Covetous Command

    The guard that stood to the left of the small wooden door peered at me suspiciously through the slits in his helm. I returned the gaze with equal intensity. His eyes moved on to dart up and down the nearly empty hallway, and I smirked at the nervousness he betrayed. I couldn’t blame him though. He was behind his enemy’s lines and surrounded, even if it was during peace talks. I respected him for accepting the intimidating assignment, just like his counterpart, my companion, who stood on the other side of the annex we guarded, on the enemy’s side of the wall.

    “How…have…the war?” came the guard’s muffled voice.

    “What was that?” I asked.

    He lifted his helmet off his head and held it at his side. “How long have you been in the war?”

    “Four years,” I said, wondering why my uniform didn’t include a full helmet like that. I scratched under the thick leather hood connected to my scaled jacket. “What about you?”

    “Seven.” He adopted a vacant stare. I’d seen that look on older soldiers as they were cast back into previous battles.

    “Too long either way, I say,” I offered.

    The guard shook himself out of the memory. “Agreed. Let’s hope these talks go well.”

    They had tried talks in the past, but nothing was ever resolved. Nobody really understood why, but the chiefs always convinced us that it was unavoidable.

    “What’s your name?” I asked.

    “Sergeant Taylor. Um…Neil.”

    “I’m Brady.” I stuck out my hand and we shook. “Thanks for talking. A couple hours of silence will wear down anyone’s nerves.”

    “I mean, either way the talks go, talking will be a good idea,” Neil said.

    My brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

    Neil shrugged. “If it goes well, we’ll have already made a new acquaintance. If it goes badly, maybe we will understand the enemy a bit more.”

    I chuckled. “So you want to get information out of me without giving away any yourself?”

    “Unlikely, I know. I’m hoping for the former,” he said behind a sly grin.

    “As am I.”

    I pulled out my dagger and started cutting at my nails as I leaned against the wall. I noticed Neil tense up and slowly relax as clippings fell away.

    “Nervous to be within the walls of your enemy?” I asked.

    He chuckled as he pulled an apple out of a small satchel. “Who wouldn’t be? After decades of fighting, killing each other is what we do.”

    “You think we’ll rush you and try to get at your king?” I smirked.

    He looked me up and down, then up and down the hallway empty of all but us. “Not anymore. One shout from me and he’d escape into a whole company waiting on the other side of the annex.”

    “I do think it was a pretty good way to have equal ground for them to negotiate on,” I agreed.

    Neil’s apple crunched between his teeth, echoing off the stone walls.

    “What would you be doing?” I asked.

    “Hmmm?”

    “If you weren’t here, in the war, where would you be?”

    Silence hung in the air as he stopped chewing and stared into space. It wasn’t the haunted look of unwanted memories, but contemplative with slightly squinted eyes.

    “I’d probably still be a soldier,” he said.

    I looked at him with raised eyebrows. “Really?”

    He took another bite. “Yeah. My dad was a soldier since way before the war. He recently retired. My grandpa was a city guard before that. So I guess you could say that soldiering is in my blood.” He turned his head back to me. “What would you be doing?”

    I had already given this some thought, so my answer came easily. “My family has some land near the coast. I think I would like to take care of sick and injured animals there.”

    “Wow. That sounds like interesting work.”

    “I hope so. Lots of people need help caring for their horses, cows, dogs, and such.”

    “Very different than soldiering.”

    I chuckled. “And thankfully so.”

    “Do you have—“ Neil began, but a barking laugh erupted from behind the door. We looked at each other with questioning frowns. Listening more carefully, there were two voices laughing.

    “Come in, all of you!” called a jolly voice from inside.

    Neil shrugged, and I sheathed my knife. We opened the door and entered together to see King Smith and High Chief Wells gripping each other’s arm in friendship.  Our counterparts came in through door on the other side of the annex.

    All four guards waited in anticipation for someone to explain what had happened.

    My High Chief began, resting his massive fists on his hips. “Well, it looks like this is the beginning of the end, boys.”

    “The war is over?” Neil’s fellow soldier asked.

    The king addressed the question to everyone. “There are certainly a bunch of details to work out, but we have both agreed that we want to end the fighting, and we will do everything we can to make that happen.”

    I could see nothing but smiles throughout the room.

