In the Service of the Republic Chapter 2
By Tillman Oxendine
Flavius Pius and Harrington dismounted and entered the brigade command tent. The various battalion commanders were waiting on him, grouped around a large map with markers that reflected the current dispositions of the Dunan Liberation Army and the latest reported positions of the enemy, the Royal Highland Forces. Orders had already been given to prepare the men for battle, and the commanders were here for their final instructions. Flavius Pius cleared his throat and prepared to speak.
"Gentlemen, thanks to the efforts and talents of the cartographer Templeton and his team, we've a very accurate representation of the terrain here around L'Renouille. The enemy situation is as of 0500 this morning reflecting the arrival of Han Cunningham's units."
He allowed a moment for the news to sink in before continuing. One of the commanders dedicated to the brigade's main assault wiped his brow.
Flavius continued. "Yes, this will be Highland's final gambit indeed. They've gathered what's left of their elite forces under Cunningham, Seed, and Culgan. A contingent of Karaya warriors has been identified, along with two national militia units. There's one more battalion under the mercenary Yuber. I'll never forget his colors back from the Gate Rune War."
An aide interrupted him, handing him a note. Flavius Pius read it quickly, and turned to his second-in-command, Harrington.
"Colonel Harrington will give you your orders. I've been summoned to the army command post."
As he had his orderly bring his horse around, Flavius Pius thought that perhaps this might be the last such briefing, victory or defeat. If the Dunan Unification forces won here, the war was indeed over; however, if the Highlanders beat them back, it would give the Kingdom the breathing room to regroup and continue the war for months or years. The delicate Jowston alliance would surely collapse then, and might be forced to sue for peace with a powerful Highland still on its borders. And that was as true back when the Toran Republic sent forces to aid the Jowston army, indeed, that situation
" must never occur, gentlemen! The situation in the City-States must be grim indeed if they're calling on us to come to their rescue."
Valeria wore a scowl to accentuate the gravity of her words. She had kept her commanders on her own barge for the two-day journey back up the river towards Radat in order to have a conference of sorts. As commander of the Toran units just recently loaned to the Jowston Army, she wished to present their new hosts with a plan to integrate them effectively. However, the mistrust of the Jowston City-States was such that most of the commanders, who had not known of their assignment until this meeting, were loathe to work with their recent enemies.
One of the more hostile commanders, Lieutenant Colonel Carroll, rose to speak. "Which once again beggars the question, ma'am, why are we doing this? We don't have any real quarrel with Highland, and I think their control of the ah, disputed areas will be preferable to the continuing machinations of the City-States. Remember what happened four years ago when we turned our back on them "
Valeria slammed her fist on the makeshift table of crates that lay before them. Flavius thought that she would burst from the anger, but it passed from her face in a momentary flash. However, she spoke very slowly and deliberately, as if speaking to a child, seething, "We do not make the policies of the Toran Republic, Colonel Carroll. We are, however, dedicated to the principles that deposed the Rugner dynasty. President Lepant respects the right of the citizens of Jowston to freedom and self-determination. And if you had heard the stories coming out of the Highland-occupied areas "
Carroll interrupted the superior officer. "But that's just it, ma'am! They are stories, likely invented by those who want us drawn into this squabble "
"Enough!" Valeria's voice raised to a level Flavius had not heard in several years since the last time they were in combat together, in fact. He felt like he shouldn't be privy to all this, but here he was, newly promoted to full Colonel over all of these commanders who were senior to him and were by all accounts brave men who had been in the service of Toran--and the Scarlet Moon Empire before it-for years. Flavius had, in fact, given his first dressing-down to Carroll just yesterday, and he had gotten no pleasure from exercising his new authority in such a manner. But here was Carroll, his mouth finally shut at last by Valeria's rebuke, silently stroking his beard.
Flavius unconsciously fingered the epaulettes on his shoulders as he thought of this. Lorded over by a woman and a former staff officer. It must be humiliating for him for all of them. For Valeria herself had been elevated by circumstances in such a manner; beginning her career in the Scarlet Moon Empire's army as a Lieutenant, Valeria had joined the Toran Liberation Army and through the course of the Gate Rune War's fighting had proven herself over and over again. By the time the war had ended, she was regarded as one of Toran's Six Great Generals, to the chagrin of those commanders who were more experienced, but less talented. Valeria had earned her position as any good soldier would, through hard work, dedication, and bravery. But those who thought that she was riding Tir McDohl's coattails because of some 'nonsense about the Stars of Destiny' would rather have had 'one of their own' in that position.
Flavius raised his hand.
Valeria recognized him to speak. "Yes, Colonel Flavius. I see you, at least, have enough respect for protocol to not try to talk over your commander."
Flavius couldn't resist a slight grin. "Well, yes, ma'am. And as your second-in-command," he heard some groans as he said this, "I would really like to impress upon our fellow officers the importance of unity in this operation. It may sound clichéd but look at us! Here we are, whining about having to help our former enemies. All of us have fought against the armies of Jowston. Some of us have been fighting them longer than others. But we must look at the larger picture! This is more than some border dispute between Highland and our late foes. Highland will not stop with Jowston! They will move on to Toran, eventually. Then where, Kanakan, perhaps?"
"Pardon me, sir," interjected Lieutenant Colonel Barras, commander of one of the infantry units. There was more than a hint of sarcasm in his words. "Prince Luca Blight himself has stated that the war is in retaliation for the slaughter of the Unicorn Boys' Brigade "
"Aide, please ask Lord Riou to come in," said Valeria suddenly.
