The Major sat, hands folded on his saber hilt, his eyes piercing through the smoke filled bar. He was at a table with something of an unorthodox posse forming around him, but his mind was elsewhere. In his mind, he could see himself, a year before to the day, riding up and down a column of Southern infantry ... it was the Battle of Caer Lynn ...
[one year ago]
Captain Ashbury sat astride his charger, flanked by the hoary haired Sergeant O'Kelly and the quiet Lieutenant LaFleur. The three men sat, statue like astride their mounts, along a ridge near the city of Darrow. The Captain, letting the reins slide lax in his white gloved hands, closed his eyes for a moment and listened to the beautiful sounds of southern fife and drum.
"Captain, sir, Tom Cutter spotted four columns of Western infantry moving along the Spitfield Road, about two miles down the road."Declared a messenger, not waiting for a reply before galloping off in a mess of tangled hooves.
"Lieutenant, how many men fit for combat?" Asked Ashbury, in an almost trance like state that routinely took hold of him before battle.
"Approximately seven hundred and fifty, counting the Color Guard and the officers." Answered LaFleur quietly.
"In four Western units there's bound to be at least fifteen hundred men." Quipped O'Kelly, looking down the road as though to spot the approaching attackers.
"I know, Dan, I know." Responded Ashbury, "but we've been ordered to hold this place at all hazard. Dan, form the skirmishers behind that line of trees. Lieutenant, I want the main body of our pikes one hundred yards behind them, in line of battle."
"Move," said Ashbury, knowing the tasks would be carried out precisely as he had instructed. The two men spurred their horses back to the lines of black uniformed pikemen, shouting orders that became inaudible as they moved away. The men shifted into line expertly,with an ease that told the story of many tedious hours of drill.
Ashbury sat, imposing in his shined black boots, black uniform with white sash, and drawn saber, atop his plumed war horse. Looking around, Ashbury felt his heart swell with pride at the magnificent men he commanded, under the Royal Banner. The sun rode high, catching the cold steel of seven hundred and fifty pikes and spears. Too soon came the Western Legions down the dirt road. The swirls of dust were visible long before the actual troops ... but before long the blue uniformed enemies became tiny ants on the ridge. The lines tensed, braced in discipline.
Without warning, Ashbury spurred the charger and rode out towards the blue troops, shouting as he did. "Our hearts upon our country's altar, my boys!" He yelled at his troops, which brought a wave of cheering that swept across the Southern lines like wildfire.
The Southern infantry waited tensely, unsure of what their commander was intending as he galloped off alone. Ashbury rode, moving smoothly with the horse as it charged toward the blue troops still far in the distance. Over the rolling green plains he rode, face flushed, all his faculties gathered into the battle soon to come. When the horse got close enough to observe the blue troops without great threat, Ashbury reined his horse hard, the animal rearing up on two legs briefly.
The blue uniformed invaders, the men of the Western King, were certainly confident in their ability. They walked, weapons slung haphazardly over their shoulders, in swinging, cheerful steps.Their officers made no attempt to keep order. Ashbury grinned, which must have looked frightening to an observer. Shouting indiscernibly, he pushed the horse back to his own lines at breakneck speed, rising himself high in the saddle as he drew close to the familiar black uniformed men. "Advance at the half step!", he shouted without warning, riding up and down the line of his troops, who stepped off smartly. The fifes and drums started up, bringing a hot sense of pride into Ashbury's veins.
"Advance at quicktime!" The men picked up faster, their confidence in Ashbury and each other total. The blue troops were plainly in sight. The enemy raised a shout and started towards the neat black lines at a run. The Westerner's formation was laughable, but oh Jesus, there were so many ...
"Now, boys! Forward! Forward for the Southland!" Cried Ashbury, and battle cries sprang from seven hundred and fifty throats. The pikes leveled, the two sides ran at one another, crashed like two waves in the ocean, reeled, and crashed again. In the hottest of the fighting, there was Ashbury. He rode, screaming like a banshee, blade falling with lethal accuracy each time. Men fought, grappled, and died, their blood soaking the black earth. Captain Ashbury's saber swung down again, making a Western head jump free of it's neck. The soldiers fought tooth and nail, each man engulfed in the universe of battle.
After an unknown duration of time, the blue troops, who had come towards the Southerners happily confident of easy victory, broke and ran. The Southerners, some broken, some bloodied, some limping, cheered and shook blood stained pikes. The men, veterans of many such battles, looked at one another, looking for who among their old comrades was still living.
These men, these soldiers in the Queen's uniform, were bound together in a radiant fellowship of duty. And it was then that Ashbury knew, as he saw his old friends O'Kelly and LaFleur ride up to him, battered and bloody but erect, that he could never leave this fellowship. No matter how deadly it became to remain. He would suffocate outside of it.
[return to the present]
"Ahem, My Lady, no rudeness intended, but the payment for my lodging will not be necessary. I am on furlough from the service, and I shall be able to attend to my own accommodations." In a manner bordering on chauvinism that he intends only as proper etiquette, he quietly pays for his lodging and portion of the meal.
The Major stands before the table, bows in a smooth, courtly fashion,and speaks in his reserved, Southern voice. "I must take my leave of you now. Ladies." Nodding respectfully to each of the assembled members of the fairer sex, he continues, "Good night, all."