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Leaving The Mesa
by Phil Bencomo
"We ride East!"
The commander watched from outside his private dwelling as his men scurried about in response to his cry, packing equipment and rations for the long journey ahead. The army had set up camp deep in the desert atop a table-like mesa. Its sheer sides and a single, long, winding path to the top prevented any, unwanted disturbances.
We will do well this year, he thought to himself. His hair graying and with skin tanned from the sun, the commander had been training his General's best men for months, all in preparation for what was about to come. Smirking, he thought of the more than 50 soldiers who had first come here with him; half of their tents were gone, and only 25 men remained. Some hadn't been able to handle his rigorous regimen and were sent home, while others had succumbed to injury, and a few even met death. War is not for the weak.
Lord Victor turned his steed to face his second-in-command, Rammell al'Ant, as he approached with, most likely, an update from the camp. Rammell was a hard man, straightforward and unabashed, but did his job well. Like Victor, Rammell had been through more battles than could possibly be counted, and for that, he had earned the respect of his men and of his superiors.
"The men will be ready within the hour," Rammell announced as he reined in his horse next to Victor's.
"Thank you," Victor replied in his slow, deliberate drawl. "Now tell me, how do they look?"
"Well, they're certainly excited to be going. You do seem to have that effect on men. Their technique and teamwork is a bit sloppy at times"
"No, Rammell, tell me what you feel. When you look each man in the eye, what do you see? Does he wilt under your gaze, or does he stand firm? Does he yearn for greatness, or is he resigned to mediocrity?"
"There are a few, my Lord, with the fire in their eyes. One man, he is called al'Tor, stands no taller than I, but carries himself like a giant. And then there is the big one, a man with no name only a letter."
"Yes, this Z. I've been watching him for some time now. What do you see in his eyes?"
"A passion unlike anything I've ever seen. As if all the flames of the world are lying in his belly, driving him like a madman. I would not like to match steel with that one on the field, and I can only hope that I never will."
"Indeed, the General would be wise not to lose his talents. ... Are there no others?"
"One or two. But there is more to a soldier than passion. That can only take him so far."
"Truer words have never been spoken. But what of the General's prized recruit? What do you think of him?"
"He will do well, but he still struggles to adapt to his role. And I see not the same fire within. I fear he will fade after a few years of hard fighting."
"An apt assessment, Rammell. Thank you."
"If that is all, my Lord, then I must oversee the final preparations."
"Yes, of course, Rammell."
"Thank you, Lord. May your blade never break."
"And your shield never shatter," Victor replied according to the ancient custom.
As Rammell rode back to the camp, Victor thought to himself, If only everyone had such a fire in his belly. The journey to the Great Lake would be simple enough, but the war to come, for which Victor had trained his men, would demand the skills and talents of them all.