Tales - Striking a Blow

Striking a Blow

Colonel Hugh Fordham slammed his first into the table, causing the skin covering his knuckles to bruise just painfully enough to soothe his voice just enough to prevent his next outburst from being career-ending. “General Longdown, this is absurd. To be drilling the men at this rate is doing nothing but eroding morale! There’s no war on, and we’re maintaining an army of a size that the Romans would have been envious of back in their heyday. With respect, not a single decision that has come out of the upper echelon has made any modicum of sense. All of this expense, preparation, and for what, a handful of border skirmishes over the past three years?” Fordham glowered at the General, suddenly grateful for the marginal protection their blood relation, however thin, afforded him. His hand, however, was less grateful for the impulsiveness his blood frequently caused.

General Longdown set down the delicate china teacup he had been holding as he dabbed his lips and beard to rid them of the moisture which plagued him so after drinking. He took a few measured breaths as he stared his youngest cousin in his impetuous eyes. “Huey, must I remind you again not to speak out of turn? You are constantly forgetting yourself around your betters, and it will be the death of you someday, and I daresay it will trouble my sleep not at all.” He took another noisy slurp from the teacup before setting it back onto the saucer, nudging them both towards the center of the table as a precaution against his cousin’s temper. “The thought that you seek to question the decision and orders of your betters is offensive enough, but to do so in my own home? Repulsive. Ignoring the fact that you are completely and utterly wrong in every meaning of the word – there is a war on.”

Hugh balled his sore fist, almost revelling in the ache it brought on. “You dull-witted ponce! There is no war! We have open trade along the border with Spain! This is a time of peace, but all the way to the King himself, you insist to a man on playing at soldiers, pretending we’re at war to make yourselves feel important.

The General smiled behind his napkin at the idiocy on display before him. “Ah yes, the famed short-sightedness that we have all known since you were sucking on your mother’s teat. The same lack of vision that saw you squander the wealth of your family chasing imagined slights and absurd fantasies. You fail to grasp the most basic of facts arrayed in front of you. We are in the middle of a war – a silent war, between the last two great nations of our age. A war which, if we all shared your blind impulsive nature, we would have already lost. Even now, in these ‘friendly’ border skirmishes, the Spanish are testing our strength, our resolve.” A derisive sneer snuck out from behind his teacup. “If the King were as lily livered as you, we would all be speaking Spanish already, if we hadn’t been slaughtered to a man.”

Hugh spat at his cousin, looking him in the eye. “You can’t see it, can you? The constant tension you place these two nations under with your games, it will be the end of everything! You raise and maintain an army during peacetime? What choice has Spain but to react in kind? And what’s worse, you continue to raise the stakes, but fail to see that you will lose! They have more men! They will always have more men! And in war, the side with one man still standing will be remembered as the victor, no matter the cost! You will bring us all to ruin!” As his blood boiled over, Hugh stared in horror as his hand lashed out across the table, cracking into the General’s cheek with the back of his hand. The teacup hurtled at the wall, shattering into a thousand expensive pieces, causing the standing servant to duck out of the room, though whether out of fear or to get something to clean the mess Hugh couldn’t begin to wonder.

“Oh Hugh, you insolent fool. I warned you to keep that temper in check. But striking a superior officer? Oh my poor boy…” The General clucked his tongue against his teeth, tutting at his cousin as he wiped at the side of his face with a linen gloved hand. “It’ll have to be the hangman who teaches you your last lesson. I’m afraid no-one else will get through that thick skull of yours.”

Hugh’s eyes shot open wide as he realized what he had done. Before he could manage to string a coherent thought together, he had flung the teapot at the General and was running through the door before he heard the agonized scream and shattering of porcelain. As his feet fell to the floor in rapid succession, his heart hammered in his throat. He would be branded a traitor for this, his cousin would see to it. He would be whipped, branded and hung, all because of a spoiled brat of a noble. There was no justice to it. He could do nothing to stop his own death – as a soldier, he was duty-bound to accept the punishment. He should just wait until his cousin had his troops come and collect him, let the trial sentence him to all manner of punishments they afforded traitors these days, and go to his death a dignified man.

Hugh cut his horse’s reins off of the hitching post with his knife before clambering on and setting off at a pace so blistering his insides felt like they had burst apart. He checked his stomach with his left hand – no blood, no exit wound. That meant he had been fast enough, the General hadn’t had him shot. He had a chance, now. Not at returning to his old life. Nowhere in New England would be safe for him now. Where there weren’t soldiers, there would be sheriffs and thief-takers, all with his likeness.

His chance lay in the root of his argument with his cousin – Spain. If he pushed his horse hard, begged or stole another one, he could be out of the country in a week. From there it was largely a gamble – if they’d take him on, if he could convince them he wasn’t a spy, that he just wanted to live. Then, if they let him live, he’d have to rebuild his life, but his life had been soldiering for so long. It was all he knew, New England’s methods of war.

Then, he knew. If he made it to Spain, he would live after all.

  • Rase Cidraen

Tales - Striking a Blow

Arcanum 1780: A New World RaseCidraen