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.



“Hey! Lance Corporal! Over Here!” The Corporal hissed at Evans. Evans huddled himself into his coat and crawled towards the Corporal, “Where are we?”
“I have no fucking idea Corporal,” He strained his ears for any sound, “No gunfire.”
“Well Shit. Which company you with?”
“F Company. You?”
“Shit. I’m A Company. We must be really fucking lost. F Company is supposed to be in the far north of the advance, and we should have B, C, and E in between us. You wouldn’t happen to have a map?”
Evans reached for his periscope, “No, but I’ve got this. Though I don’t think we’re near the lines.”
The Corporal grabbed Evans’ periscope and started to look around, “Yeah, we should have at least seen some flares go up. Lets try and piece this together, what happened to you?”

“I was getting orders back to my company in the Third Line, I think I missed. You?” Evans took a turn looking around with the periscope.
“We were pushing towards the Fourth line when I got separated. So my guess is that we are somewhere between the Third and Fourth Vledscan lines. Far enough behind the third line if we can’t hear any gunfire. How fast do you think you were running?”
Evans thought back, “I don’t know, I think I ran at least half a kilometer. I could have doubled back though. We could be anywhere.”
“Wait…” the Corporal fiddled with the periscope and put it down. He crawled up and looked over the edge of the shell hole, “I think I saw a glint over in that direction.”
Evans crawled up and looked where the Corporal was pointing. He saw a small piece of metal glinting. Evans rooted through his pockets and pulled out the small compass. He set it on the ground, “Hey, Corporal, do you have a match?”
Covering it with one hand, the Corporal struck the match with his other. He held it over the compass. The red needle pointed perpendicular to the glint. West. The Corporal looked at Evans, “Let’s get closer and see if thats towards the lines?”
Evans nodded and checked the bolt on his rifle, “How about I take point?”
The Corporal checked his rifle and nodded, “Let’s do it.” He paused a moment, “What’s your name?”
“Jim Evans. You?”
“Chris Hammond. Let’s do this,” Evans nodded and stood up. He slowly started working his way to the glint. Corporal Hammond got up behind him. It took them half an hour to work their way towards the glint. The two slid behind a rock.
Evans poked his head out and looked at the glint. There were three Vledscan soldiers sitting around a pot. They were talking, and one of them was looking at a map. Evans slid back and whispered to Corporal Hammond, “Three of them, one has a map. Also some food.”
Corporal Hammond pulled out two hand grenades, “Can you throw this into their position? We can go in after and look at the map.”
Evans nodded and grabbed the grenade, “Be ready to shoot if they try to run.” Evans flung the grenade in a high arc, which landed in between the three soldiers. There was a scream. One dived on the grenade. There was a muffled thud and two quick shots from Corporal Hammond’s rifle.”
The two ran forward towards the three bodies. Corporal Hammond laughed, “Hey, the soldier who jumped on the grenade saved the map for us.”
“Convenient isn’t it?” Evans knelt down and picked up the map. Corporal Hammond fixed his bayonet and walked to the closest soldier. The one who had jumped on the grenade. He kicked the soldier with his boot. After a few moments he walked over to the next soldier and kicked him. There was a groan. Corporal Hammond drove the bayonet into his chest. The soldier let out a sigh. Corporal Hammond moved onto the last soldier. He kicked him with his boot. The soldier tried to crawl away. Corporal Hammond stepped on the soldier’s neck and beat his head with the rifle.
Evans waved to Corporal Hammond, ”I think we’re two kilometers from the our line. If we’re still holding the third line.” Evans looked in the pot and pulled out a piece of meat, “It’s cooked. Want some?”
Corporal Hammond pulled the bayonet off his rifle and wiped the blood on it. He cut a little piece of the meat off and took a bite, “Tastes good.”
Evans started eating the meat and looking around the map. He pointed to an empty looking area, “If we go through here, assuming the lines haven’t shifted, we should only encounter some light resistance, if any at all. Or at least I think so, These symbols could mean something completely different.”
