Work Header

Chapter Text

Diary entry by Private Jones of the Fifth Light Infantry:

"ordered to move again as fast as possible in single rank and a large interval between each man and for the first time we thought we were in for a rough time of it, and we was.

"we ascended Spy Hill, and it was a most difficult job to climb, it being so steep, and also allowing the wounded to be carried down. General Pentheusson I passed going up, he was being carried down on a stretcher, and those who could speak of the wounded was saying its worse than a Slaughter House up there, that did not improve our feelings, but of course we had to go.

"I saw several Colonials loaded with water, lose their footing and fell to the bottom, when near the top we were greeted by a shower of bullets and a lot of our men fell at once.

"it was a tremendous fire meet us here, and dead and wounded and dying was awful and the groaning was sickening, I was lying on the ground firing with the remainder on the extreme left of the firing line, and Sergt Smitt was talking and telling me where to fire, he was hit through the nose, he was my right hand man, and directly after this a young fellow was shot on my left.

"soon after this I was ordered to go to the Main Trench with a message, as it was not safe to lift your head up off the ground I did not like the job, but I had to do it and there was little time for thinking, so I said a prayer to myself and off I went, and the bullets was like rain round me."


I reached the main trench. The crossfire had died down somewhat, so Fairview had emerged from the safety of the General's rock in order to inspect the installation of sandbags at the breastwork of the left flank's trench. There were only enough sandbags to cover three yards of the trench.

"Are more supplies coming?" were Fairview's first words to me.

I shook my head as I wearily flopped my belly onto the ground of the shallow trench. "Reinforcements are within sight, though."

Fairview sighed. "I wonder whether they'll help or hurt."

I knew what he meant. The more men who were crammed onto the hillside, the easier it would be for the Mippite sharpshooters to pick them off. There was no room for any more men in the trenches, which remained crammed with the dead and the dying; the stretcher-bearers still hardly dared venture onto the summit, so intense was the crossfire.

What we needed most wasn't more men.

"Guns?" said Fairview, not very hopefully.

"When I left, the General was debating with Spearman as to whether the big guns could even be brought up such a steep path."

"They're both still alive, then?" Fairview reached for his spy-glass and checked, for the dozenth time, to be sure that the Mippites on the ledge hadn't moved forward again. "Is the General returning to the summit?"

"He wanted to."

Fairview looked over at me and raised an eyebrow. His beard was matted with sweat and dirt, and his cheek was caked with blood – whether his or someone else's, I wasn't sure. Yet he managed, with that elegant arch of the brow, to remain Fairview, Fair of View.

"I convinced him that he could do more good by remaining at the foot of the hill and directing supplies our way."

Fairview was silent a moment before replying, "Sending him up here would be a death sentence, with that wound of his."

"It would," I agreed. I didn't voice the thought on both our minds, that death was likely to come to all of us anyway. But if we had to die, let us at least do so under the command of a man of Fairview's caliber, rather than from throwing our lives away under General Pentheusson.

"Did he protest?" Fairview asked, glancing over at the men in Tice's battalion. They all looked weary unto death. Major Arundel had been shot dead around the time I left the summit to check whether any of our pleas for water were reaching the engineers at the western foot of the hill. From what I could see, all of the remaining officers in the mounted infantry had been killed while I was gone.

"No. I suspect he was relieved. . . . I don't think he's a coward," I added softly as Fairview arched his eyebrow again. "Just sickened by the conflict."

Fairview gave a short laugh. "And he thinks the rest of us are enjoying this?" He waved toward the remainder of the field, littered with fragments of bodies. "Well, it's for the best, I suppose. How many hours left?"

I checked my pocket-watch, a gift from Fairview on my previous birthday; it had somehow survived the conflict so far. "It's just past one; we've six hours to go. Do you think we'll make it till nightfall?"

"We must." Fairview turned his attention back to the ledge. "If we had better shelter— Hey!"

At the sound of his sharp alert, I rose onto my knees. Nearby, a cluster of Tice's soldiers – dazed, leaderless, no doubt half mad from the incessant shelling – had raised their hands and were starting downhill, toward the ledge. One of the men was waving a white handkerchief. There was a stirring below; then the Mippites began to emerge from the rocks, rifles in hand.

