It didn’t take long for me to get back to work in my role as a general. The next morning, at the order of the Leaders, we were to prepare for an attack on an enemy camp nearby. Along with those orders, it was confirmed that I would be the person leading the assault. I had gotten my regiment back, and I was satisfied.
This particular enemy camp was near the mouth of the river our Main Village was on. Water, being the vital resource it is, would help gain us some significant advantages were we able to achieve victory and take the area — as well as a larger portion of the river — for ourselves.
During our preparation, we discussed what our best plan of action was. We considered a night attack, but I felt that was what the enemy most suspected when first setting up their camp in that area and that they would be more than adequately guarded in the evening. The possibility of a direct land attack with a second assault coming from the river shortly after was also discussed, but we determined that that strategy would be more time consuming than what we wanted.
After much deliberation, I concluded that we should plan our attack to be at dawn, immediately as the sun began to rise. They would still be guarded heavily, but I was convinced that let ups occur within guarding men’s tensity as night turns to day. But that wasn’t all of the plan. Since this would be a time of day that would naturally catch our opponent off guard, I proposed that we perform the attack in waves. We would hideout at a halfway point between our village and their camp and send in one third of our regiment for the first wave. And after causing significant damage to them with our smaller but well prepared and swifter army, we would have a runner come back to our remaining men once it seemed like the enemy was getting over their initial shock. The remaining two thirds of the regiment would then come in as the first wave returned to our temporary camp for rest. Depending on how the second wave was going would determine whether the first wave would be sent back in or not. That third wave, if needed, would be our regiment in full force.
There would be one person who would be in all of the waves: me. This part of the plan received some pushback from the others who were a part of the strategy session, mainly Theodon; it certainly wasn’t necessary for me to have to exert that much energy in this kind of attack and this was his reason for his hesitancy. I could name a second commander to lead the second wave, he told me. He also went as far as suggesting that my insistence in being a part of both waves was me trying to prove to my men my new loyalty, especially in my return to leading them. He wasn’t entirely wrong, but nor was he going to win the argument. I had engaged in many large battles throughout my life, I told them all, and this would be no different. I was eager to fight and to lead. And I wanted to lead every man in this battle, not just the men in my own wave. It wasn’t a direct answer to the concerns they proposed, but it was an answer they weren’t going to argue with. Not even Theodon.
As we set out in the early hours of the morning, I decided not to say anything to the men until we reached out halfway point, meaning the first bit of our trek was us riding in complete silence. The silence was something I wanted the men to experience, which is why I chose to provide them with no words at the beginning of our trip. Our endeavor was great and it was important; we needed the men to be fully in tune with the task they were dealt with performing.
There are times in war when something needs to be said at the very beginning, before any movement is to take place, but this was not such a time. The men needed the kind of focus that sometimes only silence will bring you. They needed to hear and feel the sound of their own beating heart. And they needed to think upon why their heart was beating so loudly in the first place: this feeling of the heart trying to push its way out of your chest and onto the ground below is more raw and is able to more strongly grab a person’s attention than any great pre-battle speech ever could. That’s what the men needed at that moment. And it’s also what I needed because, despite my satisfaction in returning to my former position, my heart, at the moment we set out, was doing its own hard and slow beat.
When we arrived at the halfway point, a place that had been discovered by some of our scouts a couple days before, we used the short time we had to go over our strategy once more and get down the logistics of our plan of action in order to prevent any potential bouts of confusion among the men. The men were receptive to what we were telling them and seemed to understand the plan we had visualized in our minds, which did more to reinforce my belief that no great motivational speech was needed. We had work to do, and the understanding and clarity that persisted through the ranks of what that work was appeared to be enough.
After the brief talk I, along with Legion One, which is what we decided we would call the two waves, set out for our initial assault. As we rode toward the enemy, time seemed to slow down a bit, as it often does during important moments. So I used the opportunity to distract myself from thoughts of potential death by instead observing my surroundings.
Nature, first. It was serene. The morning was quiet, yet there were still subtle sounds to be heard. But these were sounds of creation that only added to the quietness, not at all distracting from it. The sun was going to start rising at any moment, but the nearby valleys and canyons, which we could see clear outlines of, still did not have enough light to reveal what was at the bottom of them. This sort of uncertain endlessness is something that can be frightening, obviously, but there’s also something reassuring about it, as if it’s more comforting not knowing than knowing; knowing the end or the bottom of something can be more frightening than the comfort obliviousness sometimes brings. And even further explored, sometimes there are times when it seems there is no end or bottom, just complete emptiness, which is the greatest fear of all.