Corporal Hammond loaded two more rounds into his rifle and slung it over his shoulder, “Let’s move Lance. We should probably get back to our lines before sunrise.”
Evans nodded and picked up his rifle. He checked the action and slung it over his shoulder. The two set off towards the line. The Corporal looked over at Evans, “So Lance, where are you from?”
“Halton. It’s a small town.”
“I’m from Medway myself,” The Corporal smiled, “It’s weird how this war makes us meet people from all over.”
Evans gestured back to the three Vledscan soldiers, “Meet and kill people, eh?”
“Part of the job. So, whe…,” Corporal Hammond dive tackled Evans to the ground. Machine Gun fire ripped over head, “Shit that was close… I think they spotted us.”
The two broke out laughing. Evans pulled out his periscope and looked over at the machine gun, he talked to the Corporal as he scanned for the machine gun, “I love this periscope. Served me well In the trenches.”
“Right? Mine got stolen last week,” Corporal Hammond started lining up his grenades to throw them over towards the Machine Gun, “Say, F Company isn’t the one Lady Demetria is it?”
“It is. There it is. Thirty meters, that way. At least two rifleman nearby.” He handed the periscope to Corporal Hammond.
The Corporal scanned the area, “I’ll suppress, you throw the grenade?”
Evans nodded. He grabbed both grenades. He put one in his pocket and pulled the pin on the other. Corporal Hammond counted down on his hands. Three. Two. One. Hammond opened fire with his rifle. Evans stood up and threw the wildly flung the grenade towards the gun pit. He grabbed his other grenade, pulled the pin, and flung it toward the pit. The two grenades went off in quick succession and the machine gun fell silent. Corporal Hammond stood up and ran over to Evans, “Let’s check out the Machine gun nest.”
The pair ran into the Machine Gun nest and looked around. Evans jumped in first and looked around. He saw a Vledscan soldier reaching for something in his coat pocket. He took his rifle and started to beat him over the head with the rifle. Hammond bayoneted another soldier. Evans wiped the brains off of his rifle and looked around. Nothing.
Hammond waved Evans forward out of the pit. They ran forward. Evans looked at Hammond, “I think we should be…” His head was knocked back, and a split second later, a shot rang out.
Hammond dived to the ground. He heard a woman yell out, “I think I got the blighter!”
“Shit! Um… Come over here with your hands up!”
Corporal Hammond put up his hands and walked towards the line. He walked into the shell hole, where four soldiers were standing, three men and one woman. He punched the woman as hard as you could, “YOU MOTHERFUCKING BITCH!”
The other soldiers grabbed onto him and held him back, “What the fuck man?”
“That bitch killed Evans!”
The woman’s eyes got wide, “Oh fuck. Jimmy Evans?”
“Yeah, Lance Corporal Jim Fucking Evans.”
The woman wiped the blood off her face, “Fuck. We thought he was dead.”
“Well you definitely made sure of that you bitch.”
“We’ve been lost for the past few hours. We don’t know where to go.”
Corporal Hammond wrested himself free from the three soldiers, “Well, Evans and I thought we knew the way back, and Evans had the map… So are you all F Company?”
“One of the men responded, yeah, I’m Lance Corporal Morgan. The one you punched was Private Cain. That is Lance Corporal Newey, and that is Private Head. All F Company.”
“Corporal Hammond, A Company. Newey, Head, with me. Morgan and Cain stay here. And,” He grabbed Cain’s rifle and tossed it away from the trench, “I don’t trust you with a fucking rifle.”
Corporal Hammond waved the Newey and Head. The three of them quickly ran to Evans body. Hammond picked through his uniform for what the map. He pulled it out and wiped it down. He paused for a moment and then pulled the periscope out of Evans’ pack. He grabbed all the ammunition. Hammond nodded to the others and ran back to Lance Corporal Morgan and Private Cain.
He lit a match and read the map, “Third Line is nearby. If we’re extra sneaky, we can get through and hopefully find some of our guys. Let’s move.”
The four soldiers got up behind him. After another hour, they managed to sneak back to the Ethslin lines.


