False Bravado

By Dragonseeds

Even in all the bloody, turbulent upheaval that is a war, somehow the noise and the shouts of various sorts faded into a background in his mind as he stooped there on the field with his arms crimsoned up to the elbow with the blood of the screaming solider he was sparing no effort to save. The young troop’s insides were twisted and torn from the cruel point of a spear and he was bleeding quite profusely. Still, Sean Brantley did what he had to do. His fingers working furiously to sew up the damage with animal sinews and to sponge away the blood that was filling the cavities of the soldier’s body. He was finished. Sean sewed him shut and sent for the assistants to carry him away on a stretcher. Sean wasn’t really sure if the man would live. He began to wipe clean his instruments and think for just a moment as he did so. All these years learning to heal and I can still only do so much. If only.....

His thoughts were interrupted by an older soldier, an officer whom he recognized as Kessler, stagger towards him carrying another man on his back. Kessler’s shoulder had deeply cut into and he looked pretty battered. Kessler’s group had been towards the rear of the left flank and had been hit the hardest by the imperial army’s surprise attack. “Do what you can for him. He saved me. Fool threw himself into a mace for me.” Kessler’s voice was distant and icy from fatigue. Kessler was a kind soul, a bandit by trade but he only robbed imperial collaborators and supported the liberation from the start.

Sean’s fingers searched for a pulse but there was none. The man was dead. That was apparent. “I’m sorry Kessler. I can’t do anything for him but let me look at that shoulder. I’ll patch it up for the moment.” Sean cleaned the wound with great haste and applied an ointment of arnica, and bandaged it tightly. Kessler grimaced, nodded thanks, and lumbered back up to the lines.

Sean glanced over at Mathiu Silverburg, the chief strategist and head medical officer of the Liberation army, to see him feverishly barking orders to the rear troops and screaming for his couriers in an almost calm sort of way. He had seen and won tougher battles than this. Dr. Luikan was behind him working to patch up the wounded as were all the other surgeons and their assistants. It was strange to think that he was working side by side with men of their prestige and reputation.

Sean began to stitch up a young woman who had been wounded during the fighting. She was slender but fierce with a lance. As his fingers flew about their work his mind drifted back to home and family. What were his little brothers playing at? How were his parents? It had been a while since he had received a letter from them but with the war coming to a close and the empire rapidly losing ground, it was not a time of great efficiency or safety to postmen. He left a simple life as a mayor’s son and village healer of a small village for all this. It wasn’t grandeur and glory, he knew that when he joined. He did as he thought best by joining and no matter what he was in it till the end.

The voice of the commander of the Liberation army, Garrett McDohl, rang out above the clamor as he ordered the front ranks to advance while leading them from the front like a true leader. Garrett and Sean had become friends over the course of the long and arduous war they were waging for their freedom. Garrett and his men slashed their way through the enemy. Sean looked up in awe as Garrett connected with an imperial officer’s chin and snapped his neck with a wet snap. The imperials began to lose ground.

Then it happened. The Imperial Calvary rushed the right flank of the weakened lancer platoon led by Camille and broke through. They were after Mathiu. Without him the war was over for the Liberation army. Sean had to act. He looked at the crimsoned claymore still in the hands of the dead soldier Kessler had brought with him. His hands reached out and grabbed it, and then closed around the hilt. It was an alien in his hands, but he had practiced enough with Garrett and Flik to know what he was doing. He was no fighter, too gentle and kind of nature but the war was on the line. After this battle they need only take Shazzzarrade and Gregminister itself to win the total victory. Mathiu must be protected if that is to happen. Without his brilliant stratagems and connections to spies, the Liberation army would loose many lives. Garrett began bringing his troops around to face the imperials that had broken through but he wouldn’t make it in time. Sean moved himself between the advancing enemy and Mathiu’s group. He had to fight, and for the first time to kill.

The first soldier to reach him was a young man about his own age who wielded an ax. Sean lowered his stance and tighten his grip on the dual-handed sword and swung it solidly at the imperial’s throat as he rushed forward. He severed the head from the body in one stroke of the blade. It was the first time he had ever killed before. It was an uneasy feeling but not one he had time to brood over as another was coming.