"Stop!" ordered Fairview to Tice's men, all fury and fire as he stood up. Then he turned to the approaching Mippites and shouted, "You may go to afterdeath! I command on this hill and allow no surrender – go on with your firing!"

They took him at his word; without stepping back an inch, they raised their rifles and began to shoot. All of us nearby retreated from the left flank's trench; the rifle-fire from the Mippites – barely twelve yards away now – was too intense to endure.

I fell back to my own men, who were watching the scene with concern. From the right flank's trench, I could see Fairview in the shelter of the General's rock, roundly scolding the score of men who had tried to surrender. They all looked ashamed of themselves.

I caught sight of movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to look toward the crest above the western slope. The movement came from a major, staring amazed at the carnage, while his men cringed or fell dead from the continued crossfire. The Fifth Light Infantry – I recognized their insignia.

I managed to catch the major's eye and wave him in the direction of Fairview. He nodded and trotted forward. There was a hurried discussion between the two officers; then the major shouted orders to his men. A moment later, the soldiers from the left-flank trench who had tried to surrender gave a great roar and charged forward, led by Fairview, still limping. The Fifth followed behind them. Within minutes, the Mippites had fallen back to within five yards of their ledge, successfully dislodged from the ground they had tried to gain.

I quickly ascertained that all was well with my men while Fairview sent the Fifth over to support the nearly nonexistent Eighth in the left flank. Then I crawled over to where Fairview crouched in the main trench, a triumphant smile on his face. "Not enjoying this?" I said lightly.

He gave a slight laugh as he took the water bottle I handed him. A cloud had brought a momentary mist down upon us, but the hill was still as hot as a cooking pan. "It's the first victory we've had all day. It's worth enjoying."

Because we'll have no other. Those were his unspoken words. We both sobered. Even with the reinforcements, it seemed unlikely that we would gain any ground. Yet the one order that the Commander-in-Chief had sent to Fairview had been clear. Fairview's stance on such matters had just been made equally clear.

"Dick," Fairview said hesitantly.

"Yes, Alec?" I looked at him with curiosity; we rarely addressed each other by our given names.

"Can you keep a secret?"

I looked around. The men jammed up on either side of Fairview and me seemed little more than dead. Fairview's messenger-lad and soldier-servant were talking to each other, and my own men were back in the right flank's trench, hidden in the momentary mist. Nobody appeared to be listening to Fairview and me. "I suppose so. Why? Do you have a secret love-mate?"

He gave a breathless laugh. "I guess you could say that. I haven't been sure— Well, I lacked the courage, I suppose—"

It was at this moment that Doyle plopped down beside us. Of course.

"Me and the fellows," he said in an accusing voice, "me and the fellows want to talk to you about this."

"Yes?" I said as patiently as I could, while Fairview buried his face in his hands.

Doyle held up a ration biscuit and shook it in my face. "It ain't natural, and it ain't just, to make working soldiers eat stuff like this. The sailormen in our navy, they get much better rations. Oysters and the like. While us, we do digging that's near to break your back—"

"Doyle," I said through gritted teeth, "will – you – go – away!"

There was a pause, punctuated only by the soft whistle of wind as it sent the cloud further down onto us, softening our surroundings, blurring the rocks. Then Doyle said in a hurt voice, "I knowed you ain't wanting me."

I pinched the bridge of my nose. "Doyle—"

"None of the masters ever do. They hire me and they fire me . . . none of them ever like having me 'bout. I was thinking it'd be different, after you and the other master here picked me out special for this job. But it's just the same as it's always been. I know when I ain't wanted." He gave Fairview and me an injured look. He did not, however, go away.

"Doyle." I passed my hand over my face. "There is a time and a place—"

"Wait." Fairview, who had been listening to our conversation with a contemplative expression, grabbed my arm. "Listen."

I listened. I heard what I'd heard a minute before: nothing. No shells, no machine rifles, no gunfire of any sort. Only the soft sound of shuffling.

"Fix bayonets!" At once, Fairview was on his feet shouting; this was no time for sending quiet messages. "Fix bayonets, 1st Ninth! They're about to—"

The Mippites attacked.