World War: Campaign for Eastland
Chapter 18

Copyright© 2018 by Lazlo Zalezac

“Empress Jana.”

“Shield Pua.”

“What can I do for you?”

“Would you mind sending Susanna out of the room for a moment?”

“She doesn’t like to be out of sight of me.”

“She seems to do okay at school.”

“She’s not at school right now.”

Susanna said, “I’ll go in the hall.”

“Are you sure that you’ll be okay?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Okay. We won’t be long.”

“Thank you, Susanna.”

“You’re welcome, Empress Jana.”

Frowning, Shield Pua watched Susanna leave the room. At the door, Susanna turned to look at Empress Jana. She did a kind of half squat with her arms out to the side. She then turned and fled from the room.

“What was that?”

“I don’t know.”

“So what do you want, Jana?”

“We need you to go to Hamasada. Someone has to explain some things to the tribes before things blow up there.”

“I need to stay here with Susanna.”

Empress Jana looked up at the ceiling trying to contain her anger. She looked at Shield Pua and counted to ten in her head. She said, “If you don’t go, we’re going lose Hamasada. The tribes are pushing the town watches by insulting them and worse. The men on town watches among the smaller tribes are just privates and they’re going to start losing their temper. There will be incidents and men will die. It’s going to be us killing men of the town watches. We can’t allow that to happen.”

“Why would we be killing our troops?”

“Because what the tribes are doing isn’t a violation of the contract. The reactions of the town watches will be violations.”

“I don’t know. Can’t you send someone else?”

Trying hard to keep her patience, Empress Jana said, “There is no one else. Look around the citadel. We have four somewhat healthy Shields guarding the citadel and three somewhat healthy Swords to help them. I say somewhat healthy because they’ve got broken limbs or wounds that are still healing. There are six Hearths taking care of the entire citadel. The Carts are ferrying things from here to all over the place. The Pens are writing contracts of surrender. The Hammers are next to useless in defense of the citadel and they are definitely out of place in the field.”

“What about the Lords?”

“You know that the Lords basically had to retire because they’re injured so badly that they can’t go in the field and survive. There’s only one healthy capable person who isn’t doing anything except watching one little girl. That’s you.”

“Susanna needs me.”

“If we start killing our own troops, we won’t have an army. We’ll lose Raspi, Hamasada, and Ulamb. We’ll have to retreat back to Surprise just to deal with the civil wars that will erupt.”

“Is the situation that bad?”

“Not yet. It will be if someone doesn’t visit the tribes and let them know that we respect them as fighters. They are insulted because we sent soldiers to force fighters to surrender under a threat of death for their whole blood line.”

“I can see where they’d be insulted.”

“Someone has to explain to them that there was no insult. That someone can only be you.”

“I’m not good at that. I’ll go somewhere that I can take Susanna, like Del Moray. I’ll guard the bivouac while everyone else is out doing what they need to do. That will free up someone else to talk to them.”

Empress Jana said, “I don’t want to say this, but I must. I wouldn’t trust you to guard anything at the moment. You’d be too worried about Susanna to focus on your job.”

“How dare you say that!”

“I dare because it is true.”


Sword Tomas asked, “So how did you learn that they were upset about having to surrender to soldiers?”

Private Shoemaker said, “Well, I was guarding the tea shop...”

“Why on earth were you guarding the tea shop?”

“It had a sign stating no soldiers were allowed into the tea shop.”

Private Conway said, “That’s right. I ordered him to guard the tea shop to keep out the soldiers.”

“You ordered him?” Sword Tomas asked, not because he didn’t understand what they were saying, but because they were both privates.

“We take turns being in command. It was my turn that hour.”

“We’re both privates. We entered the service the same day. Neither of us has seniority, so we swap off playing commander every hour or so.”

“I think Private Shoemaker is better at playing commander than me.”

“I disagree, Private Shoemaker. You are much better at it then me.”

“Au contraire, Private Conway. You bring much more authority to it then I do.”

“Well, Private Shoemaker. We will just have to agree to disagree.”

“Well said, Private Conway.”

“Thank you.”

Incredulous, Sword Tomas was staring at the two privates thinking he was going to have hang them before the day was over. They had to be the two dumbest men he had ever met. He figured there was an officer or two that was going to have to hang, too.

“Why did you order him to guard the tea shop?”

“There was a sign saying no soldiers allowed. So we set up guard to keep any soldiers from entering.”

Sword Tomas said, “You two are the only soldiers here.”

“We know that, don’t we, Private Shoemaker.”

“Yes, we do, Private Conway.”

“So why were you guarding it?”

Private Shoemaker said, “They told us to start acting more like soldiers. Well, guarding the tea shop was the most soldierly thing we could think of doing.”

“No one else on a town watch in this area has had any member of the tribe talk to him. Why did they tell you to act more like soldiers?”

“One of the neighbors approached us while we were having a picnic...”

“He just walked up to you while you were having a picnic and told you to start acting more like soldiers. Is that about it?”

“Not exactly.”

Sword Tomas said, “Let’s start over from the very beginning. What happened the first day you came here?”

He listened to the two Privates tell their story about the past few days in the town Zwicka. It was a bizarre twisted tale that made absolutely no sense. When they finally came to an end in their story, he sat back and stared at them.

