The night is long and my men have the last watch. My cheek is dry and raw in the cool night air, my tired body aches for rest, but I will not have time for many hours still and then I shall have all the time in the world. The witching hour is bright under the dreadful gaze of the blood red moon. Whether unholy omen as the civilians say, it is a boon for us on guard. The surrounding land is near as bright as day, perfect conditions for my men and I as we watch over the sleeping town. I would never have thought she could look so peaceful as she does, not since news of the invading forces arrived yesterday.
“Smoke, sergeant?” The words interrupt my thought as the roughly twisted paper is held in front of my face. I accept in grim silence, accepting the boys offered light. Private Noah, one of nine soldiers under my direct command, slow on his feet but quick with his wit. Terrible traits for a soldier. For a time Noah and I stood in silence atop the wall, for nothing more needed to be said. Before long he leaves to continue his patrol.
Hours pass. My smoke burns away and the stars fade as the moon slowly drops towards the edge of the horizon. With dawns approach the camp becomes a hive of activity, soldiers in a flurry of activity prepare for the Stand-To-Arms. Across the field I can see the Volk forces doing the same. Their force extends out in all directions as far as I can see, dwarfing our own in sheer numbers by an order of magnitude. Word of the Volk army’s approach came a week ago, Colonel Nguyen expected the order to retreat to follow. At the height of winter we had marched with orders to hold the border, now it was summer and no such word from headquarters has come. The last order we had received was to await reinforcements, that was over a month ago. I know some of my men still hold out hope for a last minute reprieve but squinting into the first light of dawn I relinquish any last dream.
I drop the last flickering embers of my smoke and grind it into the dirt. As the last squad on watch I have a small window of time to myself where I would normally supervising my squads preparations. Within the town and across the field was movement. Soldiers undergoing their pre-dawn routines for what may be the last time. With that thought, the morning quiet is shattered by the Captain’s whistle calling us to assemble. All across the camp many identical whistles stir up a frenzy of activity. With practised efficiency my fellow squad leaders and I bellow our commands over the long shrill piercing screech. Corporal Pietsch and Yilmaz report their teams readiness, which I report in turn to my Lieutenant and fall in. In hardly a minute the remaining squads fill out the space within the walls until the entire fighting strength of the Kingdom Army’s, Steadfast Brigade stands to attention. The whistles cease and Colonel Ngyuyen atop his steed addresses us.
“Men, I look at you and I see the pride of Savières. In front of us, just beyond these walls a Volk army that would destroy all we have built, salt the earth of our prosperity and strike our greatness from history. Behind us, our homes, our families and our histories remain. We are the Steadfast Brigade, we have our orders and our orders are to hold the border until reinforcements arrive and that is what we’ll do. Make them bleed for every step they take!!”
A roar bellows up from the soldiers, our flag raised high, the sign of The Boar fluttering in the wind. As the Colonel turns his horse and rides off to rejoin the ranks of the cavalry, orders are bellowed and the controlled chaos of two thousand men readying for assault becomes absolute. The field of battle has been prepared by the engineers to collapse in places beneath the Volk advance, my squad was to be part of the force that would sally forth to meet them, if all went well the tunnels would break the enemy formation and we could rout their first advance.
“Ready to be a hero Sergeant, even you’ll be able to find a lady after we send those Volk bastards packing”
“Shut yer trap, Private,” I bark at Noah, quietly thankful to his levity, the rest of the men are scared. I can feel it. But Noah’s optimistic quips reassure them. I relay our orders again, “On my order quick march one hundred yards forward and brace for charge! No matter what happens, do not let the formation break even if you die, or I’ll follow you to hell and flog you for insubordination, myself!”
A grim chuckle from Noah ripples through the men. I grit my teeth and glare ahead at the endless Volk, satisfied to know that if I die it will be among good men.
The whistle rings once more.
“Spears at the ready!” I bellow, my voice mingling with the others, “Quick March!!”
I swear, it feels as if the very earth shudders beneath the weight of our conviction. Not one soldier considers any direction but forward, and my heart swells with pride. I can all but see the Volk army as a giant monstrous maw enveloping us, and I grin, the poor bastards don’t realise they’re simply exposing their soft palette to our blades.