My mind then turned to the men. To the complexities of all of us as human beings and how we are all so unique in our own ways, yet still, in this case, riding in unison towards something we believed in, or were at least fairly sure we all believed in. They were calm, most of them, on the outside, but I had no doubts that every single one of them had a battle raging within them; their own version of the pre-battle battle. Some quietly conversed amongst each other. Some looked around as I was doing. Some simply stared ahead. And this is how our legion existed on this short journey until all of the observing, conversing, and staring ahead was forced to come to a complete and abrupt end, for there was a definite end to the journey.
One moment, a clean and spotless looking tent was in my sight and the very next, it was being set on fire. One moment, no noise was being made from the enemy camp as we quickly and quietly charged upon it, then the next, loud cries began to rise up, first one at a time and then in rapid succession as the watchmen and guards spotted us. These cries multiplied as we reached the camp and began setting whatever stood in our way on fire. Most of the cries were panicked ones, for the enemy did not initially know what was happening as they were suddenly awakened from their deep, peaceful slumber. But there were some, the most well-trained and experienced, who immediately knew why their dreams had been interrupted. They grabbed their weapons and began to fight back. They also ordered others to inform their superiors to ready the men to gather themselves while they fought to hold ground until the remainder of the defense was fully ready to fight back, thus insuring one great injustice of being someone who is more prepared and experienced in battle: the situation we forced upon our enemy caused these best warriors to die first, because by being the best, they were also the ones ready to defend.
Even so, for the first moments of our assault, despite our overwhelming advantage in surprise and numbers, we were still faced with difficult opposition as the men on the other side fought bravely, even in knowing that they were most likely going to die as they waited for reinforcements. They fought valiantly. We were still able to do enough damage, though, that by the time the enemy was able to fully regroup, we were nearing the middle of their camp. Our strength in surprise and in, for the time, numbers was enough to overpower the best that was being thrown at us. And all of this success was able gained by mostly our own lesser experienced fighters as the more experienced ones were sitting and waiting patiently for that call to begin wave two of our attack.
Strong starts and even stronger finishes are so vitally important in battles. But I had come to believe that the most important time of a battle was the middle time — the time when the momentum from the initial rush is no longer present, but also when the end seems to be nowhere in sight. The time when the fighting seems to be happening in the middle of nowhere and when you can’t seem to remember why you’re fighting but you keep doing it because everyone else around you is doing the same. The beginning and ending have a cause and goal in sight. That time in between has aimlessness, fatiguing repetition, uncertainty, and physical and mental exhaustion. It is during this time that one is most tempted to give up and quit. It’s during this time that one constantly tells himself over and over that, if he makes it out alive, this is the last battle he’ll ever fight. And this is also the time when the strongest and greatest warriors separate themselves from the rest of their comrades. It is during this time that these men rise to the occasion and fight harder and quicker when most everyone else around them doesn’t want to fight anymore.
This is why I saved most of my best men for the second wave. Although their assault would theoretically be an initial rush for them, these men knew at what time during the battle they were fighting: the middle. All of the enemy would be engaging in their middle time, and war displays no patience when it comes to adhering to the physical desires of the men engaging in it. Battle has its own rules and despite man’s great attempts at imposing their will on those rules and even sometimes gaining some ground in those attempts, we still ultimately adhere to the natural rules of warfare.
Considering this, however, the middle time can still have a vast variation of lengths of time depending on how strong an army is and how well they are doing in their attempt to impose their will in those rules of battle. This particular middle time for us and our subsequent second assault would not take very long.
I arrived at our halfway camp and found Legion Two ready to go at the moment the call was to be made. They had been in their at-ready positions for quite some time. To them, this was not an inconvenience. It was necessary. They wanted to win this battle just as badly as those of us who had more say in the planning and the tactics of the battle. The Cause, selfish but understandable reasons of wanting to stay alive, and the glory of victory all played their parts. So if winning meant standing there having to wait patiently for hours until being called upon in order to achieve that victory, then so be it. I only had to shout one word as I got within hearing distance of the men:
The first wave had gone as well as it could have, and I was determined for the second wave to be the last assault we needed, meaning no return from Legion One would be needed. I was not let down by my men in that determination. When we arrived at the battle scene, the considerable damage we had already inflicted upon the enemy was both immensely noticeable in terms of physical damage to their camp as well could be seen on the faces of the enemy. We had broken them down completely, and when they saw that we were coming at them with an entire battalion of new and fresh warriors, the look of defeat only worsened. They were done. They knew it, and we knew it. But we still did not let up in finishing out the fight. We decimated them.