    High Chief Wells continued. “I don’t know why, but it seems like our predecessors were unable to—“

    The shouts came first from the king and Neil’s side of the wall. Seconds later, I could hear armored feet running through the hallway inside the wall. Both doors burst open at nearly the same time. When the soldiers on both sides saw that their leaders were unharmed and confused, they put away their weapons.

    Too many people started talking at once, but one of my men walked up closer to me and saluted. I returned the salute and waited for the report.

    “General, an attack just began on the eastern sector, low ramparts,” he stated with a side glance at Neil.

    “General, huh?” Neil smirked. “In four years?”

    “Well,” I admitted, “maybe a bit more.” I turned back to my soldier. “What happened?”

    “Not quite sure, sir.”

    It took only a moment to make the decision. I turned to the leaders of the warring peoples. “With your permission, I insist that you both remain under guard here. I will go find out what is going on with our troops.” I nodded to King Smith. “I suggest you have someone do the same.”

    Both rulers nodded and I turned to go, but a hand on my arm stopped me. “I’d like to see it for myself, and help if I can,” Neil said.

    I looked at both leaders, who had just been clasping arms. Their laughter already seemed to be drowning beneath the clang of battle. They had come together to make it happen. The only way to preserve that peace was to do it together. I nodded to him.

    “Stay and protect them, no matter what,” I ordered my troops before dashing out the door and down the hallway with Neil at my side.

    After calming down the first shouts about enemies inside the wall when soldiers saw Neil, I kept my hand on his collar so he appeared to be more of a prisoner than an intruder. Even so, we gathered quite a curious following of soldiers that seemed more interested in what I would do with the enemy than heading toward the fighting. 

    We came out of the wall’s corridors and into the large courtyard behind the lower ramparts of the easter sector. Every soldier with a bow was loosing arrows over the wall toward our enemies. Two catapults were being cranked back, and one was already being loaded, presumably a second or third time. Other soldiers with shields gave everyone else cover from the arrows that flew into the courtyard from the other side of the wall. It was only a matter of time before the enemy’s catapults could be aimed in this direction to cause some major damage.

    “Hold your arrows and take cover!” I shouted. Only the few soldiers around me could hear, and they looked at me curiously. “I said lower your weapons!”

    With that, they recognized me and hurried to obey. The command was echoed around the courtyard, then up and down the wall. Nearly everyone ran for cover. Those that worked around the loaded catapult hesitated a moment, but when their shields obeyed the order to take cover, they had little choice but to follow to avoid becoming a pincushion. 

    Everyone waited beneath the cover of stone while the hail of arrows continued. I held my breath and prayed that Neil’s forces would follow suit. It didn’t take long for the arrow shafts to trickle off and die, and I sighed, thankfully.

    “Hurry!” someone shouted. “We can get off a few more shots while we have the chance.”

    Several soldiers ran to the catapults.

    “Hold!” I shouted, freezing most of the men in place. I walked forward with Neil, who I saw with a sidelong glimpse darting nervous glances around the courtyard.

    “Who the devil keeps telling you to…” the most enthusiastic of the soldiers growled until he saw me walking up to him. “Oh. General, I thought you were with the peace talks.”

    I recognized the man as Chief Boleran, leader of the mountain tribe. His armor gleamed more than any other man’s. It even sparkled with a few precious gems. “I was, but something seems to have interrupted that. Everyone stay under cover.”

    Soldier returned to the shadows of stone, but Boleran held his ground. Only he, Neil and I stood exposed. 

    “What happened?” I asked.

    “We were all waiting for the results of the talks when the devils started raining arrows down on us. We retaliated.” He finished with a glare over my shoulder at Neil.

    “Interesting,” I commented. “I thought the order to cease hostilities during the talks was for given on both sides of the wall.”

    “Looks like it won’t work out,” he said with a stern frown. “It’s a shame they want to kill us so badly.”

    “Hmmm, I don’t know about that. What do you think, Sergeant Taylor?”

    Neil stepped forward to stand at my shoulder. “Well, seeing as how the High Chief and King have agreed to end the war, I am looking forward to ending this pointless conflict and going home.

    “Impossible,” Boleran whispered. “It’s only been a few hours.”

    “I guess High Chief Wells and King Smith are a bit more reasonable than their predecessors. They were laughing together until all this.” I spread my hand to indicate the results of the small exchange.

    Chief Boleran smirked. “Well apparently not all his men share his desire for peace when they start attacking us during the talks.”

    I recognized that he had a point, so I turned to Neil. “Is that possible?”

    “Of course it’s possible. I just told you what happened,” scoffed the chief.

