Fields

The sky bright with all the stars in the sky. Radek and Evans were kilometers away from any sign of humans. Evans looked at Radek, “So what is Moravia?”

“Of course you do not know. It has been too long since our flag has flown over my great nation. a hundred years ago, the Vledscans unjustly seized Moravia. But we will rise again.”

“And why are you fighting for Vledsco then? You seem to hate them and you live in Ethslin.”

“I was visiting my parents when the war broke out and was unable to return. And then I was drafted into the army. In an all Moravian unit no less… Vledscan officers of course.” Radek laughed, “We joked at my previous unit that we were the closest thing Moravia had to an army in a hundred years.”

“Ah,” Evans smirked, “So, where have you been? Maybe I’ve tried to kill you before.”

“Not much. Your offensive at Bolshoy Tsivil… Tsivil River at the start. My unit spent a few months on the Heroes Parade before I was transferred to a training battalion. A few years there before I was sent to Bílá Údolí. Though you people from Ethslin probably know it as Belaya Valley. And then after that failure I was reassigned to the camp. How about you James?”

“Never heard of either of those,” Evans then thought back, “First fought at White Beach, where I met my wife. Then sent to Urbs a few times. After that I went to the Northern Gate for a few weeks. Then down training for a few months before I was sent to the offensive at the Northern Gate. And now I’m here.”

“By Northern Gate do you mean the foggy battle,” Radek made popping noise with his mouth while expanding his hands, “The výbuch. Uh…” he snapped his fingers, “Exploze! Um… Explosion. Your word is explosion.”

“Yes.”

“Then that explains how you missed the Battle of Bílá Údolí. One of your platoons held a valley against my battalion’s attack. It was at the end of August. But you should have heard of Tsivil River, it was your nations greatest defeat.”

“Wait, Tsiv River maybe? That sounds similar. It was a pretty big battle in the beginning of the war.”

Radek nodded, “I know of no Tsiv River, so that is probably the right thing. Languages change names sometimes.”

The pair walked in silence for a few minutes. Evans looked around at the open field, “Won’t it be incredibly suspicious that two soldiers in uniform are traveling to the front by night?”

Radek shook his head, “No, sometimes soldiers from a garrison will be reassigned to the front, and trains are expensive. So they have to walk to the front. And no one really cares what time they walk.”

“Alright then. And how long will it take us to reach the front?”

“Well, by standard march pace, six days. 20 miles today, and 20 miles tomorrow. We will then jump onto a freight train that will be passing at around daybreak of the next day. We will ride this for a full day before getting off. Two more full days of marching, then the final night we will go into the trenches under the guise of new recruits, and sneak into No-Mans Land, then attempt to get back without getting shot. When we get close to the front we’ll put some bandages on your head and say you’re a bit dumb from a shell, but otherwise fine to give you an excuse not to talk or listen.”

“Won’t that be a bit suspicious?” Evans grew concerned, “You know, a soldier on the front lines who can’t hear anything…”

“Yes,” Radek sighed, “A bit of a problem, but, I am a Ryadovóy. Anyone stopping us will likely be a Serzhánt or officer. And they look down on Ryadovóys we are stupid. So, I will play the part. You are freshly shocked, and I got turned around trying to get you off the line.”

“This is a stupid plan.”

“Yes, if we are lucky, we will be shot on sight. If we are unlucky, we will be interrogated and then shot,” Radek sighed, “But me, I must do it. I must see my family.”

“Well, I’ve got nothing better to do,” Evans sighed, “Plus, I’m pretty sure Anna might like to see me.”

 

Escape

Everything hurt.  Everything was cold.

 

One of the guards walked over to Evans. The Guard looked him up and down, then prodded him with his rifle, and then spoke with a thick accent, “Name?”

“Lance Corporal James Evans.”

The Guard checked his paper. He then used the bayonet of his rifle to lead Evans forward. The two walked to the gate, where the two guards talked for a few minutes. Eventually the guard with Evans was handed a shovel. The guard took the shovel in his left hand. He tucked the stock of the rifle under his right arm, so he could still thrust the bayonet or pull the trigger if necessary.

