S T R A T A G E M
Written on November 28, 2020 (♐)
Author's Notes: This ficlet later was expanded into a far longer piece that you can find on the adult portion of the site.
As the Hokuten rode north, Zalbag thought of the report as to the Death Corps numbers and positions—of all the endless lectures on the art of war droned out to him at Gariland and of all the permutations of their woeful inadequacy of the field. When Wiegraf Folles came to mind, he did his utmost to consider him in the abstract: a commander with given patterns of attack, a foeman with known strengths and weaknesses, a linchpin whose removal would tumble apart a cell of dangerous terrorists. If he could imagine him as some wooden chit other generals might push around on a map, he would have gladly done so.
It would have been for the best, honestly, if they could all be reduced to tokens: the Corps, the Hokuten, the girl, the irritating squire who wouldn’t stop asking him about the campaign in Limberry, even himself. If he were just some pawn or rook on the board, things unfolded as they ought. Pieces moved as they should. Pawns did not have pasts or complications—they endured no history as foolish youths caught in the irrational desperation of a protracted siege.
His bird’s talons crunched against the frost gilt ground, and his stomach sank. He’d fasted that morning. To strangle and section every conscious thought of Wiegraf now did not dull his impressions of Wiegraf then. Somewhere beneath his mail and gambeson he still felt the grip of calloused hands against his wrists and the hot brush of panting lips against his body. By the sixtieth day of the Romandan assault, they had all just been soldiers. Rank had broken down, why not law and religion?
“If the wall doesn’t hold, what does it matter? Do you think they’ll be able to pick the sin out of our bones, Beoulve?”
He’d probably thought God would—that if the men at Mullonde who made doctrine ruled on the potentialities of the physical resurrection, they might well say that Ajora would bring him back to account for the iniquities embedded in his marrow. Wiegraf had probably laughed at him. He’d laughed about a lot of things. By the time the Nanten finally pushed west and saved them all, he’d gotten used to cutting off his scorn—lips against his—trading blasphemy spoken for blasphemies embodied.
Zeakden finally came into view, and he felt the first flutter of coming snowfall as it melted against his face. He calculated the scant miles left in which he might compose himself—in which he might reduce Wiegraf and himself and everyone else back down to variables on the field.
God, he reckoned, would forgive him a moment’s blunted empathy.