The captain stood before his company looking up at the banner of the Red Wolves dancing in the sun behind his troops. He recalled the pride he had felt when he was awarded a place among the elite soldiers of the People’s Army, a chance for Aecius Ulfa to show his valour. A chance to compensate his anguish.
He unconsciously raised his hand to the wolf paw badge over his heart. Taking this gesture as a signal to stand to attention his troops snapped to it. A mere twitch of his eye betrayed that the swift movement had startled him and he slowly lowered his focus to the soldier before him.
She was in her mid twenties, of similar age to her captain, with analogous aquiline features. Her solemn grey eyes didn’t express the warmth he usually saw there, the situation didn’t allow it. Aecius turned to an unusually short soldier next to her.
“Talli, where were you born?”
“Here on Terra, sir!” the soldier replied, his bright teeth flashing.
“And you,” said Aecius walking down the formation to stand before a great beast of a man, “where were you born, Horac?”
“Right here on Terra, sir!” said Horac.
“I was born on Adin’s Stone,” the captain said as he returned to his original position, “but I have come to love Terra as if she were my home planet. After the Enemy destroyed Adin’s Stone, Terra became my home planet.”
A single tear coursed down Aitha’s cheek to land on the cold ground. Her home planet also had been Adin’s Stone, where her and Aecius had grown up in the same mountain town. She could remember vividly the chaos of the planet’s final hours as word of its demise reached the communicators. Recalled how deadly beautiful was the blue wave of raw energy expelled in a final breathe from the only home she knew, while she watched from the window of an escape pod.
“I intend to defend Terra with every ounce of strength I can muster,” Aecius continued as he turned his back to hide his own sorrow, “Porso, you were born on Eygios. How will you fight today?”
A slender young girl whose tongue was as sharp as her nose called out from the rear of the company, “With every ounce of strength I can muster, sir! I’ll have five of the blighters in the first wave!”
“If it is strength that values this battle, I will have twenty five in the same!” cried Horac and enjoyed a general laughter.
Aecius walked slowly down to stand before the giant, “I wish it were so, Horac. I would ask you to lead us into battle, and we would all be sheltered behind you.”
Horac’s face turned ruddy with embarrassment and with diffidence he said, “Sir, I meant you no disrespect.”
The spectacle caused an infection of amusement.
“Not at all my red Horac, I meant only to lead by your own example,” captain Ulfa returned to the centre of his company and addressed them all, “for we are the Red Wolves and we accommodate the Pack.”
A cruel wind buffeted the banner. To look upon this last group of heroes you would not see it, but Aecius understood his company were crestfallen, understood all too well the reasons for their dismay. This was the final stand. A position inevitably reached by the Peoples Army’s arrogance during negotiations with her enemies. Arrogance soon grounded as a confederation formed against them.
If it were not for the Enemy’s hasty onslaught that resulted in the destruction of Adin’s Stone, the People’s Army would have been taken completely unaware. The distress signal was raised and the defences mustered, barely in time.
That was five years ago and the People’s Army had lost nearly every battle fought since. If not for the Red Wolves, the war would have ended in defeat years before. But now the republic’s vigour was spent, its people disheartened and astray, and the only vestige of hope dashed as the allies crumbled or defected.
Porso had produced her fife and gravely called in the tune. She began slower than usual, drawing each note out in lament till she was joined by her fellow fighters’ voiced harmony.
We under the banner of the Red Wolf stand strong and prosper.
Vitality and fortune is our native born right, together we reap it.
With honour and justice we voice our united cry to the stars.
And when toil is sated by victory; and when respite is reached,
We under the banner of the Red Wolf rest long and prosper.
None had the heart to continue and Porso ended on an unresolved note. Aecius Ulfa raised his hand once more to his heart and saluted the company. Firm but with little heart the company saluted their captain before turning on the spot and saluting the crimson banner. At an order they marched around the banner and onto the awaiting transport, all but one.
Aitha and Aecius stood facing one another in silent contemplation. Aitha was the first to speak:
“You didn’t tell us where our posting is.”
“The forlorn hope.”
“I supposed as much.”
He moved towards her and gently raised her face till grey eyes met green.
“We put ourselves in harm’s way purposely, so that others wont have to.”
He wanted to embrace her and tell her it would be all right, but he knew better. The Red Wolves had lost more than half their numbers in the last week alone as they were ordered into fiercer and increasingly more desperate battles.
She surprised him when she took his hand in hers, saying, “I know my love, and for those who have already done so.” She turned and led her husband onto the transport, and into harm’s way.
This story was submitted by Rufus Lupus for the AE Stories Event. Find Details on sending your own Story here.