    “I was asking the sergeant.” I turned back to Neil.

    To my astonishment, he smiled. “It’s entirely possible that not everyone wants the fighting to end without decisive victory.”

    “See!” Boleran barked.

    “However,” Neil added, “it was made very clear within our ranks that disobeying the order to cease hostilities was an act of treason that would be punished by death and stripping the offender’s family of all lands and titles. Only a fool would dare that wrath, and all the fools have already been killed in this war.”

    “I like that policy. I wouldn’t mind implementing something like that here,” I said. “So if nobody on your side would dare loose arrows first, the only logical conclusion is that the offender is on this side of the wall and didn’t see any negative consequences to their actions.” The puzzle pieces were coming together in my mind to form a picture I didn’t like. “They might have even seen profit in continuing the war.”

    Boleran glared, but held his tongue.

    Neil still seemed perplexed. “Who would possibly profit from a keeping a war going? I could maybe see wanting profit from winning a war, but continuing a war is a waste.”

    “But what are the tools of the soldier’s trade?” I asked Neil, though I kept my eyes on the chief.

    “Weapons and armor,” Neil answered. “A blacksmith?”

    I saw Boleran's eyes widen with a sliver of hope. I didn’t need any more convincing. “A blacksmith is a laborer who can easily make a living by creating and repairing tools for farmers, cooks, and more. Think bigger. What are soldier’s tools made of?”

    “Iron and steel. So, obviously, war greatly increases the demand for metals. Anyone who owns a mine will have profited greatly during this long war.” Neil was catching on.

    “Very much so.” I exaggerated my perusal of Boleran’s fancy armor.

    “Who supplies your forces with most of its raw materials?” Neil asked, though I imagined he had noticed the death glare between the chief and myself.

    “He is standing right in front of you.”

    Silence fell between us. I could only imagine what the other soldiers thought we were talking about.

    “I did nothing, and you can’t prove otherwise,” Chief Boleran growled.

    “Right now, no,” I agreed. “But you couldn’t have done this alone. With the right motivation, at least one of your men will give you up.” 

    I looked around at the faces that watched us, trying to guess which would have been bribed or threatened by this powerful man.

    That split second was all it took.

    “He’s attacking the general!” Boleran screamed, and I saw a knife flash toward me with no time for me to act.

    I was dead. I knew it.

    But then the knife disappeared, and something crashed into me. I fell, and Neil landed on top of me.

    “I’ll stop him, sir!” the chief continued shouting as he pulled out a sword.

    I tried to wrestle Neil off of me and escape his clutches, but he rolled over without any resistance. 

    As the situation dawned on me, I drew my former enemy’s blade from its sheath and spun around to deflect Boleran’s attack. My next stroke removed his sword hand from the arm and he fell back, clutching the bleeding stump. 

    “Arrest him!” I shouted as I pointed Neil’s sword at the chief.

    I turned back to see Neil on his back, a jeweled dagger protruding from his chest, and eyes staring into nothing.

    “You’ll kill us all!” I heard Boleran shouting, and I returned my attention to the raving madman. “They want us all dead, and you’ve already let them inside our borders!”

    “Gag this traitor and take him to High Chief Wells,” I said just loud enough to be heard by the men who held him. “I’ll be right behind you.”

    I knelt back down and picked up my fellow soldier, recent friend, and savior so I could return him to his family and the peace we both hoped for.

*****

    I’m not a politician, neither in the real life nor the dream, and I don’t claim to be fluent in things that have to do with the government, but I am a citizen of a country, and my thoughts and feelings on what matter to me weight just as much as any other one person’s. And that is the crux of the matter I would like to discuss? Certain people’s desires have more weight in governmental proceedings than most. While that doesn’t seem fair, for some reasons, it makes sense. It would be near impossible to get a vote on every possible decision a country could make, so we create governments composed of people that we elect to make those decisions on a daily basis. This puts those people in positions that give them a great deal of power. But that is where everything begins to fall apart. Someone can say whatever they want to say to get the power they crave, and then they can completely act against everything they said they would do. At that point, it seems like the people are powerless. And then, if someone with some kind of influence over the elected officials tries to pull the strings, what are the effected people supposed to do about that?

    In the end, we have one very important question. How do we avoid this situation of being led and manipulated by leaders that only benefit themselves or the few? Personally, I think that it all comes down to the idea of power. More specifically, it comes down to what kind of power a people respects or allows to exist. In general, I see three different categories of power: power of force, power of greed, and power of people.

