Monday, November 16, 2015

Forteresse autour de ton coeur

NB:  This post was "written" while slightly drunk on NyQuil, and under some under trying circumstances. I apologize for it in advance.

The sporadic information that the few returning scouts have given me led me to believe that the fortress I was delegated to take was a redoubt of some strength, and it would take more resources than I had to hand to reduce it in the time that I was allowed.  I am not a spectacular war leader. I am no Caesar, or Napoleon. I am a middling ranked, barely competent fool that received his position by attrition and a whole lot of luck, and a fair amount of misfortune.  The good news, if there is any good news, is that I am acutely aware of my limitations. Even better news is that if, for one second I get ideas above my station (i.e. thinking I am actually competent), my second in command, Wilson, is there to remind me that I am mortal.  Not only does he remind me of my mortality, he takes what I consider an excessive amount of glee in doing it, but that is another story for another day. That day will be the day I have to, with many regrets I am sure, put Wilson against a wall and remind him who is in charge of this outfit.

The answer to that particular question is me, I am in charge of this outfit, and for better or worse that's how it is going to be until the day Wilson figures out my plan for him, and puts a rattlesnake in my camp bed. Not that I haven't had worse bedtime playmates, it just they usually don't try to kill me right away like the snake would. Being in charge means responsibility and with responsibility comes authority, even if you have to take the authority. Because responsibility without authority is hamstrung from the start, like a cracker that has lost its cheese. It was now my assigned task to reduce this fortress.  A task that I foolishly volunteered for, in the vain hope, and with the wild idea that I would succeed in some brilliant fashion. It was, in hindsight, a very foolish idea to expect that a quick victory was to be won on this battlefield.  And make no mistake about it, this was a battlefield, this was war, this wasn't some Hatfield and Mccoy type of pillow fight that eventually just got out of hand. No, this was war from the start, and war to the finish. Simply put, there could be only one victor. A great, rousing speech to give to the "troops" right? Except that my "troops" weren't complete idiots when it came to odds. They are gamblers to a man (part of the reason I picked them), and they can do amazing maths in short order, and see the odds were not particularly good for our side.

Hope springs eternal, even forlorn hope, and it was up to me to break down those iron bars and stone walls that were keeping me from obtaining my goals. Goals are very important things to have, be it on the football pitch, or in real life. A goal is a wonderful thing, it is even more wonderful if it is scored/obtained in some majestic way (i.e. a 30 yard volley from your lummox of a central defender's weaker foot), but they count the same, no matter how they are met /scored (i.e. off the face on the bounce from your striker who may still be slightly drunk from the night before).  However, goals have to meet reality at some point, and sometimes it is not a pleasant introduction. As I stared up at those massive walls and those miles upon miles of barbed wire, all I could think was "fuck me how did that lot build THIS."  Followed quickly by my second thought (two thoughts in one day, a banner occasion) of "fuck me how do they expect me to take that down with THIS lot." Luckily, I was able to internalize both of those thoughts so as not to demoralize the lot that was expected to perform this miracle of modern warfare. Worn out from all this thinking, I went to bed, careful to check for any rattlesnakes before I turned out the lights. No luck, tonight I would be sleeping alone. It was something that I felt I was going to have to get accustomed to.

Luckily for me, in the group of reprobates that I had the pleasure to "command" was an engineer. I never asked why he had hitched his wagon to my star, because I don't like asking questions that I figure the answer will cause me distress. I don't think he was a star among the engineering group, and he was certainly no Vauban, but he was the best I had, and by that I mean he was the only person I had that could be reasonably expected to do the math of siege craft as opposed to the math of the ponies.  I found out, much later, that whilst he wasn't a superstar of the engineering world, he did "invent" an object that almost everyone uses in their day to day life. However, that is getting ahead of the story. After my rattle snake free sleep, and upon being roughly jostled awake by Wilson (does the man ever sleep?), I awoke and looked again upon the edifice that was to be either the pinnacle or the nadir of my career. Or maybe, if I was incredibly unlucky a little bit of both.

