Banks of the Drumon River, Nothern Regena672Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡUHWCttaVea
The Second Empirical War
The smoky, chemical smell was intoxicating. He felt it going to his head. After seeing the last of his crew out of the tank, Sidney Roux tumbled into the clear, winter air. His clammy skin stung with the chill, the cold cleansing the burn in his bloodshot eyes. He cut behind the machine and vomited into the snow.
It wasn’t their mechanic’s fault. The tanks were known for being ovens of noxious fumes. They purposefully didn’t eat too much before going into combat because they would just throw it all up anyway. Their mechanic was the best Sid had seen since becoming Lieutenant of his own tank crew. It was too bad he had caught that ricochet while manning the front gun. Right between the eyes like the target of a sharpshooter. Sid stumbled towards the ruin of a brick farm house where HQ had been established, thinking about what he was going to say in the condolence letter to the man’s family.
“Lieutenant Roux from the crew of the Pax reporting, sir,” he clipped to attention as he entered the open air room, buttoning his uniform coat.
His superior, Colonel Burgeon, glanced up from the mess of maps splayed on the splintered table before him. His eyes glazed over with disinterest as he smoothed his fingers over his thick, handlebar mustache, “Very well. Good show, Lieutenant. Any causalities?”
“One, my mechanic,” Sid stared ahead, barely noticing the fleeting form of the Colonel’s orderly at the crumbling entrance, “How many others returned?”
“What? Oh you mean tanks,” The colonel beckoned his orderly over and took the tea cup she offered him, “You’re the first so we’ll see. You’re dismissed.”
Sid saluted, his jaw tightening. Posture rigid and fists clenched, he trudged down the beaten snow path towards his tank. Laying a hand on the metal still warm from exertion, he deeply inhaled the biting air. Shaking his head with a weary chuckle, he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned his back against the Pax.
Sid glanced up to see the Colonel’s orderly, her figure stark against the violet twilight. She held a tea cup and saucer in her gloved hands. He blinked, recalling that he had spoken to her on one previous occasion. Her dark brown hair was pulled into a tight braid beneath her helmet, heavy eyebrows furrowed in concern as she held out the tea cup to him.
“Thank you,” he murmured, accepting her offering.
“I am sorry,” she blurted, her cognac brown eyes dancing away from his face and over the tank, “To hear about the man on your crew.”
“Be sorry for his family. His troubles are over now. Theirs have only begun,” Sid grumbled, taking a sip of the scalding tea, “And our dear Colonel seems as bothered by this failed campaign as though he walked into a cloud of gnats.”
The young woman hugged herself, biting her lower lip and casting her eyes to the ground. Sid tried to remember her name but couldn’t. He cocked his head to the side with a sigh, “I’ll tell you this, if we lose our country to the Berchtens, it will be because of northern donkeys like the Colonel leading us into fruitless offensives.”
“Northern donkey?” She smirked up at him.
Sid studied her for a moment, a grin touching his mouth, “Don’t tell me you’re one of them too?”
“Born and bred,” she sniffed, “but not of the gentry. My father was only a factory worker.”
He cast his piercing, grey eyes to his boots, “Only a factory worker? Mine is a southern nobleman. Believe me, pedigree doesn’t make the man. Character does.”
“Character like yours?”
Her statement caught him off guard. A creeping shade of rose spread up from her neck and over her cheeks as she shifted on the creaking snow bank.
“How is it you know my character, Miss…”
“Corporal Violet Barteau,” she lifted her chin and met his eyes directly, “I know because I have seen it time and again. Being the Colonel’s orderly, I’m privy to much of his dealings with your tank. And I guess, I have watched you-“
“You’ve been watching me?” He smirked, setting the tea cup on the tank behind him.
Violet Barteau wet her lips and looked away, “You are often at HQ, I couldn’t help notice you.”
“Why is that?” He scoffed.
“You’re a good man, that’s why,” she took a step forward, “You care about those under your command, you take responsibility for failures and you strive for perfection despite them. You remind me of my father actually.” She bridged the distance between them to tuck the damp corner of his scarf into his coat collar. Sid’s eyes never left her face. Violet glanced up with a hesitant smile, “You’re worth noticing, Sidney Roux.”
As he grasped her hand in his, her eyes widened. Bringing her knuckles to his mouth, he kissed her hand as though she were a lady of noble stock, “Thank you, Corporal.”
The blush returning to her cheeks, she nodded briskly and retreated from his touch, “You are welcome, Lieutenant. Good luck on tomorrow’s offensive.”
She skirted back towards HQ before he could respond. Sid sighed, dragging his fingers through his damp mop of dark hair. For a moment, he considered going after her. He couldn’t imagine how he had overlooked her so many times before. War had a way of distracting from life.
Violet Barteau could be the girl he’d take home to Belnon after all was said and done. He’d introduce her to his family, to his fair haired sister Georgiana and his little brother Edgar. Even his father, when the man was sober of course. Then he’d marry her in the village chapel, their picture framed and displayed next to his parents’ wedding portrait. They’d have children that looked like her except for maybe one with the grey eyes his family notoriously possessed. They’d grow old, the crinkles around her honeyed eyes growing rich with time. Then one of them would die first, the other at their bedside as they slipped from the world. That was the way it should always have been, but too often wasn’t in those days.
Sid took out a cigarette and pivoted in the opposite direction from HQ. He had a letter to write for his dead mechanic. And no right to pursue Violet in hopes of such a life. In his heart, Sid knew he wouldn’t survive the war. It was best to leave behind as little destruction as possible.