The two walked far. Into the woods. Evans was starting to wonder where he was being taken. It was possible that someone in town needed a garden dug. Hopefully. He had occasionally seen guards take prisoners away and return alone.

The guard brought Evans to a stop in a thick forest. There was a small clearing. The guard threw down the shovel into the center of the clearing, “Dig. There.”

Evans picked up the shovel and started to dig. The guard spat, “No!”

The gestured for Evans to back up. He then moved forward and pointed at a rock, “There. Dig There”

Evans kicked the rock away and started to dig there. He started to formulate a plan. He would wait for the guard to lower his rifle a bit. Then, he would fling a shovelful of dirt at him. Using this distraction, Evans would strike. Then, he guessed, he would steal the uniform and attempt to make his way south. To Liguria.

If only this damned guard would be distracted for one.

Thunk.

Evans struck wood. Huh. Well then. He started to dig to the sides of the plank. To dig it out. The guard still stared at him. Evans cleared all the edges. Evans looked at the guard, who nodded. Evans lifted the plank. It was a cover. The guard then put down his rifle, put Evans in a headlock and whispered to him, suddenly unaccented,  “I am your friend. When I let go, do not attack me. We are friends.” The guard then let go and stepped back.

Evans put the plank to the side. He looked back to the hole. There was a rifle, bayonet, ammunition, a uniform, a map, and a compass.

The guard whispered again, “See, I help you. You need to help me now.”

“Excuse me?” Evans edged his hand toward the bayonet.

The guard held his hands up, “My name is Radek. I am not Vledscan. I am from Moravia. My wife and children live in Ethslin. I must go.”

Evans was confused. He didn’t know of Moravia. But, he might as well try and escape with him. He extended his hand to the guard, “Alright Radek, what should we do?”

Radek shook his hand, “Switch uniforms. Get your kit ready. Then, we will bury everything. To look like a grave. I will fire my rifle, spread some blood. It will look like you killed me and escaped. I know an abandoned barn a few kilometers from here we can stay at while they search. I have more supplies there.”

“Alright,” Evans paused, “Why me? Why Now?”

“An offensive is coming. In the North somewhere. The army will be concentrated up there, leaving less people in the countryside here. Less people on the front line in the South,” Radek smiled, “As for you, two reasons. One, you are a high risk prisoner. You were one of the soldiers we were told to watch carefully. Two, you fit the uniform. Now, let us get going. I hope to be in Ethslin in a week.”

 

Painting — Second Interlude

It had been three months since the Battle of Northern Gate. The 202nd had spent most of the time off the line in training. Captain Kestel was one of the few experienced officers left in the regiment, so it was a busy time, training the massive amounts of green officers and enlisted. But, there was now two weeks of leave. Leave for everyone except for Captain Kestel. Word had spread about the Battle of the Crater, and General Staff at Newacre wanted her for a series of propaganda paintings and photographs. A series title “Woman of the Ethslin Army.”

She was seated in the lobby, reading a magazine. This was for a painting combining the two most famous moments of the recent offensives. Her at the Northern Gate, and some Lieutenant Atkinson from the Battle of Belaya Valley. Probably the two most famous Junior Officers right now. Captain Kestel because, well, she could eat a sandwich and it would make the papers. The Battle of the Crater didn’t help. Lieutenant Atkinson was different. While from a wealthy family, she was never more than a side note. Until Belaya Valley. Captain Kestel had read the mission report. And the newspapers. Lieutenant Atkinson’s platoon was on a lonely part of the line, without support, and they held against an armored battalion. Even with their weapons mostly ineffectual, they held. Captain Kestel was looking forward to meeting this great warrior.

Lieutenant Atkinson was late. She had gotten dressed in the wrong uniform and had to switch to the stupid officer’s skirt and find a stupid sword. And then she remembered to put on the stupid makeup they wanted her to wear. And then she had gotten lost. But she had finally gotten to the… set? She had no idea. They had told her something about a painting. She opened the door… Holy Hell.