As the sun started to set, a fog bank rolled in.The artillery started to die down. Thirty seconds until the attack. It was eerily silent across No-Mans Land. Evans checked the cotton in his ears then gripped his rifle. He looked to his right.

Captain Kestel’s face was shining bright underneath the mud. She held a pistol tightly in her left hand and the long, shimmering sword in the other. She took a moment to darken the blade with mud from the bottom of the shell hole. The Captain grinned then faced forward with an open mouth.

Evans slid his bayonet out of his scabbard and fixed it to the end of his rifle. He opened his mouth and faced forward, poking his face slightly over the edge. His watch ticked over.


A huge column of Earth, Flame, and Smoke rose into the air. The ground started to shake and roll as the pressure started to push all the air out of Evans’ lungs. A deafening blast passed through the air. Boulders the size of trucks were flying like pebbles. A groaning roar hit Evans once the ground started to fall back down. In this short moment Evans understood what Hell was like. Then, with a crash, the artillery batteries opened up again. Evans could hear the metal whizzing through the air overhead.

Out of the corner of his eye, Evans saw Captain Kestel stand up, holding her sword high. She was screaming something, but Evans couldn’t hear a thing. He pushed himself up and looked around.

The ridgeline was dominated by the massive cloud of smoke directly ahead of Fox Company. Shells were bursting ahead. Flares started to streak across the sky. And, around him, Evans could see tens of thousands of soldiers begin to advance.

All throughout this, the Vledscan line was silent. Unsurprisingly. Evans doubted that anyone could have survived the blast. As they closed on the crater, a stream of Vledscan soldiers started to advance, hands above their heads. The fog started to thicken. Evans picked the cotton out of his ears.

“What should we do about them Ma’am?” Newey pointed at the Vledscan’s.

“Let them pass. There is a blocking division for that. Keep moving.”

Captain Kestel circled her sword in the air and pointed left, “MOVE LEFT!” The Lieutenants repeated the order. The company followed into the trenches on the left side of the crater. They worked their way through the empty trenches, tossing bombs into various dugouts. Fox Company reached the edge of the trench line and looked down.

Shells had moved to burst on the second Vledscan line a few hundred meters away. Evans could hear the beginnings of firefights in the distance. A runner from Lieutenant Colonel Strummer came up and saluted Captain Kestel, “Ma’am! Colonel Darling wants to take the Second Line. Spread back right once we reach open ground.”

“Understood,” Captain Kestel threw her sword up and yelled, “FORWARD! SPREAD RIGHT!”

The company clambered out of the trench and moved forward. They faced some resistance taking the second line, taking a half a dozen casualties, but the defenders soon started to stream out. Colonel Darling ordered an advance to the next line.

The Vledscan artillery started to come into effect. The Company started to spread out. With the increasing artillery fire and thickening fog, Evans could barely see the world around him. The Hard light from the flares wasn’t helping. Tracers ripped past. Evans just made sure to keep Captain Kestel in his sight.

Once they reached the trench, Evans dropped in next to Captain Kestel. He immediately thrust his bayonet into a Vledscan with a shovel. The company pushed through. Another runner sent the company forward. The Third line was more scattered, but the company managed to take a small section. When no one came, Captain Kestel sent Evans back to ask for orders. It was darker now, and foggier. Evans could only see a few feet in front of him, his path illuminated by the flashes of light in the distance. He jumped into a trench and immediately had to dodge a bayonet thrust. Evans readied his rifle when he saw it was a friendly uniform, “Lance Corporal Evans, 202nd Infantry! I’m looking for Second Battalion!”

The soldier pointed to the right, “That way. Just got back. HQ got hammered.”

Evans nodded and ran down the line through the twists and turns until he found an officer. He saluted, “Sir, I’m looking for Lieutenant Colonel Strummer.”

The man twitched, “So… So are we all. I’m in temporary command.”

“Sir, F Company is holding part of the Vledscan Third Line and is requesting orders.”