“Are you insane?” Sword Tomas asked.

“Do you think I’m insane, Private Conway?”

“No. Do you think I’m insane, Private Shoemaker?”

“No. I think you’re a lot cleverer than most people would suspect.”

“That’s very nice of you to say, Private Shoemaker. I think the same applies to you.”

“Thank you. When nobody is talking to you and is trying to intimidate you through little insults ... you can get mad or you can turn the situation so it goes into a different direction. You’re not going to learn why they’re doing stuff like that until you can get them to talk to you.”

“That’s right, Private Conway. Sometimes, you just have to do crazy things that really confuse people and leave them curious.”

“If you do it right, they just can’t resist asking you what you’re doing. So you give them an answer that makes them ask another question and then another and then another and so on.”

“That’s the beginning of dialog that you can build upon. Isn’t that right, Private Conway?”

“Indubitably, Private Shoemaker. Ultimately, the words you need to hear come out of their mouth, unbidden. Then you know what you need to know.”

“You see. Private Conway and I have been doing that to you just so that you’d understand what we did.”

“This is all an act?”

“Yes.”

“We’ve gotten it down pretty good. We used that routine to three bullies that were in our training section. Boy, did we confuse them.”

“Did you tell anyone about the bullies?”

“We told the Sargent. He watched them, but they never did anything when he was around. They might have been brutes, but they weren’t stupid brutes.”

“Bullies like them learn from their mistakes. They all probably got caught a lot when they were younger, but that didn’t stop them. They started getting caught less and less frequently as they learned tricks to hide what they were doing. Things like posting a lookout for an authority figure who is in a position to punish them. They learn just how far they push somebody before that person breaks and tells on them.”

“I’d say those three had it down to an art form.”

“We would have helped set them up so the Sargent or Captain could catch them, but we kind of blew that possibility the first time they tried to bully us.”

Sword Tomas asked, “What exactly did you do?”

“Well, one of them hit me and I started screaming like a girl. You know, I let loose with that high pitched frightened screech that just cuts through brain. You could see their eyes roll back in their head when I did that.”

“Just to add a little chaos, I started running around shouting about how I was going to get beaten and that it would ruin my good looks and no woman would want to marry me and then I would end up a bitter old man living alone with a cat.”

“It kind of threw them off their stride. Most folks, when getting bullied, don’t make a scene like that.”

“We raised such a fuss that everyone within a hundred yards came to see what had happened. They avoided us after that.”

“Out of curiosity, have you two ever thought about specializing in psychological warfare?”

“No. That does sound kind of interesting.”

“I agree.”

Sword Tomas said, “We’ll talk some more about it later. We need to see the tribal leaders.”

“Should we bring some brownies? I made them.”

“He makes great brownies.”

“Not today,” Sword Tomas said. “Come with me.”

They followed him out of the office and down street. Two guys stepped out to block their way. One look at Sword Tomas and they headed off in the other direction. He continued down the street without pause.

“We’re going to have to practice that look.”

“I agree.”

They reached the tea shop. Sword Tomas entered and approached the tribal leader. Privates Conway and Shoemaker stopped at the door.

Sword Tomas asked, “Aren’t you coming in?”

“No!”

“According to the contract we are not allowed to enter any house or business without express or implied permission from the owner. There’s a sign saying, stay out. That is not permission.”

“We’re going to stay out here.”

“Good catch,” Sword Tomas said. “I would have hated to have to hang you.”

“We wouldn’t have been too thrilled about that either.”

“I agree.”

Sword Tomas said, “Greetings, Shakir el-Mofty. I am Sword Tomas.”

“You’re a Jade Warrior.”

“Yes, I am.”

“What brings a mighty warrior to lowly Zwicka?”

Sword Tomas answered, “It is my understanding that you believe that we have the two dumbest soldiers in the entire Jade Empire army serving in the town watch here.”

“There are posts more intelligent than those two soldiers.”

“I haven’t made up my mind one way or the other. They did discover something that none of our other town watches found.”

“What?”

“Every town in this area has been giving the town watches the silent treatment. They haven’t been letting them shop in the market place. There have been lots of little acts of harassment and insults.”

Holding up his hands in protest, Shakir el-Mofty said, “No one has broken the contract.”

“I know that. Those two discovered why our town watches have been getting treated like that. They actually got some of the people in this town to talk to them. None of our soldiers in any of the other town watches managed that.”

“They found out that you didn’t like the messenger boys we sent with the contracts. You felt insulted thinking you were surrendering to mere soldiers. You weren’t surrendering to soldiers. You were signing a contract with the Jade Empire! Who is the Jade Empire? It is the Empress, the Lords, and the Jade Warriors.

“Sure, we sent messengers boys to give you a contract to sign, but no insult was intended. We were doing what fighters and warriors do. We were killing the enemy in war. That’s what fighters and warriors do. You know that.

“We could have waited until after the fighting was done. That would have meant any soldier stupid enough to attack one of your fighters could have made excuses for what his stupidity led him to do. With the contract, it would be off with his head. We thought that as wise men protecting your tribe that you’d rather have the contract sooner than later.

 
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