This one was older and brandished a sword and shield. He rushed at Sean swinging madly, but Sean parried the blows and swung back but his counterattack was deflected by the shield. Sean swung the great sword again and it clashed against his opponent’s helmet. The man fell dead as his skull had been split.

Mathiu screamed out loudly for Sean to run, but he moved directly between Mathiu and the advancing soldiers. Liberation forces all around were rushing to save Mathiu and Dr. Luikan but they were held up by the wave of soldiers that sent a few men each after Mathiu. Sean rushed at the next man and brought the blade down through his chest. He then parried the blow of a broad-swordsman, which left his sword ringing like a bell. He slashed, and thrusted, but all Sean’s meager moves were evaded by the expert he now faced. Garrett and the others were getting closer. The warrior sliced at Sean’s feet. He didn’t fully connect, but he knocked Sean off his feat and began to approach Mathiu. Sean struggled to regain his footing. The swordsman was standing above Mathiu and was about to strike when Sean leapt on his back and knocked him to the ground. Before the man could get up Sean slit his throat with his scalpel. Mathiu seemed shocked but thankful to be alive. His eyes widened and he screamed, “Sean, behind you!”

Sean whirled around but it was too late. An imperial officer thrust a dagger into Sean’s chest and twisted it mercilessly. Sean Brantley fell to the dust. in the next instant his murderer was cut down by Garrett McDohl. The battle soon ended and the Liberation army had won the day and returned to Freedom Castle.

Garrett and Flik listened sadly to Mathiu’s account of Sean’s heroic actions that caused his death and a tear welled up in Garrett’s eye. It seems as though the ones I love always die in the most tragic and selfless of ways. Ted, so that he would be free of windy whose hands I put him in by escaping Gregminster but leaving him at his one request, Odessa to protect a child that wasn’t even hers, Gremio gave his life that I might escape the prison, my father, and now another friend. How many more must I lose before this ends? Garrett’s thoughtful revere was interrupted by Mathiu. “It was his last request that a friend should deliver his letters and journal back to his home in a small village called Serenity’s Throne. I suppose that..”

“I’ll do it. I have to. He saved my life once and patched up my wounds more times than I can count. Odessa convinced him to join long ago. He was always with Flick and I in the good times and the bad. It’s the least I can do for the first surgeon that ever joined the Liberation army. It’s what is to be done by a friend.” Garrett had spoken his peace and would have his way about this. “Flik, you and Mathiu are to accompany me.”

Later that evening, Garrett tread the stairs to Sean’s room and shut the door behind him. The room was all a clutter with papers, filled with medicinal recipes, drawings, and just things Sean had written down to remember. Garrett overlooked the pile of dirty laundry in the corner and all the other mess as he sat down at his friend’s desk. He found three letters laying on the desk an he proceeded to read the first one, which was addressed to Sean’s parents. Garrett had heard so much about them and had even been invited to meet them and stay in the village as an honored guest for as long as he liked after the war was over. He began reading.

Dear Mom and Dad,
               How are things back at home? I miss you but I am doing what I must do for freedom. I hope that the pharmacy and the dairy is okay without me there to help. Dad, remember that as the mayor everyone depends on you and you must do what you can for them. One of the things that I have learned from knowing Garrett is that a leader must give of himself rather than take. You should never ask another to do what you are not willing to do yourself. You asked about the combat. It’s hell as near as I can describe it. I have used all that Dr. Rofel taught me to save so many lives. My work is rewarding to me, you always told me how important that was. It’s hard to lose people, to see them clinging to life so desperately and not being able to do anything but ease their suffering. The war is going well for us. Soon you’ll not have those awful injustices anymore. Please give me regards to the townspeople. I love you. Please pray for me and all of us here. I’ll be back before you know it.
               your son,
PS. I have never told you thank you for raising me so well and teaching me what was right. So thank you. I’ll bring my friends to meet you!

Garrett sealed the letter and picked up the second. It was addressed to the little brothers that Sean was so fond of and loved to brag about and spoil with gifts. Garrett had heard all about the rambunctious antics of these two and all about their talents. He proceeded to read the letter.

