A story about determination.
It’s one thing to sacrifice when you have nothing, but another when you have everything and toss it aside.
The three men stared at the parchment laid out before them. They were hunched over the wooden planning table, their brows dotted with sweat. How did you fight something without fear? What victory could be achieved when the strategy of humanity was not to be weighed against the war. On average five monsters to one man. That was the limit of their success. On the sixth however, their man fell, and became sustenance for the shambling hordes that engulfed their land.
A hurried youth peered into the tent. In his hand, rolled parchment, his expression carried the message with more potency.
“Damn it,” Librahn reached out and topped one of the pewter towers on the field.
“Thank you my boy, you came just in time for breakfast. Please, your rest is earned. “ Gitt took the parchment and scanned it. He already knew the contents but he had to be sure.
The messenger’s eyes were red from lack of sleep. It was a two day ride from the borderlands of Lye.
“So…?” Jules kneaded his hands on the parchment.
“Lye has fallen,” Gitt said, “A majority of its people fled to the Northlands. The capital has been overrun, it’s people devoured.”
“You certainly have a knack for optimism.” Jules slumped into a chair.
“But…?” Librahn had been watching Gitt intently.
Gitt grinned a slyly. “They have given us the answer to this war. A way to win this unconditionally.”
Helendi Jules was a rational man. More than the other three, there were no absolutes in war. He knew that better than anyone. Regardless, a spark of hope shined in his eyes. He could see the pride in the messenger’s face beneath his exhausted exterior.
“Music.” Gitt tapped the letter idly.
Char Librahn narrowed his eyes. “You’re serious?”
“I am,” Gitt said, “Thanks to their sacrifices we know the truth of our foes.”
“Leave it to the fanatic of Lye to come up with such a conclusion.” Jules folded his hands.
“You’re only half right. This information was brought to us by a simple Drummer.” Gitt slid the paper on the table. “Our enemy isn’t oblivious to fear. Instead it is more appropriate to say it feeds off of it. The men that perished; the Sons of Lye, made a profound discovery. They shadow men do not know how to react to absolute conviction.”
He tapped an index finger on the parchment. “Four hundred shadow men sat for four days and four nights staring at a lone Drummer.”
“Staring? I assume you mean while he was playing?’ Librahn slipped the message into his hand and eyed it. “Or… What is this madness?”
“For the first day. Yes. But he died of exhaustion soon after.” Gitt’s smile broadened. “The other three they spent trying to understand why he would play at all.”
“Why he wou…”
“Sir!” A soilder hurried in. “We have incoming!”
The messenger paled, the implications were clear.
“How many?” Gitt fixed his eyes on the bearer of news.
“Three Hundred at least,” The guard saluted frimly.
“Looks like he was followed.” Librahn frowned without looking away from the missive.
“Orders sir?” The soldier swallowed.
“Get that man his breakfast.” Librahn pointed at the messenger.
“Wh…what?” Jules’ eyes widened.
“I suppose you weren’t listening then.” Librahn stood and unfastened his armor, piece by piece. “As generals, we can’t exactly be stood up by a boy armed with drumsticks. We’re just out to prove that Lye isn’t the only ones willing to push towards peace.” Gitt followed suit until he was down to his dress coat. He stepped into the brisk fall day with Librahn in tow. Both of them were past fourty, the years had not been kind to them. General Gitt was a stubby man who’s presence came from his stern voice and blood red eyes. His face was marred by scars that had been granted by the men he trained personally. He would not dream of granting the blessing upon someone that couldn’t even draw his blood.
Librahn ducked under the tent flap, he was a full head taller than Gitt, and just as wide. His uniforms had to be custom stitched to accommodate his broad shoulders. He made a scan around the camp. “How many do we have here?”
“Five hundred, but we’ll take twenty. Well…. Eighteen. Including you and me.” Gitt thumbed his cheek.
Librahn smirked. “Why not? It’s as good a day to die as any.”
“Men,” Gitt said, “I need eighteen corpses.”
Gitt wasn’t surprised when Mutan stood, a dark skinned soldier from the east. He picked up on his meaning immediately and drummed his chest. “You need but seventeen now, unless you count Mutan as two.”
“Tempting,” Librahn laughed. Mutan was one of his, a defector to his country. Mutan would have been wasted in the peaceful nation. Peace was a pipedream now… they were protecting those spineless cowards from the shadow-men.
Five more men stood immediately after. They saluted promptly.
“Sir…?” The soldier from the tent approached with Jules. “They weren’t far off. You likely will have less than an hour to muster…”
“I only need a few minutes to muster the men I need. If this information proves right, the war will be over in a fortnight. If it’s wrong, we get a day of glorious battle, or death.” Gitt smiled.
“All right!” One of the five men hooted. He tossed aside his helmet and let it roll to the corner of the dining grounds. Wild blonde hair was underneath.
Most of the other men quietly ate their food, trying not to make eye contact. They respected Gitt, but many of them had families and wives. He didn’t blame them. The five that volunteered were thrill seekers and war orphans.
“Count me in.” Another man stood. He had calmly finished eating before his bid.
“…and me.” A burly looking woman stood, brandishing a wicked looking axe. “I have three that won’t hesitate to come. Those shadow-men deserve to be stains.”
The other seven came quickly. They only had to get twenty paces into the sea of soldiers. From there it was a quick trip to the officer’s stage to address the men. Gitt strode center stage and inhaled. “I need a drummer.”
A hush fell over the crowd of murmuring soldiers.
“A week’s time ago. A handful of men. The remnants of the Sons of Lye, laid waste to a sea of shadow-men with worse odds then we will face.”
The crowds erupted into murmurs. Gitt raised a hand. “You will not be participating. You will enjoy breakfast and earn extra sleep. We have a guest.”
He gestured to the messenger.
“This boy, some of you may have children older than. But he has delivered hope unto us despite it being taken from his people. Lye is in ruins. Their flesh has been devoured by the evil that plagues us. However!”
The crowds stood silent. Hundreds of eyes watched with mouths full of meat and nectar.
“It was not wasted. They have found our answer. They have found the weakness of shadow.” Gitt drummed a fist on his chest. If we fall. You will have an easy fight about you. You outnumber them. I have seen you fight at much worse odds. My heart. My instincts tell me this must be done.”
He narrowed his eyes at the crowd. “I need a drummer.”
A boy stood on a distant table. His hand rose skyward.
Gitt smiled warmly. He wasn’t but twelve. A camp follower’s pot scrubber. “Boy! Are you my drummer?”
“Nay Sir! But I can hum real well!” The boy called.
Laughter filled the air and the boy cut through the crowd like a bobber being reeled in. Gitt hoisted him close. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “I cannot promise you safe boy. But I ask you, can you be the last to die?”
The boy nodded. “I run real good sir, as good as I hum.”
“Good,” Gitt palmed the boys hair and rustled it. HE made no promise for when they live. There could be no distractions.
“So what is this secret?” A man from the front shouted.
“Fear,” Gitt said, “Without it they are powerless. If you are struck. Fight and die. The Sons of Lye understood that at least.”
“That drummer in Lye was a year younger than this lad.” Gitt gestured. “…and he was weighed down by a drum.”
Twenty one strong, Gitt, Librahn, Mutan, and their fellows marched to their deaths. Gitt unbuttoned his uniform and tossed it aside bearing the rest of his scars. Librahn laughed. “You’ve a touch for the dramatic.”
He followed suit anyway. They had no need to steel skins.
They had much stronger armor.