“I don’t know I don’t fucking know. I’m just a Lieutenant. Hold the line.”

Evans nodded, Captain Kestel wouldn’t be happy, but it was still technically an order. Evans worked his way back to the point he thought he had gotten into the trench and started to run perpendicular to the line. Hopefully he could find the Company again.


Dinner Date

Evans knocked three times on the side of the dugout, then stepped through the door. He looked around at the bored looking miners and Polly. He pulled the scroll out from under the crook of his arm and unfurled it, even though knew the statement by heart. Stupid tradition. “I am most honored to present The Most Beautiful, Marriageable Lady Demetria Kestel, Heiress to the Duchy of Medway, Captain in the 202nd Infantry, who sheathed her blade inside Baron Semyon of Kalach at Urbs.”

Captain Kestel then entered in the finest clothing she had. Her cleanest jacket with all her medals pinned on and the rarely used officer’s skirt. Evans had even polished her boots to a mirror shine. A mirror shine that he would have to take off tomorrow. If this was a date, so far, Evans had put most of the work into it. And he wasn’t getting anything out of it. He probably wouldn’t even get dinner tonight.

Polly stood up and pointed to a side room, “Captain Stoddart has asked for you to wait in his office. He is currently inspecting the number three shaft and I shall retrieve him.” She did an about turn and walked into the mine entrance.

Evans led Captain Kestel into the office and pulled the door close. The Captain walked to the closest chair, sat down, and put her feet up on the desk. Evans leaned against the wall and sighed, “I hate you so much.”

Captain Kestel flipped her hair, “Why? Are you saddened because a poor farmer such as you will never have the chance to wed me?”

“Oh man, you’ve caught me. Every day. I’m like, man, I would murder my wife and daughter just for one night in Captain Kestel’s bed. To get the chance to marry you would be unimaginable,” Evans faked crying.

Putting her hand on her chin, Captain Kestel responded, “You know, technically we slept in the same bed several times when we were up here in December. So you will have to kill them.”

“I hardly think that counts Cap,” Evans lit a cigarette and took a puff. “When someone says they want to spend time in someones bed, they are thinking of some sort of sexual enco-”

Blushing, Captain Kestel put a hand over her face, “I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN!”

“Are you sure?” Evans bent down, blew some smoke into the Captain’s face, and whispered into her ear, “I could give you a demonstration.”

“Oh yes, yes, take me now,” Captain Kestel and Evans stared at each other intensely for a moment before breaking out laughing.

“No, but seriously,” Evans took another puff, “It takes so long to introduce you.”

There was a knock at the door. Captain Kestel quickly straightened out her uniform. Evans walked over and opened the door. Evans saluted Captain Stoddart then left the room.

Polly waved him over to a table the miners were sitting at. He walked over and sat down. The miners were kind of creepy. They were all staring at him. Polly smiled, “Walls can be very thin Evans.”

Evans was confused for a moment, then he realized, “Oh shit. Um… Oh God.”

One of the miners, heavily bearded and covered in dirt said, “From what I could hear of the conversation, I could probably get a lot of money from a tabloid. I can see the headline now,” He spread his hands out, “Lady Demetria in Love Affair with Poor Farmer. Pregnant?” The man extended his hand to Evans, “I’m Clay by the way.”

Shaking the hand, Evans responded in kind, “Jim Evans, and, sorry, You’re a miner named Clay?”

“Wow, I have never heard that before. Are you some sort of genius?” Clay laughed, paused a moment, and then started pointing out everyone, “So, I’m Clay. That’s Basil. Next to him is Breezy. Next to her is Bob. Next to him is Brynn. Next to her is Chris. And you already know Polly, the most useless person in the world.”

“Hey! I’m not useless! I have lot’s of talents!”

Basil spoke up, “OK, what talents do you have for a mining operation?”

“That isn’t my job though. I am here to provide security and administrative support. So there.”

“And Cap Winny needs his garden, I saw him give you a green gown” Bob laughed.

Polly looked indignantly, “Well he’s a good Gardener. Plus I like the green gown.”

