The young soldier stands before the older man’s tent. His face is flecked with dirt, his clothes stained, ragged. His figure is that of a boy, but his eyes are weary beyond their years. Though fatigued, on the point on collapse, he manages to snap off a salute worthy of the parade ground to his commanding officer.
The older man smiles to him brightly.
“General, I return from Fort Niagara. Our regiment was … decimated. The enemy’s numbers are far greater than you anticipated.”
“I rode night and day to bring you this news. An army is being amassed against us. They can be no more than a few hours march from this position.”
The older man sits in thought, the freshly polished buttons on his tunic glinting in the morning sun.
“Well,” he says after some time, “do you think we should try that diplomacy thing?”
“You know, I could offer them, what was it? … Oh yes, access to our military?”
“I’m not sure that would be wise, sir.”
“Right, right, of course not. A state gift, then?”
“It may be a little late for–“
But even as the young soldier speaks, a cry is heard across camp. A scout runs to the older man’s side, salutes.
“Enemy forces have been spotted in the woodlands to our East, sir. And cavalry are advancing upon our Western flank. What are your orders?”
The older man scratches his beard. “Right, okay. I’ve got this. Lieutenant, take these men. No, sorry, I meant the men with the muskets. Where are the men with the muskets? Ah, yes, here they are. So take them, and — are you listening carefully? — turn them sideways. No, not that sideways. The other sideways. Starboard. Oh, that’s ships, isn’t it? Ere the rising of the sun. As the crow flies. Yes, that’s it.
“Now, take these guys — who are these guys? Doesn’t matter. Take them and stand them next to the musket men. Sort of next to, but also sort of in the middle of. Perfect.
“Right, now let’s get our cavalry and place them behind this building and forget about them for the rest of the battle. And tell those men … I don’t know what to tell those men. Tell them to hold steady. And to about-face. And present arms. And present legs.
“You know, actually, scrap all that. Get everyone here. Yeah, everyone. Gather round, chaps. Okay, new plan. I want you all to go kill that man in the red hat. His hat is stupid. And I want it. Kill that man and bring me his hat. And when you’re done, pick another man, and kill him. Rinse, repeat. Bish, bash, bosh. Battle will be over in no time. Then back home to raise and lower taxes randomly, build half a fishery and declare war on ourselves. Go Team … Who are we again? Whatever. Go us!”
As the troops begin moving out, the young soldier looks back at his commanding officer.
“Well, general, I suppose this is goodbye.”
The older man looks down at the boy. “You know, I have no idea why you all keep calling me that. I run a cake shop in Aberystwyth.”
“Still, sir,” says the young soldier. “You command, and we obey.”
“How odd. Anyway, looks like you’d better be off. Don’t want you to get left behind. See you later, maybe.”
“Yes, sir. Maybe.”
And the young soldier marches away. The older man sits by his tent, wondering vaguely when they’ll let him play with some ships, but mostly just dreaming of cake.