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C-Beams Stories

Duty First

Lieutenant Reynolds removed his helmet and wiped his brow as he gaped in awe.

“Sublime,” he whispered as the sun glazed over his brass buttons.

He turned and looked for his deputy amongst the throng of soldiers and African tribesmen.

“Smith,” he called over the din of the natives’ settlement. “Smith, come quick. Come and see this.”

Smith appeared, his face flush as he panted. “I’ve looked everywhere, Lieutenant, but I think Fort William’s messenger is still yet to arrive.”

“Never mind that, Smith. Just look at this.” Reynolds pointed his cane towards a small thatched temple. “Have you seen anything like it?”

Smith shielded his eyes and squinted through the sunlight. “My word, it’s beautiful.”

The building was no larger than a house and built from earth and wood. Embedded into its walls were ivory carvings, each crafted with fine precision. Reynolds and Smith smiled as they noted the depictions of the tribes’ customs, their history and their religion.

Smith pulled out his notebook and pencil.

“There,” Reynolds said as he pointed to a charcoal image of figures dancing. “Sketch that first. I think it is an origins tale.”

Smith began his sketch, then paused. “You were right, Sir,” he said as he looked to Reynolds. “We really could find proof these people are more than mere savages.”

“Indeed,” Reynolds said as he nodded and tapped his cane to his chin. “With this evidence, we can show no ‘enlightenment’ is needed here. Now the Crown will have to create a new policy towards the tribes.”

Reynolds closed his eyes and breathed in the smell of earth and herbs as a bird hopped over the temple’s thatch. “These lands are a beauty, Smith. More serene than any English countryside, I’d say.”

“Yes, sir,” Smith said as he tugged his collar and resumed his sketch. “If a little too hot at times.”

“Lieutenant Reynolds,” a messenger called from the crowd behind them.

“Ah, private,” Lieutenant Reynolds said as they saluted one another. “Good to see you are alive and well. Your dally had us quite worried.”

“Apologies,” the messenger said as he brushed clean his tunic. “Turmoil struck Fort William last night when the natives launched a raid.”

“A raid, you say?” Reynolds frowned. “That is dire news.”

“Indeed, sir. And I had to wait whilst Commander Baker issued you new orders.”

The messenger clapped his heels together and handed Reynolds a telegram.

Reynolds opened the envelope and read the letter. His jaw clenched and he shook his head.

“Smith,” he said without turning. “Stop your sketching, Smith.”

“Stop?” Smith asked as he looked up.

“We’ve received new orders. The tribes have raided Fort William and we are instructed to raze this settlement.”

“Raze?” Smith lowered his hands. “What about the temple here?”

“Duty first, Smith,” Reynolds said with a sigh. “Burn it.”


(Originally posted on the Total War Center forums)

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