Clay, Basil, Bob, and Chris all started to sing, “An’ then they began, / Like lightnin’ an’ thunder / An’ then they began, / Like lightnin’ an’ thunder / On the green green grass, / Pretty Polly layin’ under. / Just lie your leg over me, do!”

Brynn smirked, “See, you should have planned ahead. The only song with my name is Lines on the Brynn.”

“Well it’s better than when I went by Ann. People would ask me to dance the Tra-la-la-loo and call me Greenmount Smiling Ann,” Polly shrugged.

Bob leaned forward, intrigued, “So, Greenmount Smiling Ann, is that nickname based on reality?”

Polly sighed, “You wouldn’t understand.” She looked at Breezy and Brynn, “Don’t you agree, the feeling of wet grass on your back, staring up at the sky?”

“Oh my God you miners are so weird,” Evans slapped his hand on the table, “Polly, you really like being fucked outdoors on grass. We all know what you’re talking about. Goddammit in the Infantry we can speak without all these stupid fucking metaphors.”

It was silent for a moment. Breezy giggled, “Maybe they just put all the smart people here. All you need for infantry is a pair of legs and a rifle. So we use our brains to make metaphors and things.”

The playful arguments continued for an hour before Captain Kestel exited the room. She nodded to Evans, who got up, stuck his tongue out, and followed the Captain out. Evans looked down at Captain Kestel, “So how’d it go?”

“Oh God I was so bored,” Captain Kestel put her hand over her face, “At first I was having a good time. Then he gets to the real reason he asked for dinner. He asked me if he could visit me some time after the war. To look at rocks. He was not interested in marrying me in any way. Apparently Medway has really good rocks. After I said yes out of politeness, he proceeded to ask me questions about all the rocks around my families castle and what it was made of. Why would I know what my castle is made of? Stones? Does anyone even know what their castle is made of?”

“I for one don’t know what my castle is made of,” Evans laughed, “My house is made of wood though.”

“Gah, I hope you get killed in the attack,” the Captain laughed, “Then I can have a proper assistant who will not give me any lip.”


Back at the Front

The sun started to rise on the Sixth of July. It was a bit foggy, but, not a bad day.  Four days until he would probably be killed, but about a week since he had made hay with Anna. So all in all, pretty OK.

“So, better or worse?”

“Hmm?” Evans looked at Captain Kestel.

“You defended White Beach a year ago. Do you think this will be Better or Worse?”

“Well, last time I did get hit by an artillery shell,” Evans stroked his chin, “On the other hand, I met the most beautiful woman.”


“Excuse me?”

“That would be illegal,” Captain Kestel undid her hair and fluffed it, “For I am the Most Beautiful Woman in All the Land… I think… Yeah, there aren’t any Duchess’s right now, and I am the only female heir to a Duchy. Though, Duke Newacre is getting pretty old, and third in line is Lady Brianna, so, probably two years tops until I am only Most Beautiful Woman in Medway. Probably the only way your wife could be more beautiful than me would be to for her to be awarded a Duchy. Wait, where was Anna born again?”


“Then definitely no for two reasons. One, legally, women from Ethslin are more beautiful than women from any other country. Which is a bit weird, I’m not really sure why that is a law, but, it is. Two, Duchies can only be awarded to natural born citizens. In theory, if you were awarded a Duchy,  she would become about a rung of beauty below me. But, you would first have to be commissioned, probably through some act of extreme gallantry. Then you would need to rise through the ranks until you are a General. At this point, you will probably get a Viscountship. Then, you need to do accomplish some sort of great victory on the battlefield. Then, if you are really really lucky, the Oligarchs might deem you important enough to maybe get a Duchy. And I would still be more beautiful than her.”

“Can you get stripped of your title somehow?”

“Excuse me? Lady Demetria?”

The two turned to look at the newcomer. It was Polly. Captain Kestel nodded, “You may speak.”

“I’m the soldier you borrowed a blanket from about six months back Lady. Would you have a moment to spare for a word from my Commanding Officer?”