Dear Jargas and Mathias,
               How are you? It’s been a long time since I was last home. I do hope that you liked the presents I sent for you. I also hope that you like the toy soldiers that came with this letter. Be good and help our parents. Is that bully still picking on you? You let him know that I’ll fix him when I come home! I’ve been learning some fighting skills and I’ll teach you what little I know. Sounds fun, right? I miss being home with you two and the simple life we all led. Is Racheal well? She doesn’t have a beau does she? Take care of the forests after dark. I’ll bring some friends home with me after the war. You’ll like meeting Garrett, Flik, Marty, and Dan. Take care of old widow Burgeon for me while I’m away. If the coughing spells some on her again, give her tea with foxglove, honey, lavender in it. Have mother help you prepare it. Farewell my brothers.
               Your Brother,

Garrett smiled in his grief as he could see his friend’s family in his mind more clearly than before. One last letter remained and it was written to a girl and first love of Sean’s, Racheal. He had talked often of her beauty and any other woman Garrett and he had ever talked about was compared to her and always paled to Racheal in Sean’s own mind.

Dearest Racheal,
               How is my heart’s lovely angel? I’ve missed seeing your face and hearing your voice for so long. I long for you but my work here holds me. I must save as many lives as I can and I enlisted for the long haul. Please understand me. I am called to be here but I will return someday unless misfortune finds me. Is your mother well? I hope that my brothers have been of help to you at the farm. They’d better mind you. I have something to ask you when I see you next. I hope that you will let me ask it. I have to leave off now a we are ready to go into battle and are about to leave. Until next we meet know that I love you more than you could ever know and that I am fighting for your freedom too.
               Affectionately yours forever,

Garrett sealed the letter with wax as he had done the others and procured a package from inside the desk drawer. The toy soldiers were inside it. He gathered up all of the papers that were just scattered around put them in his own room. He took out the leather bound journal and put it and all the other items to be sent to Serenity’s Throne in his bag and then he went to his own room.

A day and a half later, Garrett, Flik, Mathiu and a few others arrived in Serenity’s Throne. It was a lovely hamlet and well deserved its name. It was nestled on a hill between two great mountains ands surrounded by rolling hills and gentle forests of ancient hardwoods and majestic evergreen that drooped a bit lazily in their branches. The sky around seemed an azure cloudy haze that loomed above the great mountain peaks. Three gentle springs flowed down form the mountains and threw the town. The village itself was encompassed by a quaintly attractive wooden fence that held in the livestock and massive apple orchards, each tree covered in thousands of white blossoms that seemed a funerary wreath given by nature. The buildings were constructed with no regularities between them, but all were very nice which seemed to indicate the wealth that this hardworking village generated for itself.

The sad procession stopped outside the door of the largest house which bore the symbols of an apothecary. Garrett rapped softly on the door. It was opened by an older man whose beard was just beginning to gray. His eyes were soft, kind looking. ‘Yes, I’m the Mayor of this town. Can I help you with something? Please come in.”

Garrett met his eyes sadly. “I’m commander Garrett McDohl of the Liberation Army. Your son, a close friend of mine, died in battle. He gave his life valiantly in the defense of others and of freedom.” Garrett shed a few tears and then regained himself. “These are his things. He wanted you to have them. His body is in the coffin on the cart.”

The mayor was shaken deeply and called to his wife and boys. Sean’s mother was lovely for her age and few wrinkles streaked her brow. The boys were just as lively as they had been described. Muscular looking and with the same dark hair as Sean. They all joined him and they knew what had happened. Through their tears, they asked how it happened.

Mathiu thought for a moment and then related the whole tale to them and apologized that it was he whom Sean had died for. Flik hugged each of them warmly and he and Garrett told them about Sean and their friendship and the fun times they had and how Sean had helped them so much. Then Flik closed by saying solemnly, “Be proud that you raised so fine a man as Sean. He was truly brave. He had to fight to save lives, not take them. He won most of his battles. Garrett, Mathiu, and I would all be dead if not for him. In the end he chose to fight to save his friends. Many of us would have run away, but he did what he had to do. With so many of the rest of us, our feats of daring and courage are nothing more than just a show of false bravado, but Sean showed us all what true courage is.”

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