Legion One was almost surprised at our arrival. They seemed to want to keep fighting because of the way they were having with the enemy and how close they were to victory. For a short time, I contemplated allowing those who wanted to stay to stay, but I decided against it so as to stick with the original plan. As those men left, Legion Two pushed through the camp with a force the enemy had no chance to stand against. We again set fire to everything in our path. We showed no mercy to the wearisome enemy; mercy would have been a sign of letting up and letting up would have given them a glimmer of hope. We killed a lot of men but never actually stopped to look at the men we were killing. We didn’t just see their exhaustion, we also felt and we sensed it, and we extinguished it for them by putting them out of their misery. We were fast yet efficient. We did not leave one area for another one until we were completely sure that it had been rid of all enemy life. We suffered only a few casualties of our own, but even then, we didn’t stop to say final goodbyes. Our mission was to finish the job as quickly and entirely as we could.
At about two thirds of the way through their camp we finally stopped. Not because we were tired or because the enemy had been completely defeated. Rather, the enemy had completely stopped fighting. They had dropped their weapons to the ground and they began to raise their hands above their heads. They were done in the most complete sense. They were no longer going to fight back, and they were placing themselves at our mercy.
From their viewpoint, the best we could do for them was to let them run. But I’m sure the majority of them did not believe that that was what was going to happen. Their second hope was that we would take them as prisoners. Other than these two options, there was only one other outcome and they likely did not want to think about that one. My men also knew what the options were and they knew it was completely up to me which one would be chosen. They all looked at me for my answer. In return, I peered back at the enemy and into their pitiful looking eyes. I was disgusted by what they were doing. Giving up was an abomination to me.
“Will you not fight back?” I asked, or rather demanded of them.
An enemy warrior shook his head in fear. Pitiful, pathetic fear.
“Men,” I turned back to address my own army, “we came here with one mission in mind. And it wasn’t our own mission, it is the God of the Cause’s mission. We are only asked to complete it. When the Son of God was dying on the cross, spilling His blood for you and I, did He halfway die or did he die completely?”
I didn’t wait for an answer.
“He died fully and completely, and thus, we owe it to Him and to the Cause to fully complete our goal here.”
So we slaughtered them. Every last one of them.
After we finished, we pillaged what we could and then burned the remainder of the camp and the dead to dust. We then quietly rode back to our camp, having finished our job.
The ride back was solemn and slow. We had achieved what we set out to do and our sense of accomplishment and pride in completing our goal was there but, even considering the magnitude of the battle going in, there was still no immense feeling of hurrah. No over-jubilance or dancing in victory. Not to say that this was unusual, though; there’s rarely ever this sort of celebration in war — our war at least — and even in the most victorious of moments. Of course we were satisfied with our result, but even more than that we were relieved by it. We lived to fight another day. The Cause gained some ground for the time we were living in it, but in the grand scheme of the Cause this was only a small step in the right direction — the direction towards ultimate victory.
The battles we fought had a way of making us feel as if they were the greatest and most consequential moment in our Cause as we were going into them, only to have those feelings begin to fade away during the actual battle as we tried to survive and advance, and then finally, a feeling that was somewhat anticlimactic by the end. And so our minds had become used to going through a phase of feeling immense pressure over what was to us the most important battle of our life, to feeling like we had to just keep fighting to survive, to just plain relief and sometimes even purposelessness. This cycle was on repeat for a warrior’s life during the time of the Cause.
When we arrived back at our halfway camp, I did just as I had been doing previously. I dropped to my knees and thanked and gave glory to the God of our Cause. Doing this also helped provide me with the feeling of purpose that had been missing. This time around, the men gathered around me and joined in with me in what I was doing. Word had continued to get around and these men were also seeking out that sense of purpose they had begun to miss after fighting for so long. I didn’t say anything directly to them as they gathered around, nor did I instruct them on any proper form; there was no proper form. We did it how we felt we had to do it, and for as long as we felt we needed to.
There was a sense of togetherness as we thanked our God. We didn’t know exactly what each one of us was feeling, but we did know that we were in unity with one another. We knew that we were trying our best to be sincere and we hoped and prayed that our God saw that too. Because if he did, we were confident He would help lead us to more victories. Sure, that familiar feeling of insignificance had initially come over us after this battle, but this new way of responding made us feel better. We had been for so long unconsciously seeking out a response to the feeling and it seemed we had found it, or at least a portion of it. But still it was not about us, I reminded myself. Begging for the leading of our God was not for us and for our Cause; it was for Him and His Cause. This was our purpose.