Captain Kestel nodded. Polly signaled back behind her, and Captain Stoddart stepped out. He approached Captain Kestel and bowed, “It is an honor to be in your presence Lady Demetria Kestel of Medway. I am Lord Winston Stoddart the Third of Halsey.”

Captain Kestel did a half curtsy and responded, “To what do I owe the pleasure Lord…” She looked up and scrunched her eyebrows, “Sorry, I do not remember. Is your father still alive?”

“And my grandfather, so I will not be Lord Halsey for a while. Just Lord Winston for now.”

Evans and Polly walked out of earshot to give the two privacy, “I didn’t know Captain Stoddart was noble.”

Polly nodded, “He doesn’t like to bring it up. He says he’d rather be judged on his own merits.” She sighed, “He does brag a lot about how smart he is though.”

“Yeah, plus, he really loves talking about rocks.”

She laughed, “Oh God, there have been a few times where he has run out of the mine, pulled me off watch, and shown me some sort of rock thing.”

“Yeah,” Evans smiled, “First platoon meeting, he gathered us all to talk about some rocks he found. Taught me a valuable lesson that I still use to this day. You can ignore everything an officer says that isn’t a direct order.”

“Polly!” Captain Stoddart shouted, “Polly! Back to the mine!”

“See ya later Evans,” Polly smiled, turned, and followed Captain Stoddart back to the entrance of the trench system.

Evans walked back to Captain Kestel. He started to salute when she grabbed his hands and started bouncing. The Captain had a huge smile on her face, “Guess what just happened?”


“Winston asked me to dinner. Tomorrow night,” She hugged him, “I’m so excited! And he is so great, he is smart, funny, cute-”

Lieutenant Colonel Strummer cleared her throat, the three exchanged salutes. “Captain Kestel. Two things. First, I need your Company Fitness Report in a two hours. Second, I am fine if you two are friends, just try to be more discreet about it. Always salute in public and no touching.”

Captain Kestel nodded, “Yes Ma’am. I understand. And my report will be on your desk in an hour.”

The Lieutenant Colonel nodded, did an about turn, and walked off.

Evans smiled, “Well, Ma’am. I guess we will have to be more professional Ma’am. Might I assist you with your report Ma’am?”

“No Lance Corporal, I have tasked Lieutenant Gates with preparing the report. Since, as a poor peasant farmer, I would not expect you to know how to read. And kneel when I’m talking to you. Also kiss my hand.”

Evans snapped, “HA! I’m not allowed to touch you. I win Cap.”

“You have got me there Corp,” She laughed, “I am really excited about tomorrow. Just think about how romantic that would be? I go off to war and meet my husband, a handsome young nobleman. The newspapers would go crazy.”

“Can you imagine what’s going to happen when you get pregnant Cap? That would probably frontpage news for all nine months.”

“Good thing I will not have to worry about that for a while. It will probably the hardest battle I will ever have to face. And I will not even have you to help.”

“What do you mean I won’t be able to help you Cap? I’ll follow you to the end of the world. Especially if the end of the world means shooing reporters. And I’m sure Anna will help too. She’s feisty.”

Captain Kestel smiled, “If you are serious, I could probably find someone on my staff after the war for you.”

“Well, if we both survive this war, I might just have to take you up on that. I’m pretty sure Anna would hate my other plan of moving back to Halton and farming,” Evans laughed, “Being the wife of a poor farmer or being able to see her favorite celebrity every day. I wonder which she’ll choose.”

“I keep hearing about Anna, and I still have not met her.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure meeting you will be like what happens whenever anyone else meets you. Except, since she isn’t military, she won’t get excited to me and then pretend to be normal around you.”

“Do people really act different when I am not there?”

Evans nodded, “Once, when you were sleeping, I got a runner from Battalion, and she asked if she could have some of your hair. And I’ve heard a lot worse than that Cap.”

“James,” Captain Kestel shrugged, “Never tell me about those things.”

“Is that an order Cap?”

“Yes Evans. Yes it is.”