The Blonde Lieutenant put on her glasses and stared at Captain Kestel. The Captain folded her magazine and stared back at the Lieutenant. She was a taller, bookish woman with a nervous air about her. There was a few seconds of awkward silence before Captain Kestel cleared her throat.

“Oh, Hi! Um… Ma’am. Er… Lady Demetria. I’m Lieutenant Atkinson. Um… What are… Sorry. What are you doing here?” Lieutenant Atkinson pulled off the glasses, paused, and saluted.
Captain Kestel returned the salute, “For the painting. Are you not Lieutenant Atkinson?”
“Um, I am Captain Lady. It is um, an… an honor to meet you Captain Lady,” Lieutenant Atkinson smoothed her uniform down and straightened her medals.
“No, Lieutenant Atkinson, the honor is mine,” Captain Kestel stood up and extended a hand, “You may call me Demi.”
“Um… I am Biddy then,” Lieutenant Atkinson shook the Captain’s hand, “And right. The painting is what we are doing.”
“So, Biddy, I have read much about your battle at Belaya Valley, I am in awe of your skills at command,” Captain Kestel smiled, “Can you tell me about the battle from your perspective?”
“Um… Yes… Ma’am… Demi,” Lieutenant Atkinson put on her glasses and drummed her thigh. Her stutter disappeared, “We were told that the Vledscans’ might send a small party through the valley. I deployed the platoon in two person foxholes in an arc of two thirds pi with a radius of approximately 100 meters. I deployed the machine gun team at the center of my platoon on the hill with my radio transmitter. On the right side I put my anti-armor team and my marksman on the left. I then put a series of covered anti-vehicle ditches in random locations between the mouth of the valley and my arc. Finally, I had an outpost in the mouth of the valley with my flare gun. The two soldiers in this outpost rotated every eight hours. We also laid down range markers throughout the valley. There was not really any expectation of any attack, so reinforcements were a armored company about half an hour away. The rest of D Company was about two days march away.”
Lieutenant Atkinson closed her eyes and paused for a few moments before continuing, “A little before reinforcements arrived, I got bitten on the waist, so I had to slow down a bit or I would bleed everywhere.” She smiled, “By the time reinforcements arrived, everything was a bit blurry, but I distinctly remember a very good looking young Lieutenant dragged me to his vehicle.”
The Lieutenant took off her glasses, “It… Well… It is a bit… bit of a blur. Ho… Ho… Honestly.”
Captain Kestel nodded, “You said something about pie? Do you mean, two thirds of a circle?”
“N… N… No,” She put on her glasses, “Two Pi is a circle. So…” The Lieutenant fished a notebook out of her skirt pocket and flipped through the pages. It was filled with strange symbols. She reached an empty page, but before she could draw, a man in a suit entered.
He first faced the Captain and smiled, “Lady.” He then turned to the Lieutenant, “Miss Atkinson.” He then gestured to the door, “If you would like to come with me, we can get started.”
The two followed the man into a room with several large electric lights pointed at a mock trench. There was an easel set up next to three large black boxes that Captain Kestel assumed were cameras. A Corporal sitting in the corner snapped to attention and saluted the officers, “Ma’am’s.”
The Captain and the Lieutenant returned the salute and the Man gestured to the trench, “Captain, Can you stand over here with your sword pointed toward the window and using your other hand to beckon.”
As Captain Kestel got into place, the Man turned to Lieutenant Atkinson, “First off,” He pulled off her glasses, “Heroes don’t wear glasses. Now, I want you to stand behind the Lady here. Good, now hold your pistol upward, with both hands.”
The Man stepped back and made a few adjustments. He then pointed back to the Corporal, “Start the Moving Camera.” He looked forward again, “Now you two look fierce while I take the Standard Picture and the Colored Picture.”
The Man walked back to the cameras, “I’m Duncan by the way. Official Army Painter and Photographer.” He quickly adjusted the cameras and took two pictures. He smiled and sat down at the easel, “Now that that is over, you can feel free to talk to each other, just try not to move to much.”
The two stood still for a while before curiosity got the better of Captain Kestel, “So what’s in the notebook? All the strange symbols? Some kind of code?”
“Mathematics,” Lieutenant Atkinson reflexively reached for her glasses before remembering that the painter had them, “I try work through problems to help me concentrate. It is a li…”
There was a loud bang outside. Lieutenant Atkinson screamed and dove to the floor.

