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The Myth of Kyrrell Swamp – Chapter 2, Part 9 (End) October 1, 2009

Posted by Yarnspnr in The Myth of Kyrrell Swamp - Chapter II.
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The biggest gap in the world is the gap between the justice of a cause
and the motives of the people pushing it.

– John P. Grier


Chapter II.9:  OutSider  (End)

© D. Erick Emert

office

D’Angusio took the signed paper, rolled it up and stuffed it in a carrier. Within seconds it sped on its way.

“Follow me, Briggs.”

They left the office and D’Angusio led him down the long corridor to a stairway. They walked down a few flights and then down another corridor until they came to a set of double doors. They entered a huge room, like a gymnasium. It had a dirt floor. Off to the right stood three men, one in chains between the other two.  Near the men, a sword rested on a small table. Briggs and D’Angusio walked up to the three men.

“This man is a Christian, Briggs, a prime OutSider like yourself. As a believer in Jesus Christ who will not renounce his faith, he has been given a death sentence. You shall carry that sentence out.”

“You want me to kill him? Straight out? Here and now?” Briggs’ voice dropped an octave but remained steady, almost matter-of-fact. He held his head upright and searched the man before him with his steel-gray eyes.

“Absolutely,” D’Angusio confirmed.

Briggs trembled slightly as he picked up the sword. He knew how to use the weapon and had kept one on his former ship. His eyes took on a faraway look and seemed glossed over.

“Please sir, spare my life,” the prisoner cried out. They told me I could live if you spare me.”

The man’s knees weakened and he had to be held upright by the guards to keep him from falling to the ground. For a second, Briggs faltered, lowering the blade. Then, with a swift motion he drove the sword into the prisoner’s chest. The man shuddered once, staring vacantly into Briggs’ eyes. Briggs attempted to remove the sword but it stuck. Briggs brought his boot up to the man’s chest and pulled hard. This time the sword slid out and the man tumbled to the ground. No longer supported by the guards, his life drained out on the prison floor.

Briggs laid the sword back on the table. “Anything else, sir?”

D’Angusio put his arm around Briggs in a comforting manner and led him out of the room. “I’m sorry, Captain. We had to be sure.”

Briggs did not answer and the two men walked back to the office in silence. That night his tears flowed in silence. Briggs dreamed of being cradled in the arms of his beloved Sarah.

*

Three months passed, Briggs found himself again in D’Angusio’s office.

“I won’t keep you long, Briggs. You’ve accomplished a great deal in our care. I’m personally pleased with your efforts. Now, it’s time to consider your future. Have you given it any thought?”

Briggs’ fingers drummed on his knee. “I’ve always been a sea captain.”

“There’s little use for sea captains here; fishing boats, trade vessels, and the like. We don’t have need for a Navy.  Have you ever given any thought to an Army career? Your leadership capabilities would serve you well there.”

Briggs thought for a moment, his fingers continuing their quiet drumming. “If you feel I could best serve Uppsala in her Armed Forces, I would be happy to enlist, sir.”

You don’t have to enlist, Briggs. I took the liberty to forward an application to Officers Training School in your name. I gave you a hearty endorsement as well.  Today, I received word that your application is approved.  Now what do you think about that?”

“I expect to do my best, sir, to prove your endorsement worthy.”

“Excellent, Briggs! I have no fear that you shall not handle this assignment in exemplary fashion. You shall be transferred to OTS tomorrow morning. I’ll have a uniform dropped off in your room this evening. The rest of your material will be awaiting you in your new quarters. Do you have any questions?”

“No sir.”

“Good. It’s been a pleasure, Briggs. You have a strong career ahead of you. Please write me from time to time. Let me know how things are going with you.”

D’Angusio stood up and offered Briggs his hand. Briggs shook it once and saluted.

“I shall sir. Thank you for your encouragement and endorsement.” With that Briggs clicked his heels and exited D’Angusio’s office for the last time.

