The Broken Defense

Armand’s First Letter. Amelia’s First Letter.

3 Madrigal Court, Yorke, Cumbria
12 March 1016

Dear Journal,

I am amazed and aghast.

Yesterday we received word of a stunning but inexplicable victory on the approaches to Provençe. We had planned a major attack on the Maréchalist forces there: we had sent a fair number of ships, and all the war wagons for which we had crews—if crew is an appropriate name for some of those men, so quickly and poorly trained were they. We were obliged to convey the most of them on several transport ships: slow, and ill-defended, but stable enough even with new war-wagon-sized holes gaping in their decks to convey the wagons through such a brief stretch of the Abyss…weather permitting.

As they went, I wished most devoutly that I had hit upon some new weapon, some new tactic, with which they could work their will upon the enemy with little risk to themselves; but I had not, and so the plan, if plan is the right word, was to swarm their wagons with our own and drive them back, hoping in numbers to break the stalemate and leaving our ships free to engage theirs.

One of the admirals (for I was present in the room) averred that even if all of our wagons perished in the doing, if they could but neutralize the enemy wagons our ships could do the rest. And every man-jack of them nodded in agreement! I was sickened, and in that moment I wished that man dead with every fiber of our being.

Colonel Redvers discerned my mood easily enough, and on our carriage ride back to Camp Moorhen said to me, “Buck up, Tuppenny. It’s a desperate affair, but not yet a forlorn hope. Many of our men are veterans of the war in Malague, and I do assure you, old chap, they’ve seen worse.”

Indeed, the men were in good spirits as they maneuvered their unwieldy craft on board the waiting transports. Many had painted the Cumbrian Jack on the sides of their wagons.

“Nor it can’t be struck, can it, sir,” said one of them to me. “No striking of colors in our force, you can be sure of that.”

That was five days ago, and yesterday we received the first word, a despatch-rider from the Admiralty in Yorke. I was already striding toward Redvers’ tent when his runner came looking for me.

Redvers looked up as I entered, a bemused, even a perplexed look on his broad red face.

“There you are, Tuppenny. You’ll be pleased to know that the enemy force was destroyed.”

“With what loss of life, Colonel?”

He shook his head, and my blood chilled; and then he said, “None.”

“None?”

“None. On our side. The Maréchalist force was not so lucky.”

I sank into a stool. “But how?”

Redvers shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

“But what happened?”

In response, he handed me the despatch. It seems that our force was met by several ships and a swarm of wagons, all flying the Maréchalist colors; but before battle could be joined one of the Maréchalist ships exploded. A spark in the magazine, no doubt; and the flying wreckage knocked a number of the Maréchalist wagons out of the sky. But then the second ship blew up, and the third; and then the remaining wagons started going up like torches.

In time only one wagon remained; and as the admiral watched two arms extended from a gun port and hauled the Maréchalist colors in-board. It was over; the path into Provençe lay open.

“Wizardry,” I said, and Redvers nodded.

“Admiral Austen pressed on, of course,” he said. “I’ve no doubt he’s reached Toulouse by now.” He shook his head in wonder. “But there’s more,” he said, waving a note in his hand. “You have an appointment at the Admiralty at noon tomorrow.”

I slept amid a whirl of conjecture, and sped my way to Yorke this morning. My business at the Admiralty was brief, but a few words, and I soon found myself mounting the stair to the door of 3 Madrigal Court. The butler nodded silently to me and led me to the drawing room where my aunt and uncle were waiting, sitting side-by-side.

“She’s in the library,” said my uncle.

I found Amelia seated at the desk, hands in her lap, staring at nothing.

She turned to look at me as I entered, but slowly, slowly.

“I killed them, Armand,” she said in dull, flat voice. “I killed all of them.” And then her face crumpled, and she was wracked by sobs. I knelt by her side and took her in my arms. “And I have killed him,” she got out. “I have killed my Maximilian.”

She became calm after a time, and explained to me the bargain she had made with Colonel Marchant. She would have gone further, but I bade her be silent.

“Tomorrow,” I said. “Tomorrow is soon enough.”

She is sleeping, now, for the first time since she was brought home; Aunt Maggie is with her. Uncle George and I have been sitting in the drawing room.

“It’s a bad business,” he said to me over a stiff whiskey. “It’s a bad business. But I’m proud of her, Armand. She did her duty.”

I raised my glass. “She did,” I said. “She saved the lives of many Cumbrian soldiers.”

But at what cost to herself?

I shan’t be returning to Camp Moorhen; I have sent for my things. The Maréchal’s aerial forces have been destroyed, and I for my part want no more to do with weapons of war.

Next letter

____

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

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