Fuck, a column of armored cars were pulling into view. Lieutenant Atkinson crawled to the edge of her hole and shouted towards Rifle Team 3, “BRYŁA! SWITCH TO RIFLE GRENADES AND TARGET THAT VEHICLE WITH THE TRAILER! AUSTIN! GET ON THE WIRELESS TO THE FIREBASE!”
Fucking General Maxwell had said only a few scouts were expected. This was at least a battalion, “COOPER! MACHINE GUN! NOW!” Lieutenant Atkinson aimed her pistol towards the front of the column, probably useless, but so were the forty rifles under her command. Fucking General Maxwell.

Captain Kestel dropped her sword and ripped the pistol from Lieutenant Atkinson’s hands. The Corporal who had been operating the Moving Camera ran forward and restrained the Lieutenant, “It’s a backfiring truck Ma’am!”
“So… So… Sorry, I… I… slipped,” Lieutenant Atkinson slowly stood up and reached for the Pistol that Captain Kestel now held.
Captain Kestel ejected the magazine and locked the slide back. No rounds chambered. She looked into the magazine, fully loaded. Stuffing the magazine into her pocket, Captain Kestel handed the empty pistol to the Corporal, “Lieutenant, stand up, arms out”
Lieutenant Atkinson complied. The Captain then walked over and patted her down, pulling an extra magazine from the Lieutenant’s belt and a few loose rounds from her skirt pocket, “You could have hurt someone there Lieutenant.” She grabbed back, rode the slide forward, and handed it back to the Lieutenant, “Shall go back to the painting?”
Duncan looked somewhat scared, “Um… I… Have the basic sketch down and the two pictures… I can do the rest of the painting on my own.”
Captain Kestel pointed to the people in the room, “None of you saw anything. Corporal, help me bring the Lieutenant back to her tent.”

Battle of the Crater — Second Interlude

Company is a strong word. When someone says company, you think of at least a hundred people. This was more like a platoon. Surprisingly though, F Company still had three officers. Second Battalions three remaining company level officers. D and E had been hit even worse. Not as bad as B Company from First. They had just disappeared into the fog. Major Simmons had been temporarily put in charge of D. For E, Captain Kestel had recommended Lieutenant Gates be given charge. After all, they were pretty much three platoons now. No change for him. In theory, this should have been an easy day. After the assault had finished, the 202nd had pulled back, allowing fresh troops to take up the line of defense. Before being pulled off completely, the attacking troops were to hold what formerly was the first Vledscan line. In theory, this was to give them a rest, before being marched home as heroes. The 202nd had been assigned to hold the crater.

With troops stretched thin, the surrounding trenches were unmanned. Colonel Darling had argued with the General Staff. If an attack came, it would be better to be anywhere else.

It was a photo op. At noon, the press corps was coming by to take pictures. The Regiment holding a crater would be much more impressive.  Oh, and by the way, we aren’t going to supply you with more ammunition.

Make sure Captain Kestel is cleaned up they had told him. Give her some make up.

Colonel Darling had laughed. When he was forced to give the order, Captain Kestel laughed. She was coated in mud and blood. She had killed men in bloody close quarters fighting. She had seen men and women torn apart. She hadn’t slept in at least a day. Her best friend had been reported dead. And she was still expected to act like a Lady. Colonel Darling had apparently argued for an hour to at least let her not have to change into an officers skirt.

At nine, the Vledscan counterattack began. Presumably. The fog was still too thick to see anything.

At nine thirty three the guns on the front line fell silent. No runners had come past their position to give the regiment news.