*

Briggs looked elegant in his new uniform. He wore a dark green shako hat, complete with its bronze eagle insignia, red horse-hair plume, red cord and black belt with brass buckle in the front. His jacket, a dark green shell jacket with red piping and red cadet insignia on the arms, fit smartly. He wore a standard issue white shirt beneath the jacket and dark green trousers.  At his waist he belted a standard army saber and scabbard with bronze handle attached to a black waist belt with bronze buckle. Black boots completed the uniform.

Briggs spent half the night polishing the bronze and his belts and boots to a high shine. Always fastidious concerning his clothing, Briggs wanted to give a good first impression when he reported for duty. He had shaved off his beard and mustache and trimmed his hair, tasks he performed daily during his years at sea. With his steel gray eyes, he looked every bit the part of a leader of men.

Three hours later he stood at attention in front of the desk of Captain Lorenz Piccap, a robust looking officer with a tanned face and graying temples. At a nod from the Captain, his Aide saluted, wheeled and left the two soldiers together, closing the door behind him.

“I hear you’re a prime, Briggs. That’s a bit unusual, you know. D’Angusio pushed hard to get you admitted. Otherwise you probably wouldn’t be standing here.”

“I wasn’t aware of that, sir. Why should service in the Armed Forces be any different for a prime than any other OutSider?”

“Think, m’boy. You live so damn long, who in his right mind would want to risk cutting that life span short in the military?”

“I’m not used to the idea of that kind of longevity, Captain. Perhaps some day it will sink in, but for now I feel no different than I did before I came to Erde. Whatever the case, I’m prepared to give up my life for my country wherever and whenever that sacrifice becomes necessary. I’m a soldier now, sir, and I’ll do my duty without concern as to the consequences to myself. I am an arm of the State and I’ll not falter in my responsibility no matter what the situation, sir.”

“Well put lad. Lieutenant Costo is waiting in the hall. He will escort you to your quarters.”

Briggs had an above average intellect and had always been an avid reader.  He could digest a dull text book in hours and his grasp of the principle points proved dynamic. Oddly, his field tactical ability surpassed even his classroom work. In military exercises he proved bold, daring, almost to the point of being reckless, but he never overextended himself. The men of his unit had confidence in his knowledge and abilities and felt his leadership gave them an advantage over other units in the field, which proved to be the case time and time again.  He rose quickly through the cadet ranks and graduated first in his class.

Yet, for all this Briggs seemed to be something of an outcast. In the early days, he refused to join in with his bunkmates telling stories and singing songs. He sat off in a corner somewhere polishing his brass or his boots. When the men would head out into the City on leave, Briggs would intentionally journey in a different direction by himself. He shunned the presence of others whenever he had the opportunity, preferring solitude to companionship.

One night, six months into their schooling, a dozen or so of his bunkmates gathered around him as he polished his boots while seated on his bed. They asked him to join them and when he politely refused they asked him why.

He looked up at them with his steel gray eyes and said, “If I ever have to lead you into battle, I don’t want the nagging impediment of friendship hung around my neck. It is easier to send someone off to die if you don’t know their mother’s or brother’s name or the number of children they have or how they met their wife or girlfriend.”

With that he picked up his other boot and began silently buffing the toe. The group that had gathered around began to break off by twos and threes saying nothing in reply.

Briggs enjoyed one class in particular. Commander Abel Light taught Defeating the Aborigines of the Great Weald. The class dealt with the difficulties of defending the borders and roads of the Rejoinder of Uppsala against the marauding tribes of the Summanari and Riggrathi nations.

“We have little to do with the Telroth and the Sogroth, the tribes of the far north,” the Commander told them. “Nor do we often encounter the Vigroth or the Colarathi, the tribes of the southern rain forests of the Great Weald. But the Riggrathi of the western Weald and the nomadic and vicious Summanari natives create havoc on the trade routes between Uppsala and Sigtuna and in the settlements found just north of the City of Blood and in the swampy Fyri between the Selgen and Fyris rivers.”