It was certainly big enough, if you are into obvious displays of power, wealth, and hubris. Tall too, who did they think was coming to call, an army of giants? Even on a glorious fall day without a cloud in the sky it still managed to sit there like a drunken man darkly brooding over some real or feigned insult on his corner bar stool muttering about his revenge. This place didn't need to mutter, it fairly shouted "come and get me boys, if you think you can!"  As I stood there just far enough away to take in all its majesty but still close enough to have my mood affected by its shadow, Wilson sauntered up to me, and after my startled response (the man is a master sneak), asked. "So, my captain, how do we take down that monster? Charm?"  "Well, Wilson we both know I'm only charming when I am drunk, and I don't think there is quite enough booze in the world for me to be that charming." I replied as I pointed to the massive bulk of the fortress looming menacingly in the distance.  "No, I suspect we will have to pour our one engineer out from what ever bottle he's climbed into, and try a more considered approach."

"But, first things first, let's show these bastards who we are. Corker, unfurl the standard, let those bastards know we are here." Corker, our slightly retarded standard bearer replied "Umm sir, who are we to these people?" It was a fair question, our company had a name for every occasion, multiple standards, some captured, some actually bestowed upon us, and others just simply made up on the fly. We  have had many names, and very few places or people actually knew our "real" name. "Oh, I don't know who haven't we been in a while?" Corker thought a moment, which for Corker takes some real effort, smiled and said "I've got just the one sir." "Alright son, well don't keep me or that lot in suspense any longer, unfurl it and let them know."  Corker, with the usual stupid grin plastered to his face picked his banner, and with all the ceremony he could muster strode forward to the safest distance possible and slammed in with authority into the ground. We all waited for the necessary gust of wind to catch the cloth, and let both our enemy and ourselves know who they were up against. As the wind caught it, the banner snapped out with at least an attempt at majesty and proclaimed us to be "Gjudarnsson's Friekorps".  "Oh, good, we haven't been that one in a good long while, and last time we were, we got our ass handed to us at Petersonburg" "Well it's too late now" I said, 'we might as we try to redeem poor Gjudarnnson and his Friekorps slightly tarnished reputation. Even though I knew that both were long since dead as dead could be, and their bones were mouldering on another continent. It would not have been my first choice of a banner to fight under, but what do you expect when you have an idiot for a standard bearer? That last bit may have been uttered aloud by mistake, for Corker gave me a hurt look as he took his place back in line.

"And speaking of idiots, what great fucking idiot put THAT bloody river THERE." I said with some resignation, for I knew that the ever faithful Wilson would have his usual laconic, but caustic reply. Sure as the rain comes on your birthday, he replied "God? Sir." "Wilson, someday remind me to put you up against a wall and shoot you." I rasped. "In the mean time would you be so good as to sober up our engineer, give him my compliments, and ask him if he's ever learned how to build a fucking bridge?" Wilson scuttled off to find, and hopefully, dry out our engineer while I stood there just out of range of this terrible, brooding fortress with an ever increasing sense of dread growing in the pit of my stomach. How, from where I started, did I ever end up here I asked myself. Having no one around to provide the refrain, I answered it myself "step by step." If ever there was a time to reflect upon my poor life choices, this was it, and I stood there wondering how things would have been if she had said yes.

However, she said no, and said it emphatically, and since she was just as educated as I was, she said it in the 3 languages we both spoke just to make sure that her intent was clear. It was clear, convincing, and utterly soul crushing. It was also, just a bit unexpected. I had thought, which shows you how great a thinker I am, that things were going as smooth as goose shit on glass. I was wrong, not for the first time about her, but for what would be the last. It was never the gentlest of relationships, she had a tongue that could cut glass, and I tried my best to reply in kind, but it was still the high light of my relationship career. Which is either a sad reflection upon my previous relationships, or a glowing recommendation of the challenge she presented me. Truth be told it was probably a little bit of both. It was not a pleasant ending to what had been a pleasant (most of the time) relationship, and when the gendarme became involved, I decided that anywhere but here was a place I needed to be. Being a strapping lad, I decided to learn the mercenary trade, and see if being killed from the front was as bad as what she had done to me from behind.