    Power of force is pretty straight forward. It is the power someone gets from wielding some kind of weapon of physical control. We have seen this kind of power displayed throughout human history, over and over. And it seems like each time leaders and governments use this power, they get their desired results in the short run, but eventually, the people will no longer put up with it, rising up to overthrow their oppressors.

    Power of greed seems to be where the current western society and culture is centered at the moment. The more money a person has, the more power they seem to have to make whatever they want to happen become reality, whether through the legal system, or through underhanded dealings. And what they want is usually more money and power. Governments seem to be filled with these kinds of people who see money as a source of power, and they want to either have it, or be allied with it. And when their greedy, self-centered decisions effect millions of people who have no say in the matter, that government has changed from a representative and protector of its people, to an overlord and dictator of its people. A government is supposed to be there for all of its citizens, not just the ones that have the money to influence decision-making.

    This leaves power of people, which is the ideal, and what the majority of the world is trying to achieve. This is where the decisions and actions of a leader or government are truly supported by the people they care for and carry the weight of the nation. It is a rare occasion when this power comes to the forefront and persists for a meaningful period of time.

    Again, the questions comes to this, “How do we avoid being lead by power of greed and achieve more of a power of people situation?” I don’t have a complete answer to that. I don’t know what allowed High Chief Wells, a more reasonable and benevolent leader, to gain his position in my dream. What I do think can help is by looking at these three systems of power without the lies that are told to the people. 

    It seems to me that mass deception persists within the current culture. So many people are so dissatisfied with the way things are run in governments, despite whether they lean left, right, or whatever, but they think that there is nothing they can do about it but rant and rave. This attitude seems to be exacerbated by mountains of ridiculous laws, controls, and various tools of government used to depress its own citizens. Another deception that seems to be prevalent in many minds is that our enemies are among our fellow citizens, causing infighting that distracts people from the abuses caused by the leaders.

    So, at least part of the answer is that we need to wake up and recognize these lies for what they are. Firstly, I must admit that I was being partially deceitful in saying that we currently reside in a power of greed situation with current leadership. The power of governments and leaders, no matter their corruption or purity, always comes from the people. We have been conditioned to believe that it is the government that should tell us what to do, when it is just the opposite. The people are the ones that tell the governments what to do. And if the government resists, they must rely on the power of force. And this, as I pointed out, usually ends in violent revolt and the downfall of the oppressive rulers. We must see that we, as a people, have the true power.

    To address the second deception that turns us against one another, I concede this is harder to dispel. Differing views on various debated topics seem to divide people so much that bridging the gap is impossible. But then I look at what happened with Neil. I don’t know what was going on in his mind, but despite the hatred instilled by decades of war on both sides, we saw beneath our armor and connected with the shared pain of loss and our desire to end the fighting. In real life, I truly believe that if regular people dig deep enough, we will find that we all care about the same things like health, family, personal growth, general happiness, and the preservation of those things. People start to differ when it comes to how to gain and protect those things. But when you get down to it, we all want the same thing, and that should unite us more with bonds stronger than our differences in point of view can destroy.

    After we recognize that we the people are the true holders of power, and that we have the same goals we are striving toward, we can use that power to affect the changes we desire in our leadership. I don’t know how my people in the dream broke whatever hold Chief Boleran had previously, but I believe it had something to do with the people bringing a person like High Chief Wells to power. And I think that is a start we could try to emulate. We need to elect leaders that truly represent the desires of the people, and honestly want the benefit of all they are responsible for. In the U.S., this isn’t just about our president. Our leaders, from small city council members, all the way up to Washington D.C. have impact on what happens to us and what decisions our government makes. 

    And while I agree with many people that the system has become corrupt, I don’t see it as an impossible hurdle to overcome. If we actually become united, we can remove the corruptions in our government and show them that money and greed are nothing compared to the will of the people. We need men and women who will withstand any temptation from money and its “power” that might arise, and that sympathize with the struggles of the common citizen. I have seen people reach for these goals, despite actual physical dangers to themselves and their families, and it amazed me.

    I have rambled long enough, and I didn’t mean for it to get so political when I started, but the suffering and malcontent I see around me makes my heart ache. To finish, I plead with our leaders to become the representatives we wished them to be when we put them there. And I pray that the people can cast aside the blindfolds that have been put on us and see the power we have as a united force.