The Colonel sighed. With wet eyes he watched the birds flit on high until those gathered—those earth-bound citizens come to commemorate Victory Day—were sure the full-bird before them had forgotten his place. Finally, the old man cleared his throat and spoke.
“If I must make war, let it be noble. But more than that fine and much hoped for state, let it first and foremost be waged fierce and unrelenting. Let my enemies fall in death or trembling.”
A wave of approval surged through the audience, murmurs and nods.
“I will not meet the exchange of life for life with any weaker measure.”
A man in the crowd supported that with a, “hear, hear!”
The Colonel gave no sign he heard.
“Make our battle howls the food that feeds our foes’ fear. Let my army’s swarm be the comforting blanket that quiets his pounding breast and unfurls his knotted hand…letting weapons slip away.”
To this there was outright applause. The Colonel did not wait for it to diminish before he went on.
“But more than all that…” he said, and then all but repeated himself to silence them, gathering the strength of his voice that had in times past been called upon to inspire men to terrible things. “More than any of that, that desire for victory. If victory should indeed be our grace. More than any of that, when my enemy is spent and drawn too weak of life and limb…and when he is finally weary of war…let me be his brother again. Let us gather together. Let us be broken parts made whole.”
There was a quiet save for the wind and a distant tolling bell and the pained mewling of a colicky babe in the crowd. The Colonel returned to his seat.
It was an uncomfortable smattering of applause that followed.
Off in the crowd, a man—a chicken hawk who’d never worn a uniform—turned to another smirking dissenter and groused, “It’s no wonder he was put out to pasture. Brothers? Phsst. Ol’ coot acts like we’re the ones what lost the war.”