flASH fiction: Volume 5: Built on Blood (4)

Built on Blood

By

Jason Pere

 

Captain Aaron Luckworth walked briskly in the wake of the two footmen who had been sent to fetch him. He desperately wanted to pull at the neckline of his breastplate. The hardened steel armor felt like it was closing in around his throat like a noose. He knew that his armor was not magically shrinking and that his discomfort was solely the product of his own nerves but regardless of the cause, he still found drawing breath to be a labor. He wanted to pull at the seam where the edge of his platemail met the skin over his collarbone bur he stayed his hand. He was well aware that he was not exuding the most disciplined visage as it was but submitting to a trivial physical discomfort would be too much of an embarrassment considering the number of eyes in the Rayward war camp that were cast in his direction.

Aaron came to the entrance to General Braveway’s tent he felt a mix of two different kinds of hot burn in his ears. The first was a relaxing wave of gentle calm that signaled the end of his journey through the camp under the judgmental scrutiny of his peers. The second was a warm itchy feeling like being scraped with the tip of a hot needle over and over. It was the telltale sensation of anxiety at the unknown. The footmen had not given Aaron any clue as to the cause for his summons so the captain only had his imagination to lean on. Now that he was only moments away from the weathering gaze of his commanding officer, he felt the heat of the all that could happen in the next few seconds ripping through him like a dreadful fever.

The shorter and older of the two footmen pulled back the flap of the general’s tent and disappeared inside for the span of a couple nervously weighted breaths. He emerged from the tent wearing a dutifully stoic expression. “The general will see you now, Captain Luckworth,” said the footman. He spoke with all the liveliness of a corpse and avoided making eye contact with the captain as he spoke, He seemed to send his words off into nowhere as they launched from his lips.

Arron straitened his back as hard as iron and nodded politely at the two soldiers who had escorted him through the bustling war camp. He proceeded to enter the large tent as the pair of footmen held the main flaps open for him. He swallowed hard as he set foot inside the structure of canvas, rope and wooden poles. He tried to devour his apprehension as silently as he could but he failed in that regraded as he gave out an undignified gulping sound just as he passed the pair of junior fighting men. He bit his teeth hard together in regret as he lamented starting his audience with General Braveway in such a miserably unrefined manor.

The nervous captain looked about the tent after he felt the entrance’s flaps drop closed behind him. He kept his head straight forward and his chin even and unmoving, in the perfect show of a seasoned solider standing at attention. His eyes were another matter. They darted about the tent like a duo of humming birds. Aaron eagerly drank in every last detail of the general’s personal effects in the few precious moments before conversation began. He had never been inside the general’s tent before and he had always wondered at the back of his mind, what sort of man was leading this army. Sadly, Aaron’s lightning fast assessment was far from fruitful. There were no great indicators about the general’s character laid about the tent. In fact from top to bottom, Aaron was unable to detect a single item that was not of a military nature in the whole of the large canvas enclosure. From the modest armor tree beside the general’s bed, collection of charts and maps strewn about his desk and assortment of strong boxes and wardrobes, General Braveway appeared to be about as one dimensional as possible. He had all the trappings of someone who knew nothing more than professional soldiering and expected to die in the army.

“Captain Luckworth, you may stand easy,” said the general. He kept his eyes locked on the latest piece of correspondence that demanded his attention as he spoke. His casual voice even seemed to carry a singular note of command and order with it.

Arron relaxed his spine and shoulders. He could feel his skin threatening to jump off of his bones as he waited in silence while General Braveway continued his silent assessment of the document in his grasp. The captain felt much like he expected a condemned man would feel as he awaited the final drop of the headsman’s ax.

The general completed reading the parchment in his hands and then swiftly made some notions on it with a grey feather quill before placing the document on his desk. Once he had finished with the parchment he lifted his striking hazel gaze to regard the captain. In the most remarkable display of something unexpected the general softened his hard ironclad stare and curled his lips in something that could arguably be called the smallest of smiles. “This latest battle has seen a thinning in the upper ranks. The army needs competent officers. I have your name on more than one recommendation from my advisors. I am appointing you a field promotion to the rank of Lance Commander,” said the general with a proud glimmer in his eye.

