A Conversation over Rice and Rat

It’s amazing how much war can change a person. When this all started, he’d been tremendously unsure of himself. Even just the sight of blood had made him squeamish! Now he was up to his elbows in the stuff. Of course, Jackson still seemed miraculously the same… but he knew that’s how Jackson wanted it. If you don’t talk much, it’s pretty easy to seem no different. Olivia had become even more a pillar of strength. She seemed strong even when the bards weren’t singing their encouragements nearby – it amazed him. The soldiers around them either seemed tougher and hardened, or looked like a bridge that was about to give under the weight at its center. It didn’t take him long to realize something needed done about this.

He felt foolish after approaching Jackson about it – his response was that war did a good job of sorting the strong from the weak. Essentially, he didn’t care and just saw it as the natural course of things. Olivia humored him, at least. “What would you do for them, then?” she asked.

“I don’t know.. but we have to do something,” he responded, knowing that sending them back to the battle would be sending them to their death; or they’d desert, which was only delaying their death until they were caught and executed for treason.

Olivia sighed, staring at him pensively. He could almost see the gears working behind her tired eyes. She needed sleep, but she’d probably bite his hand if he told her such.

She posed another question, “Have you tried talking to them? Asking why they’re in such a state?”

“Of course! They’re terrified! Not everyone is suited to staring down a sword.”

She looked agitated. That’s not the response she was looking for, “Of course they’re scared. We’re all scared, whether we admit to it or not.” She shot a cautious glance toward Jackson, who was a fair way off but no one was truly sure how far those long ears could pick up sound. Seeing that Jackson seemed oblivious to her previous comment, she continued, “But some can be brave if they have something to fight for. These men aren’t here because they want to be – we volunteered, they’re here on orders. Whatever cause the King is fighting for, most of them could care less. Some take comfort that their death will feed their family for a long time to come, others want glory. Pipkin over there,” she nodded to a boy with reddish brown curly locks sitting by the fire, “he’s got nothing to go back to. If he dies on the field, he takes comfort that it won’t be a slow death in the grip of hunger.”

Olivia shoveled a spoonful of brothy rice and rat into her mouth, eyeing him as she let the information sink in.

“So I just need to give them something to make their sacrifice worth it? Why can’t we just find someone to give them more training? Better training! They need confidence, not consolation,” he argued.

“Tr’ning takesth time, moneh, und fud,” she explained around her mouthful of food. Ladylike was certainly not a quality Olivia prioritized. She continued after swallowing, “Those are three things we’re fresh out of. Give them something to live for. If you can’t do that, give them something to die for. Find out why they’re so afraid of death, then give them something to believe in that’s greater than their fear.”

He pondered this for a while. Olivia took the opportunity to scrape was was left in the bowl into her mouth, then stood to excuse herself – she still had to report to the captain before the sun set. He nodded, and thanked her for the advice. She smiled and they clasped forearms. As they did, he placed a hand on her shoulder. “Take care of yourself,” he said.

She gave him a chiding look, “You know you’re supposed to save that magic for people who are actually wounded…”

“What?” He drew his arms back into a stretch. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You know, you look tired.. should really get some sleep. Take that as an order, Sergeant – a doctor’s order! Now, get going – I have injured people to tend to!” He made shewing motions with his hands.

She turned to go, leaving those chiding eyes on him a few extra moments to drive home her point. He turned his body back to the sick tent and his mind back to finding something that could combat the fear of a painful death.

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