Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Charge of the Trooper

Into the valley of death, rode the six hundred...

Arthur's horse was restless - he could feel it shiver under him, the glistening sheen of its pale skin much less prominent than usual. He tried to reassure it, but to no avail - the horse could sense his own fears just as easily.
"This is a suicide mission, Lance," he grumbled to the cavalryman riding to his left, "and ol' Marion here doesn't like it. I'm inclined to agree myself."
"What do you expect, Arthur? This is war," came the reply, "death is the default conclusion for us soldiers."
"I can live with death if I have a fair chance of avoiding it," said Arthur, his sabre bobbing at his side in rhythm with the horse's steps, "but this feels meaningless. We are taking mere knifes into a gunfight, and for what purpose? I fear our commanders have made a grave mistake in sending us down this valley."
"We are only pawns in their game of chess, Arthur," replied Lance, "we do not make reply, and we do not reason why - we only do as told, and probably die. You're worried about your wife and kin back home, aren't you?"
"As would you, if you had loved ones to return to," snapped Arthur.
Lance pulled out his musket to inspect the bayonet on the end. As he did so, Arthur saw his hands shake ever so slightly.
"I apologise, Lance. I know you left a difficult life behind you, one you probably don't wish to return to. I just... I don't want to die a tool, a mere distraction - if my family will never see me again, I at least want them to remember me as a hero."
Lance looked up.
"They may take our lives, but we'll take theirs too! They will fire their muskets, but we will run them through! We are already heroes, Arthur, for only the bravest of men would dare go where we ride now!"
Lance had a gleam in his eye as he spoke; Arthur wished he could share his friend's enthusiasm for meeting their maker.

The bugle sounds as the charge begins
But on this battlefield no one wins...

"The bugle! Our destinies, whatever they may be, await us, Lance!"
The hoofs of the six hundred thundered below them as they rode ferociously into the valley before them. The Russian gunners that lined the walls of the valley had seen the charge - their volleys rang out, loud to the men who fired them but mere buzzing to the cavalry below.

The smell of acrid smoke and horses breath
As you plunge into a certain death...

With every artillery shell that whizzed past, Arthur could sense the rising terror in his steed. In stark contrast, Lance's eyes were lit up with a fire that death would only make brighter.

The horse he sweats with fear we break to run
The mighty roar of the Russian guns...

Arthur thought he saw the blur of a Captain's uniform on the ground as he rode past. Since their unit was led by a Lieutenant General, that meant someone of a higher level had rode out in front before - perhaps to try and turn them away from the chaos ahead? The casualties had already begun to rise; yells of anguish filled the air around him. He would have mourned them if he could - six hundred though they may be, they were all brothers to him.

And as we race towards the human wall
The screams of pain as my comrades fall...

Lance winced as the whining of the shells hit his eardrums. He was surprised to have made it this far already without a scratch; his horse had jumped more dead bodies than he could count in the last half a minute alone. He was almost blind with the rush of adrenalin - the only thing keeping him riding in the right direction was the rest of the cavalrymen.

We hurdle bodies that lay on the ground
And as the Russians fire another round...

Arthur's sabre would have caught the light from the sun if the smoke from all the guns didn't cloud it. He swung at the scattered Russian riflemen around him with intense deliberation, their screams cut short as their heads were viciously parted from their bodies.
They must have reached the halfway point by now - the Cossack artillery formation that was their target lay not too far ahead. Death hadn't made his appearance yet - perhaps he was awaiting them at the end of the charge?

We get so near yet so far away
We won't live to fight another day...

Lance felt warm blood on his face - he didn't care whether it was British or Russian. Their goal was near, he could feel it. Half deaf from the raucous rumblings of rage that revolved around him, he turned around to check on Arthur:

We get so close near enough to fight
When a Russian gets me in his sights
He pulls the trigger and I feel the blow
A burst of rounds takes my horse below...

As Arthur fell, he saw Lance's face twisted in agony, a gruesome portrait frozen in time, clearly bemoaning a fate he wanted for himself. As the horses rode away, the ground received Arthur's limp body with a soft thud. He tried to reach for the wound in his body, but he was slowly losing control over his arms.

And as I lay there gazing at the sky
My body's numb and my throat is dry...

The last of the horses rode past - his body had been trampled so badly that it was a wonder he was still alive. The stench of death and decay began to overpower the smell of gunpowder. Madness echoed in the distance ahead.
Before the darkness embraced him, he saw a vision of his home back in England. His wife, Elizabeth, her charming face so welcoming; his daughter, always so intensely quiet. He thought he heard the twittering of birds in the smoky skies above.
He smiled, ever so briefly, as Death came for him.

And as I lay forgotten and alone
Without a tear I draw my parting groan...

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