by Luke McGinty
Artwork by Autumn Griego
Major Ansel Brant felt the air rumble as his gun cracked with power. Sparks flew, and his men filled the air with pounds of lead and a thick, white smoke. A moment passed. A stiff breeze cleared the valley air, revealing the littered field of bodies slumped more than a hundred paces ahead of him. The dead men were dressed in a mess of robes while their faces remained hidden behind raised hoods and wild beards. Swords and bows slid from their dark-skinned hands. The weapons fell to rest on the warm white sand that made up the base of the valley.
Brant turned as Capitaine Montreau lowered his musket and stepped forward. The Frenchman eyed his commanding officer with a wide toothy smile. The man’s thick mustache bristled when he spoke, and his tongue stumbled with a thick aristocratic accent that Brant could only assume was carefully curated.
“The Arabican bastards,” the Frenchman said after a moment, “sometimes I think they really believe they have a chance.”
Brant nodded as he eyed the high walls of their little valley and the almost-too-blue sky that floated up above. His mind drifted for a moment, and he could almost taste the stiff brew of Darjeeling black tea his chamber boy would prepare for him upon their return to camp. With that thought the Major smiled too, revealing a knotted yellow grin that reeked of a secluded, pampered life on “the island”.
“They’re Syrians actually Montreau, not Arabs. Though I suppose it really is all the same.” Brant spoke in his own clipped, carefully scrutinized upper-class dialect. “Besides,” he continued, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re the first musket company they’d ever seen.“ He paused, “The last too I suppose.” The man chuckled.
Montreau joined his superior in a throaty bout of laughter.
With that the Major let his gaze drift, scanning the small crowd of military men that were massed around him. His eyes fell on the thin frame of a young boy.
“Raul!” the Major shouted. A young boy turned on his heels and darted towards the commander. Brant passed the child his musket. “Thank you Raul,” he said to the Spanish munitions boy. “Now why don’t you grab your commanding officer something a bit stiffer to drink? Water is for women after all.” Brant winked as the boy scurried away.
There was a moment of silence before Capitaine Montreau spoke. This time there was nothing of the aristocratic cocksure-timbre that Brant had come to expect.
“Major Brant,” he said, his voice low as he stared at the rim of the valley and pointed, “what is that?”
Brant turned to look, his eyes bulging wide with shock when they registered exactly what it was they were seeing.
There at the top of the valley, surrounding them, stood a shadowy line of hundreds, and hundreds of men. Syrians, Arabs, “Arabicans”, it made little difference. Brant scrambled to ready his musketmen for a fight, but before they could even load their guns there were thousands of arrows in the air, and before the men were in formation, those arrows were raining back down to the Earth.
One lodged in Montreau’s throat, bringing the Frenchman quickly to his knees. Another caught the Spanish munitions boy in the leg. There was a silent second before another arrow ripped into Raul’s shoulder. Brant’s whiskey tumbled from the boy’s hands, staining the powdery desert sand a momentary shade of sappy brown. The Major could only look for a moment though as the rain of arrows brought his men to their knees. For after an instant, an arrow of his own caught Brant in the arm, and soon another pierced his leg. He stumbled, slumping before a third buried itself deep in his back and cut to the core of something in his center that felt to be of vital importance. His body thumped to the ground, his face buried in the dark shade of the white sand as thick blood oozed from his body. His mind was buzzing in the darkness, Ansel Brant still painfully alive as his thoughts drifted from the head of that last arrow buried deep and final in his back, to steaming cups of empire’s tea, foggy walks on lonely mornings, flowery skirts on happy ones, smiling sons that he would never know, and last to fates of musketmen as yet unborn whose foreign boots had yet to tread these virgin white, and crimson bleeding sands.