“Can you kill the whole army?”
The question rang through my mind while I approached the permanent trench works leading to the HQ dugout at a gallop. We hadn’t faced a serious attack in a generation, but we stayed vigilant. I slid off my mount, a bay quarter horse who sometimes tried to nip at strangers, and handed the reins off to the orderly without even stopping. Someone was dead. Another orderly called the staff sergeant who came out to greet me. He was a stiff dwarf whose uniform — khaki jodhpurs tucked into knee high russet boots and hunter green field coat over a khaki tunic complete with matching ascot — remained spotless in the dust from the trenches. His red beard was carefully groomed and the brass hilt of his sword gleamed in the afternoon sun. There was no time for protocol, but I clicked my heels and saluted and he returned the gesture.
“Private Asbury, your report?” He demanded.
“Sir, you need to give the alarm! Corporal Fitzgibbons and I were patrolling about twenty miles out. We were searching the valley by the old mine when we saw them.” I gestured toward the old mine. “They’re coming down the old service road!”
“Take it easy, private; where’s the corporal?” His eyes pierced me.
I wiped the sweat from my brow. “We saw the advance guard for an army. They had a platoon of orcs on worgs, and they had a machine gun set up to cover the advance. . .”
“An advance guard?” he scoffed. “We haven’t seen orcs in any number in almost thirty years. I asked a question, private. Where’s the corporal?”
“She didn’t make it, sir. We were spotted while scouting out the machine gun nest. A squad of worg gave chase…” I took off my khaki kettle shaped helmet in frustration.
“The advance guard of an army? Not a mounted raiding party?” He crossed his arms over his barrel chest. I wanted to shake him.
I stiffened and answered like I was in boot camp: “Fitzgibbons caught them talking, sir. They had a couple of other machine gun nests set up, said they had three divisions of foot, troll support, and a division of goblin boar cavalry.”
“Do you have your field notes, diagrams of their positions?”
I looked down and said quietly, “Sir, she had them.”
“I see. You not only abandoned your superior in the face of a single platoon of orcs, but you failed to get specific, accurate, and timely information back to base. How was she taken?”
“We were on the west ridge of the valley. Fitzgibbons had dismounted and was scanning the area when she saw the advance guard. I was still mounted behind the ridge, holding her horse. She called me and pointed out the enemy, ordered me to stay put while she got closer to see what they were saying. I was twenty feet back from the edge, but I kept watch on the opposite side of the valley in case they had some sort of guard posted. After a few minutes I saw a goblin come out from behind a bush. They had a machine gun hidden behind the leaves. They must’ve seen the glare from the lenses and figured the rest out. The machine gun opened up on us. I returned fire with my carbine and covered for Fitzgibbons. When she caught up, she leapt onto her mount and said, ‘Can you kill the whole army? That’s the advance guard.’ We fled perpendicular to the gun fire, but they sent a squad of worg after us.”
“Then what happened?” The dwarf, looking incredulous, asked.
“The mounted orcs opened fire behind us. We fired back with our revolvers, but they gained on us. Fitzgibbons was hit and fell off her horse. I stopped for a moment and reached to pull her onto my mount, but she just said, ‘Can you kill the whole army?’ She unslung her carbine and scattered them with covering fire and commanded me to leave.” I swallowed — hard.
“I see. Private!” He called to the orderly. “Check his weapons. Has he fired them recently?”
The orderly put on a white glove, pulled my revolver from its holster, broke it open at the top, and ran a finger along the back plate. The fingertip came back smeared gray with residue. I unslung my bolt action .30-06 carbine that hung diagonally across my back and handed it to him. He loosened the bolt and ran a fingertip along the edge. Again, gunpowder residue. He nodded to the sergeant, who shook his head.
The sergeant turned on his heel and motioned for me to follow. “I have maps inside. You can show me where the enemy machine gun nest was and the likely route of the army. Of course we’ll have to send out a squad of horse to verify your report.”
“Sir, the area’s crawling with orcs!”
“We have a squad of elves that’d be perfect for that.”
Buddy Shay has always had a love for words. Previously, his work has appeared in The Wisteria Review, and he has had several articles published on Yahoo! Voices and ehow.com. He lives in Michigan with his wife.