Entire Fiction (2007)
He tipped his brown helmet so that the rain would splatter away from his wet face. He wasn't entirely successful, but it was still better than nothing. Mist floated into the air and he rubbed his hands together; the biting cold cut through even leather gloves. Pulling his soaked grey cloak tightly against the chill, he stood up and groaned in pain.
"What's going on here, Private?"
High leather boots made deep impressions in the muddy ground, but the never-ending storm filled them the second they were made. Dried blood washed off the heavy metal breastplate protecting the officer's broad chest, but the stains they left behind could never be cleansed away.
The Private stamped his feet, cursed his luck and saluted. "Sir! My gravest apologizes sir, I didn't realize you were coming!"
The officer glanced down, a frown creasing his face. "Private, that wound needs medical attention. Report to the medic and have that bandaged up."
With an uneasy glance at the three stars upon the officer's shoulders, the private swallowed in a vain attempt to calm his fluttering stomach. "I've been assigned to patrol-"
"You'll do nothing of the sort while injured, soldier," a stern rebuke, but tempered by concern. His words were slow, crisp and methodical. "We do not need sentries that cannot raise an alarm when the enemy strikes. You are a liability to the men, and to all those who depend on us back home. Another of your squad will take over until you are fit for duty."
Had it been any of the others who had been awarded three stars by their Emperor, it was unlikely the Private would have spoken out. Yet there was something about this man -- his face wrinkled by honest concern for the well-being of a grunt at the very bottom of the ladder -- which warmed the heart and rekindled the dying embers of courage.
"General Christophe, sir! With all due respect, there is no one else!"
Leo Christophe frowned once more. "That accent," he began. "You hail from Maranda, do you not?"
The General nodded to himself. "I recall the sacrifice of your squad, the 71st, no?"
"You know of us?" Emerald eyes widened in amazement. "We are truly honoured, sir."
"I would meet every man under my command were it possible," the General responded. "Your people did well despite being pressed against those treacherous waters, I've already made arrangements for their families to be taken care of. The Empire protects and shelters her own."
"I'm..." his voice faltered as he thought of his departed friends. He blinked repeatedly, thankful to have the excuse of wiping the rain aside. He could not show weakness before his General.
"You're hurt," Leo declared. "My orders remain unchanged: you will seek medical attention. I'll stand in your stead."
"Sir!" the Private protested.
"Enough!" the General hollered. "Accept good fortune with a broad smile, for the world is a harsh place and moments as such are rare enough."
"But General, sir, surely you have better things to do."
The stout General glared at him in such a way that the Private knew he had misspoken. He began to stutter, but in the midst of stammering an attempted apology, Leo interrupted him.
"I'd never give an order that I'd never be willing to do. Knowing that, do you still believe your job is unimportant?"
Again, were it anyone else, the answer would have been obvious. But this was General Christophe! "We're all the way out here in the north, incredibly far from home. I'm watching out for monsters rather than preparing to storm the enemy castle. I guess I just don't see the point," he answered honestly.
"That borders on treason, soldier."
The Private blanched, yet the General only smiled softly.
"Private, I stand here-" the General's gloved hand waved towards the wilderness, "-knowing that the enemy is beyond the wood. Perhaps they are human: soldiers bent on our deaths, or perhaps they are monsters: with nothing more than instinct guiding their predatory nature. But know this, Private," a stone-face framed by short, cropped blond hair steeled a gaze in the Private's direction.
"We are not here for conquest. We are not here to defend the Empire or to maintain our way of life. We do not need their lumber, their coal, not even their steel. We do not slaughter monsters to protect ourselves, nor soldiers to gain power for our Lord and Emperor."
He gestured to the west, in which the land beyond was obscured by mist. Yet rising sharply in the distance was a castle that weathered more than just the storm clouds above it.
"We are not here for their King! We are here to help. We are here to shelter the defenceless, to protect the innocent with steel and Magitek. We come with technology to provide; food for the starving, water for the parched, medicine for the diseased. For the people that served this King have not been served in return."
"We are here to correct that mistake; to provide our fellow brothers and sisters with all the benefits of civilization."
The Private felt just a bit taller. He smiled, confident in his decision to join the Imperial Armed Forces. "My parents would have me believe that the Emperor does this all for power, they said I was making a mistake by joining our conquerors," he sniffled. "I... I always thought otherwise... because I saw the difference back home after the Emperor came. That's why I joined."
A nod of satisfaction. "Very good soldier, you think for yourself and do not blindly accept what others tell you. You'll make a good officer one day."
The Private snapped a crisp salute. "Thank you sir," he voiced with a broad smile.
"Now get yourself to the doctor. I'd like to see you return to Maranda safe and sound. Because you are correct, this is not our land and we are truly far from home. It would be foolhardy of you to throw your life away so easily."
"Yes sir, General Christophe!" the Private nodded vigourously. He turned away and limped towards camp.
He turned back to see the General's back, his arms folded, his attention towards the wilderness as rain poured down on his muscled frame without mercy.
"Call me Leo. All my men do."