Arron Luckworth was aghast. He had been trying to steel himself for some unpleasant news but a promotion was not anywhere within his realm of expectations. “Thank you, general sir,” Aaron muttered in a grossly ineloquent display of gratitude. After a few moments of stunned silence, Aaron was able to gather his wits enough to process the swirl of chaotic feelings that churned in his gut. He found one question bubble to the surface above all others. “Whose commission am I to succeed, sir?”

“Lance Commander Whiterun. We pulled his body from underneath the carcass of that foul black winged wyrm early this morning. Crushed with the whole of his personal guard,” said the general.

“I did not know him,” Aaron said wistfully. “Was there nobody else, recommended for the rank? Not to be ungrateful, general sir. This is just most unexpected.”

General Braveway squinted and narrowed his gaze with a hard disdainful glare at the younger man. “He fought and died with honor. It was as fine a soldier’s death as can be hoped for. There are also many of your piers that I have had similar conversations with today. As I said, the upper ranks have been thinned so yes there are many others who have risen today as well,” the general said with a tone that was both patronizing and chiding.

“My apologies, general sir. I just never thought that I might have a full regiment of cavalry at my disposal. I am a bit lost with how to feel about it, if I am honest,” said Arron as he fought to keep from squirming in embarrassment where he stood.

“You do not seem to be pleased with your advancement. You are to be one of the youngest Lance Commanders that Rayward has ever seen. Good soldiers have and will serve twice the tenure that you currently boast and not progress as far as you have today,” said General Braveway with a quizzical turn of his demeanor.

“I suppose that may be part of my issue. That is to say nothing of the fact that I am receiving good fortune at the expense of another man’s life…” trailed the young Rayward officer with a remorseful and guilty downward glance.

“You are a most peculiar fighting man. Did your section not lead the charge against the dragoon Tinder Speakers at Blue River or hold the bridge gate at Tall Mountain keep while outnumbered three to one? I believe that you nearly lost your arm as a result of that defensive if the field report is correct,” said the general with a stormy air about him as he maneuvered around his desk and met the young captain eye to eye.

“Yes sir. Those accounts are all true,” said Aaron.

“Magnificent courage, man. You should be nothing but proud for what you have managed to do in your term of service. If Rayward could call upon more men of your quality these crusades would be won already,” said the general with deafening respect echoing in his powerful voice.

“Thank you general sir,” said Aaron with reluctant agreeance.

“Do not be so swift to thank me,” said the general.

“Beg your pardon sir?” responded the newly appointed lance commander.

“The enemy have abandoned their position. They are in full retreat beyond the mountain. The camp still needs some time to regroup before we can mobilize again. However I will not let the dragoon slink away when we just bloodied them so well. I want your regiment to pursue and if possible engage them where and when you can. Give them no option for respite,” said the general with a hard edge in his words.

“Understood, general sir,” said Aaron abruptly as he began to ponder all the numerous variables of a sustained assault into uncharted lands.

“Take the day to assume command of your regiment. Become acquainted with your officers and take whatever provisions you feel are necessary. Even with the loses that the dragoon suffered here, your regiment will be outnumbered by no small margin. Leave at first light and hunt our enemy without mercy,” said the general as he laid a heavy hand on Arron Luckworth’s shoulder.

Aaron finally saw something beyond the shell of a lifelong solider reflected in the general’s eyes. The lance commander observed what could only be call bloodlust burning in the older man’s frosty gaze. “Permission to be dismissed and see to the pursuit,” said Aaron.

“Granted,” responded the general coldly.

Aaron hurried out of General Braveway’s tent as he felt his belly turn to rot and the taste of bile fill his mouth. Once he was free from the general’s presence he felt like he could finally breathe properly once more. He realized that he much would have preferred to remain ignorant about the deeper nature of the general’s character. He put his mind to thoughts of the war at hand and scoffed at how he found greater comfort in plans for bloody combat than the notion of another audience with General Braveway.

 

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