The young corporal left and in a moment brought back a teenage boy with short hair and large, dark, soulful eyes. He was slight in build but exuded that great intangible leadership.
Valeria stated plainly, "Gentlemen, this is the leader of the Dunan Unification Forces. May I present Lord Riou, son of Genkaku."
As the assembled commanders rose in respect to the boy, Flavius could hear a few whispers: "Genkaku? The famous hero of Jowston?" "This boy leads the City-States?" Flavius himself, seeing the boy for the first time, was somewhat surprised at his unassuming nature. But there was something in those eyes and it was almost like the boy was projecting warmth.
Finally, Colonel Barras said with a puzzled look, "I thought we weren't to invite the Jowston representatives in until "
Valeria cut him off. "He is one of two survivors of the Unicorn Boys' Brigade."
The room went silent. Riou did not avert his gaze from the assembled group, but the sadness in his eyes was evident.
"And I can guarantee that he has a different account of the events that transpired. One that I believe is more accurate than the story presented by Prince Luca." She placed a hand on Riou's shoulder. "Please, m'Lord. Will you recount those events for us?"
The boy lowered his gaze for the first time and took a deep breath. "General Valeria, brave officers of the Toran Republic, first I want to thank you for coming to our aid. I know you are under orders, and most likely against your own personal wishes as well " The boy's trailed off for a moment; it seemed to Flavius that Riou was reciting some sort of prepared speech by one of his advisors. He continued: "But I want to tell you how all of this got started. Please listen."
These, thought Flavius Pius, are the boy's words now.
"One night, after the latest bout with Jowston, we were bivouacked in the mountains at the Tenzan Pass, close to the border. The fighting had somewhat cooled off in the recent weeks; in fact we were all due to be discharged because a peace treaty had been signed between Highland and the City-States! We were all so excited, like when my sister Nanami gets so worked up I was looking forward to seeing her. She's all the family I have left, y'know? And my friend Jowy "
His voiced trailed off again, a raft swamped by a wave of sorrow.
" my friend Jowy was looking forward to seeing his family. The Atreides were one of the wealthiest in town. Anyway, we were due to go home the next day, and we got to bed with the dreams that only the hope of peace can bring.
"I woke up that night to the screams of my comrades. They were being butchered and we all thought it was Dunan soldiers attacking us! So Jowy and I grabbed our weapons and ran out of our tent, hoping to find someplace to gather with a few friends and counterattack or get away if necessary.
The boy's voice suddenly gained a harder edge.
"You can imagine the horror when we saw Highland regular soldiers slitting the throats of our helpless friends."
The room went silent; Flavius was surprised to hear a few gasps coming from the veteran soldiers.
"Jowy and I attempted to escape. Our commander, who was in on the massacre, saw us and sent soldiers after us. Our backs against the wall, we had no choice but to jump off of a cliff and take our chances in the river.
"After encountering your friends Flik and Victor at their fort, Jowy and I made our way back home. We found that the incident had been blamed on the Jowston City-States and we were implicated as traitors in the bargain!"
Riou started to walk around the room, attempting to make his point with every commander.
"I have no home now, gentlemen. I am considered a traitor in Highland, where Luca Blight sacrificed my friends so that he could justify taking thousands of lives in a war of conquest to satisfy his own mad dreams to create a hell here on Earth!"
Flavius noticed the boy was clenching his fists, his voice charged with emotion.
"It is a brave thing that all of you do, to risk your lives for a former enemy. But it is for the good of the human race that we fight! Not only for Jowston but our neighbors as well! We have not been able to promise your government anything except to stay on the path to freedom."
Riou came to Flavius, stood in front of him, and looked him squarely in the eyes.
"But any sacrifices you make here will not be in vain."
Valeria stepped forward once more and spoke. "We will make any sacrifices necessary, m'Lord. The Army of the Toran Republic is ready to stand side-by-side with you from here to the end."
The boy's features melted into a warm smile. "Thank you, General Valeria Shu and Apple, my strategists, will ensure that your integration into our forces goes as smoothly as possible." He turned towards the door to the cabin. "If you all will excuse me Freed'll be wondering what I'm up to."
As Riou made his exit, Valeria studied her commanders' faces. It seemed to Flavius that the mood of the room had changed, the anger and resentment giving way to a new determination to see the fight through to the finish. No grumbling was heard, no protest to the young man's speech.
"Well gentlemen," the Great General began, "I am sure the gravity of the situation has been impressed on you now. The next meeting is tomorrow morning at 0800. You are dismissed, you may return to your cabins. Colonel Flavius, please remain with me for a moment." The commanders saluted smartly and left the room, except for Flavius. He remained in his seat, next to Valeria. After the last officer left the room, Valeria leaned back in her seat, ran a hand through her luxuriant auburn hair and sighed, apparently in relief.
Flavius Pius allowed himself a smile. "I take it we won a victory today, ma'am. That boy's as good as any Romanoi orator in the Altinan Senate. Hopefully we'll see our fellow officers stiffen up and start believing in this cause."
Valeria smiled back. "Indeed. I never had any doubts that we'd have their loyalty, of course-after all, they believe in Toran with their whole hearts. They'd follow orders no matter whom Lepant put in command. But to put aside years of bitterness and hate yes, you're right. That's the first battle we had to win, perhaps the most important one."
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