Light continued for the next eight weeks discussing the cultures of both the Riggrathi and Summanari peoples. He held the opinion that you could not truly defeat an enemy if you did not understand their background and lifestyle.

“Probabilities and tendencies are critical.” he said. “If you have knowledge of what your enemy is likely to do in any given situation, you are stronger and closer to defeating him. You can succeed with lighter manpower, less material and fewer losses.”

At the end of Light’s classes, Briggs approached him.

“Commander, I am deeply interested in the methods you’ve taught in your class.  What are the chances of being attached to the Border Troops after our schooling is completed?”

“Thank you, Briggs.  Each Cadet will fill out a form requesting duty in a particular city or Rejoinder of Erde.  We, the members of your faculty, will give our own recommendations to the Transfer Board as well. These will be cross referenced with the needs of the Army and within a day or two your orders will be received and you’ll be on your way.”

“Will you be continuing your duties here, Commander or will you regain a field commission at some time.”

“Naturally I would like to get back into the field again, but I am told my duties here are of the utmost importance. It is likely that within the next fifty or sixty years something will have to be done on a permanent basis to rid Uppsala of these costly attacks along our roads. If the aborigines cannot come to terms with the changes in Erde, something will be done to bring about a lasting peace.”

“Could I ask you, sir, to recommend me for a post with the Border Troops?”

“You are one of my most adept pupils, Briggs. I would have no ill thoughts in recommending such a post for you. Of course, I can’t guarantee that the Transfer Board will see it our way.”

“No, I understand that, Commander.  Thank you for your time, sir.” Briggs saluted smartly, spun on his heel and left the room.

Near the end of term, the students turned in their transfer requests. During the final exams, rumors of who might go where began to circulate through the barracks. After the ribbon ceremony for the graduates, the school commandant announced the orders for each man.

Their four years ended by being seated at the front of a large auditorium filled with undergraduates and parents from each Rejoinder of the Empire. Speeches upon speeches flowed from the dais, followed by the medal ceremony. Calling each soldier individually to the podium, the school Commandant pinned the graduation medal to the cadet’s chest, handed him his diploma and announced his orders to the soldier and the multitude. Shouts and wild applause accompanied each declaration.

Briggs awaited his name to be announced, hands in his lap, fingers entwined, kneading. He did not join in the boisterous applause for his fellow cadets. He sat rigid in his anticipation, his mind running through scenarios of what he might do if fate chose to ignore his wish and sent him elsewhere. He thought by making up some physical condition that would necessitate his resigning his commission, he would be free to enter the forests of the Great Weald as a trapper or trader; thereby circumventing fate and…

“Honorary Cadet Captain Benjamin Briggs.”

Hearing himself announced snapped him back to the situation at hand. Briggs stood, his sword clanking against the chair to his left. The sound startled him for a moment. Regaining his composure, he made his way past his fellows to the main aisle, then up the steps to the stage, crossing to the platform. He saluted the Commandant who took his hand, shook it and raised it over their heads as they faced the cheering audience.

“First in Class! Extraordinary!” The crowd roared even louder. Briggs’ cheeks turned scarlet. The Commandant leaned over him and pinned his medal on his chest as the din continued. With a raise of the Commandant’s hand the masses finally quieted.

“Lieutenant Briggs will be serving with Ram Company of the Corrin Border Battalion.” The crowd unleashed another mighty storm of vocal approval.

For an instant Briggs appeared to smile. At least that’s what a few of those present would say later. The rest would swear he stood as stone-faced as always. Nothing could be read from his demeanor concerning his thoughts or feelings. In truth, the pride of having jumped a grade because of his class standing thrilled him. He felt happier still to have been given the post he most desired, and wondered if Sarah would have been proud…

*

As Briggs’ horsemen clattered over a lofty hill, the lights of Taylor’s Villa flickered before them in the valley.

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