I packed most of my important belongings into one bag, and headed south the the bustling port city of Nova Lerma, to find the first ship out of the backwater in which I lived. It didn't take long for me to find a group of like minded people, and I quickly joined Claudell's Marines. A rag tag lot of complete reprobates as ever attempted to call themselves a mercenary company as ever existed on this or any continent in the world.  It was an eye opening experience, and also a tale for another day, I didn't last long with Claudell's Marines mainly because Claudell's Marines did last very long, being pretty much obliterated as an organization at the Battle of Hester's Reach.  That battle, which I was present for, taught me a lot of things, but it mostly taught me that losing really stunk, and being a prisoner of war was not exactly something I was cut out to be. It would be the first time, but not the last time, that my loyalty became a commodity available to the highest bidder.  Loyalty, I figured out very quickly, was like class. The more people pay you for it, the more they expect. That was a very important lesson to learn, and one that I tried to never forget during my travels.

Those travels, and the lessons I learned, most of them the hard way, had led me to this, standing outside the fortress of Tessenow, and pondering a change of career. Was it too late to take up architecture? Considering my lack of drawing skill, and my age, probably so, but it was at least worth a thought as I stood there wondering how I was going to reduce this fortress to the rubble that was my assigned task. The fellow that hired me, and the newly re-branded Gjudarnsson's Friekorps, was not especially forthcoming on the how or the why that task was to be completed.  Of course, that wasn't his job, his job was to provide the money, a lot of money, and  my job was to make sure the task he paid for was completed, and to try to stay alive during the process.

A few more seconds pondering the mysteries of the universe, I decided to go to bed, and hope that maybe Wilson had finally decided to provide me with a fatal bedtime playmate. No such luck, and I awoke the next morning with all the same problems that I had went to sleep to avoid the night before. Eventually, Wilson did turn up with our freshly sober engineer, a extremely thin fellow named  Jackson, who despite looking a bit worse for wear, looked as well as I had seen him look in a month. I turned to Wilson and asked "I see you found, and sobered up Jackson, and may I ask why he looks like the cat that ate the canary?"  Wilson who also had a smirk on his face, but that wasn't unusual so I didn't remark upon it replied "well sir, I think this might just make your entire day." "Wilson, it is barely 9 a.m. if you are going to make my day can you do it early, so at least I get the most benefit of it?" Wilson snickered, and said "I'll think it best to let Jackson explain sir. After we sobered him up, and that took a while, he finally put two and two together and sorted out where we are in the world." "Well that's a relief, I mean I'd hate to have our erstwhile engineer not know the name of the place he's expected to blow off the map."

"It's better than that sir," Wilson replied, "wait until you hear him out." "Well, Jackson, stop standing there like a piece of furniture, and spit it out man, what is the great news?"  Jackson, grinning from ear to ear said "well, sir. I am not sure if you know it or not but I'm from a small village about 5 miles from here." "No Jackson" I said "and since I'm not writing your obituary, yet, I don't especially care." Jackson winced at my rudeness, but then gathered himself and said, "well sir, being from around here, and an engineer, one of the first projects that my mentor, Mannheim, allowed me a great deal of input into was designing that." Saying this he pointed to the looming bulwark of Tessenow, and a silly grin split his slightly goofy face. "Therefore, I can get you in as easy as pie, sir."

"What makes you think you can do that Jackson, I am sure it is still as tough a nut to crack as it looks, no matter what half trained asshat designed it." Jackson took a deep breath and said "well, sir. The thing is, I was young, and my mentor was past it. He didn't care much about the design he was old, and knew it was probably his last real commission, so he let me have my head a bit." "Which turned out to be a great learning experience for me, but at the same time, I was young, and I made mistakes." "Mistakes that I seriously doubt that lot have been arsed to repair." I replied, "and what about that fucking river, Jackson?" "Did you make some great deal with Mother Nature that we are unaware of?" "Oh no sir, that river's just there to scare you, which seems to be working, so I guess my half-training paid off." "No the key to the whole fortress is that chasm there." he said pointing to a large chasm about two miles upstream. "That's the key to the whole place sir." Jackson said, and smiled deeply. "Today is the 8th, I can have in the citadel and in possession of the entire town by the 11th if you will let me sir."

I smiled the first real smile I had in weeks, and said "Jackson, if you were a woman, I'd kiss you on the mouth, even if you were as ugly a woman as you are a man." "Get to it man, Get to it!' I shouted, and off he bustled to hopefully make my fame and fortune.   TO BE CONTINUED.