of its assistance.
- There is little doubt, in the Marches at least, as to Bill's Benevolence. While their actions help individuals, those individuals often go on to inspire others, and in some cases perform great acts of their own that help their people.
- Bill is credited with the Salvation of many citizens by spreading the teachings of loyalty (and to a lesser degree Prosperity, Courage, and Pride) throughout the early Empire, especially in the Marches, in Wintermark, and in the Brass Coast.
- Several stories about Bill include Miracles but this is a contentious sign. The stories are difficult to prove, and evidence of actual miracles is difficult to secure. Whether it is stories of lost travellers crossing the entire Empire in a single night; a torch that miraculously lasts an entire night to keep wolves at bay; or a story of providing nourishing food for an entire army using only two turnips and Tom Drake's second-best pair of boots, if even one of these tall tales has a grain of truth it would be proof of Bill's miracles.
- There is no record of anyone in the Empire, or in the Sumaah Republic, having a vision of being Bill in their past life. It is not clear if this is a sign of Liberation, or simply proof that "Bolstering Bill" is a construct made up of several heroes. Obviously, proof either way is difficult to secure.
Bolstering Bill lives today in the stories told about them. According to some of the stories, Bill occasionally appears in person to aid lost and desperate soldiers, although such stories are often taken with a pinch of salt - some believe that reports of "Bill" appearing out of nowhere to help people is proof of a sect, possibly of Marcher beaters, dedicated to following their example and keeping their legacy alive.
The Lost Beaters
This tale, and ones like it, crop up from time to time in the Marches and elsewhere. Bill turns up, offers aid that is remarkably successful, and then disappears again. Some scholars have compared these stories to those of Jonah Gold, the miner
Captain Tom took a large swig of beer and wiped his lips.
"Look, that's how it happened and no mistake. We were trying to light a campfire - difficult given all that dense creepy fog - and cursing the day the Feni ambushed us in the night, scattering the company to the four fields. The three of us were just about resigned to cold rations and a sleepless night when Harriet here" - he motioned to the smiling young archer now trying to wrestle the tankard from him - "heard a stick snap nearby. then we sees a figure approaching us from out of the fog, so we reach for our pikes and ready alert. Only it ain't no Feni scout, it's one of us.
"Looks like you three have gotten right lost!" he says cheerily. "Need some help with that fire?" And then quicker than a hen's cluck he's got the wet kindling burning on the fire and he's skinning a rabbit for supper. "Just got the knack, ain't I?" he says. "You three stick with me and I'll see you home right as rain!".
Dick chimed in now. "He sure did! When we were fed and rested, we followed his tracks back through the forest, the fog clinging to our tired bodies." He paused for effect and took a beer offered by someone in the crowd. When we got tired, he cheered us up with a 'march on, soldiers!' and a cheery chirping whistle. When we got tired again, he took all our packs and carried them himself. 'Reckon as how I can manage all of these for a while, but don't you go slacking on me now!' All the while he's smiling and laughing."
"Well, sure as eggs" interjected the archer Harriet, "he promised to get us safe and here we are. All the way to Stoke Heath from the woods in one day! I've never managed that at a march before. The last thing he said was 'Blimey, I only meant to get you back to your unit, looks like I got turned round as well and ended up here instead! No wonder me feet are tired!'"
The three of them looked out at the crowd, clearly expecting applause, but the crowd were expecting something different. "Oh, he aint here!" Tom added. "Sorry. Right after we got here he said he had another job to do. Then he walked round the edge of Ma Greenly's henhouse and back into the fog. All we know is his name - Bill."
One of the typical formats of Bolstering Bill stories features the Exemplar rescuing others from dangerous situations. Critical to these is the notion of not leaving anyone behind.
Tom, Dick and Harriet had been on a scouting mission when the orders came through from command for a general retreat. There was no time to send further runners out to find and retrieve them, but one person volunteered for the task - a pikeman named Bill. He impressed the value of loyalty on the commanders, speaking quite out of rank, until the decision was made to let him try and find the scouts.
Sure enough, Bill found them just in time, under fire and crouching behind a low wall right in front of the Jotun advance. As she approached, a Jotun arrow whizzed past the three scouts and bounced off Bill's helmet. She immediately threw herself to the ground and crawled over to the wall where the three scouts were pinned down. "Move out, all! Orders have come through for a retreat!"
Dick addressed the newcomer sarcastically whilst notching another arrow to his bow. "Gee, we would love nothing more. Except that we're a little busy with these Jotun right now. Perhaps you can help?"
"Now, now, Dick! It's clear she's here to help. You can help. right? They will be here any minute, if we move then they'll pick us off for sure."
Bill removed her helmet and scratched her head, inspecting the dint where the arrow had hit as she did so. "Reckon as what we need is some sort of distraction. Hold here for a moment, I'll think of something!."
As she stood to try and get a better look at how many barbarians were approaching, she swung her pole arm low and managed to knock Harriet over in the process - mere seconds before another arrow landed where she had been crouched just a moment before.
"Blimey, that was close! Good job I'm so clumsy with this pike!"
Harriet just stared at her, somewhat flabbergasted but also too weary to say anything.
"I've got it! We'll use my helmet as a distraction. I'll put it on the end of my pikestaff and we'll raise it up over the wall to concentrate their fire whilst we all crawl back. We'll have to go quite a way on our bellies, but there's safety to stand once we get beyond the ridge. Well, what are you waiting for, soldiers?! Don't you worry about me, I'll be right behind you. I wasn't about to leave you behind, I'm sure you won't do the same for me!"
Bill winked, and rose the helmet above the wall on the end of his pikestaff. Very soon, there were arrows flying left and right and no less than three sticking out from his helmet. Tom, Dick and Harriet began crawling away from where the Jotun were aiming. It wasn't until they reached their place of safety that any of them looked back to see if Bill was still there, but she was nowhere to be seen. Cursing under their breath, they were about to turn round and go back for him when they heard her voice. "Covering fire, soldiers! Covering fire!" Bill was running toward them, followed by a whole band of angry Jotun who had finally discovered her trick.
With their expert bow work, the three of them made short enough work of the enemy that the others thought better about continuing and stopped for their fallen.
"Right." said Bill, not waiting for a moment. "That's that dealt with, let's get back to the others!"