Friday, April 18, 2008

Faith: Marching On

Jared, younger than Thera, had been too young to join her when she began her Genocide Campaigns, despite the oath he swore to her with the other children when her plan was first born. But over a year passed from her first campaign to the second, and the second to the third; and when he, eagerly, asked to join for the third campaign, filled with dreams of glory and religious righteousness (not unaffected by the case of idol-worship he had for Thera herself), his request was granted; and so, as a youth still, he joined the army of the Beckoners (smaller than when it began, but much more experienced and better equipped), and set out to war.

The Jhozhur were the allies of the Beckoners for this campaign, lured by treasure and promises of more, as the Isostats had been before them. They were larger in number than the Beckoners, but worse trained; still Jared noted that the Beckoners made no effort to rectify this, and rather stayed in their own camp, rarely mingling as they marched to the valley of the foe. The distance between them was somewhat created by choice, but also by the difference in dialect between the tribes; the Jhozhur lived far from the Beckoners, and they had never met before Thera's campaigns brought them in contact. Still Jared was young, and curious; so one night, after a long day's march, he walked the distance between the camps and tried to make conversation with the Jhozhur tribesmen.

Jared felt awkward, not sure how to communicate with these outsiders; but one boy, scarcely older than Jared himself, spotted the bread Jared had thoughtlessly taken with him from the Beckoner camp, and in asking Jared for it provided an opportunity for conversation. Jared broke bread with the boy, whose name (he learned) was Isaac, and talked eagerly about a dozen things: people, places, animals, where they were going, what war was like. Isaac was surprised to find that Jared had not yet fought, and asked him about what battles his people had been in before, about which the Jhozhur knew next to nothing. Jared, though, felt strangely reluctant to speak of it, and changed the subject. They talked for hours before they grew too tired and retired to prepare themselves for the next day's march; still they formed a good impression of one another, and met again in following nights to talk and joke.

On the fifth day after the armies joined together to march on the foe, Jared awoke to find the camp abuzz. Thera's sentries had found an enemy fortification, guarding the pass into their valley. Thera had considered the matter, then launched a night raid, burning the fort and slaughtering the defenders. As the combined armies marched into the valley, Jared saw the smoldering ruins of the fort to the left of the line of march; the heads of their defenders now adorned pikes. Jared shivered; then he consoled himself, thinking, This is not true war. I will see the real thing soon enough.

Battle was joined the next day.

The Beckoners took the right flank; the Jhozhur were in the left and centre. They charged, yelling, at the enemy ranks (alerted by the smoke from the burning fort). The Beckoners followed more leisurely, loosing bow- and javelin-shot as they went. The foe was broken, inevitably, as any enemy that faced Thera was. Seeing the results, the Jhozhur made no complaints of tactics, despite their casualties, over twice those of the Beckoners'.

Jared was exhilarated during the battle; alternately terrified and filled with the urge to charge forward and aid the Jhozhur. The more experienced Beckoner warriors at his side held him back; and indeed, he saw hard fighting soon enough, as the Beckoners hit the enemy's flank. Jared's training kept him alive, and foes fell to his blade, mostly fleeing as their forces disintegrated.

Still doubting, Jared calmed himself with religion.

Then came the slaughter of the remaining villagers; and though he'd heard of it, Jared was appalled. He rose his weapons; then dropped them, ignoring the shouts of the Beckoners beside him. He could not bring himself to kill unarmed children.

Thera herself called Jared to her tent. “You swore an oath to me,” she reminded him.

Jared looked down, ashamed. “I know,” he said. “I tried – but I can't. I just can't... butcher people like that.”

“How is it different from the battle earlier?” Thera asked. “In the end, they're all destined for Salvation. We're speeding them along the way.”

Tongue-tied, Jared shook his head. “I don't know,” he said, humiliated. “I don't know.”

Thera thought for a moment, her face expressionless. "Are you still committed to the Cause?" she asked, no particular curiosity audible in her voice.

Jared nodded emphatically. "I will always be," he swore.

"Then," Thera said, "There is another place that could use your talents."

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