At nine fifty seven, an E Company rifleman spotted an airship, appearing out of the fog almost on top of the crater. Before anyone had a chance to respond, the airship opened fire with it’s three main guns. The Regiment scattered into the dugouts they had scraped together.

At ten thirteen, the airship stopped firing and pulled back. The Regiment reorganized itself. Loud Vledscan voices were heard closing in on the crater. Colonel Darling lined up the regiment on the edge of the crater.

 

“Hold your fire. Hold your fire until my command,” Colonel Darling whisperd to each company. He stopped by Captain Kestel and whispred, “Captain, I need to borrow your sword for a moment.”

“Right sir,” Captain Kestel wiped the blade of her sword and handed it to the Colonel, “Just return it in time for the real fighting.”

“I just need it to make a show. Surely you understand,” Colonel Darling leapt up on the parapet and raised the sword high. He waited. Waited. The first line of Vledscan troops moved out of the fog. only 10 meters from the crater.Colonel Darling swung the sword down, “FIRE!”

The  first row of Vledscan troops collapsed. A few isolated shots flew over over the parapet.Colonel Darling raised the sword again. He waited. Waited. A Fusillade of fire came past. One hit the Colonel in the shoulder. He swung the sword down, “FIRE!”

As the regiment fired, the Colonel jumped back down into the crater, “SCATTER!”

The Colonel tossed the sword to Captain Kestel, who caught it, “Thank you kindly Captain.”

“No Problem sir,” Captain Kestel caught the sword and ran towards the rear position. She hoped everyone else remembered the plan.

The night before, as soon as the Regiment had gotten off the line, Colonel Darling had held a general meeting. After expressing his disappointment at their orders to hold the crater, he set out the plan in case of attack. The first step had been completed. A fire line at the edge to take care of the first wave. The next part would be bloody.

As the largest company, F Company had been given twice the ammunition of the other companies. Two magazines for each soldier. The Company was ordered to form two ranks, fix bayonets, and aim towards the crater lip. Any movement on the lip would be assumed hostile. And any movement would be met with a shotgun like blast of thirty rifle bullets. The rest of the Regiment had taken up positions around the crater, bayonets and shovels ready for anyone who got past the fire.

Captain Kestel formed the Company on the marked position. She looked to Sergeant Chilcott, the only surviving Sergeant of F Company, “All ready Sergeant?”

“Company is ready Ma’am,” Chilly looked around him, “Today seems like a good enough day to die as any.” He then fell back into the formation.

Captain Kestel took up position, two paces to the right of the company and one pace forward. She rested her sword on her shoulder and laughed a bit. Who would have thought.  Lady Demetria Kestel, probably going to die leading an old fashioned line formation. To the people who thought that nobility was a thing of the past, this would probably be a hilarious joke. Did you hear about Lady Demetria? Apparently she forgot that modern warfare existed.

Well fuck ‘em.

“FIRE!” She swung her sword down, emulating Colonel Darling. Thirty rounds flew into the fog. There were a few screams followed by an eery silence. More shadows. ”FIRE,”, the rifles fired. There was some shouting in Vledscan. Another pause. Rifles burst to the sides of the crater. Then the chaos began.

“COMPANY! OPEN ORDER!” Captain Kestel waved to the side. The company widened its formation. The Captain pulled a smoke grenade out of a pouch and threw it to the edge of the crater. Officers from other companies followed suit and smoke billowed around the crater, making visibility even worse. The Vledscans then moved in with bayonets to attack.

 

The ensuing hours of hand to hand fighting became known as the “Finest Hour of the Ethslin Army.” It was four hours before the 202nd retreated. They had come into the battle with 1300 officers and enlisted the night before. On the attack, 300 had been killed and another 700 wounded or missing. The Battle of the Crater ended with about 150 soldiers scrambling back to the Ethslin lines. Colonel Darling was given an honorary Viscountship and promoted to General. There were forty three Medals of Ethslin awarded in the battle, Eight of them being First Class.