Brothers in Blood
-The City of Smaena-
Sleep had not come easy often in the past ten years, and tonight in my small military apartment in that ruined watchtower, the promise of a respite from my thoughts seemed as elusive as ever.
I had optimistically pondered perhaps that once the fighting was done and we had driven the enemy back that I would finally begin to know some degree of peace.
But after seeing that look in my Legionaries eyes, it felt like the role of the firm disciplinarian and staunch unwavering leader these men had known had finally begun to show its underlying falseness.
Through these brutal years of turmoil I had kept my composure and my image in close check. I had done it for them, to ensure that they had a guiding light, a beacon to assure them that we could outlast the storm.
That look though, that single momentary look had made me question everything about the man I thought I had convinced myself I was.
Designation of the rank of Legate had only passed to me since so many of my superior officers had been slain on the field.
Was I truly the man they were? Was I truly the leader my men believed I was?
I had just been a boy. I was the same age or younger than so many of the men I now presumed to command, and I had thought the ten years of war had made me hard and impenetrable, but how much of it was even real?
Did it even matter? I had played my part as well as I was able. I had led my men through hell and come through the other side with many of them.
Gods, and as if that wasn't enough to keep me tossing in my cot, the lingering and persistent thought of my brothers kept forcing its way in to interject, constantly reminding me that it thought it deserved priority.
Perhaps it did. I mean, the men here were my brothers by blood. I knew many of their names well enough to dispatch orders effectively to each man through muscle memory alone.
Yet for my brothers it had taken me so many precious, anxious moments to determine if I indeed still held onto the memory of their names at all.
Just imagine their faces now. They had all been boys, and I had convinced them all to join the blasted legions, curse me.
By all likelihood they had all died years ago. As brutal as our front had been, I had heard the 4th and 1st had it worse in Laklund, not to mention the horror stories from the Rivenian front—curse me, curse me and curse our bloody father.
None of them had known him like I did; he was a cruel and cunning and tenacious bastard of a man, and he knew exactly what he was doing when he had me swear that oath.
He had brought me up to be a Legionary since the day I was born, but when he knew he wouldn't be around for long enough to indoctrinate his other sons, he had me swear that blasted oath.
The man knew exactly what he could get me to say if he asked on his deathbed.
And damn me again for that matter, even my honor and my word gave me no right to drag my brothers kicking and screaming into these horrid dismal ranks.
“Halane you listen to me now, are you listening soldier? You know these Legions now, you know that they are family, you need to bring your brothers around, you need to bring them in and watch over them alright. If you don't bring them in they’ll be lost.”
“Yes pap, of course”
I remember how hot my face felt while I watched him die. I remember how my tears felt like they might just burst into steam once they made contact with my cheeks.
“Good lad, that's a good lad, a good proper soldier. Swear it for me now, swear that you’ll bring your brothers around, teach them right, teach them how to swing a sword”
His words kept failing, feeling like they were falling back into his throat, but he placed his own sword weakly to his chest as he struggled to make his point.
I had never once seen him shed a tear, but as he spoke his words his old and tired eyes did seem to glisten ever so slightly.
“I will pap, I swear. I'll bring them into the Legions like you and uncle and grandpap, I swear the clan Halese will become the most honored Imperial legionary family in all of Antramar. I swear it on Allunas and on the Silver Star.”
He chuckled; it was a weak tapering chuckle. Even then I think I knew that his next words would be his last, as his lightly shining eyes began to slowly close.
“On your honor, for the Empire.”
I had walked myself through every refrain of the oath so many times tonight. My memory was usually so hazy and inconsistent, but every single word of that oath was burned into me like a brand.
I had picked apart and dissected every single syllable I knew I had uttered, trying to see if there was some clever way to avoid the guilt I felt for obeying his commands.
I had always been morbidly pleased with myself that even as a boy, even while lost in the throws of emotion that came with watching my father die before my eyes, I had never sworn to keep my brothers safe.
I'm happy that even though I was a creature of complete moulded lack of autonomy, utterly subservient to my fathers designs, I still knew that I could not have such an impossible and contradictory oath as that.
My brother's safety was entirely unknown to me, but ever since the seed of my brothers—my true brothers—had reemerged in my mind, I had been gripped by a nagging notion.
Why not go find them, join the desperate masses on the street in seeking to reassemble a piece of the world we all used to know?
The war was over, I had every right to take a leave, but even as consideration crept upon me, the inner war between the Honorbound Legate and the Dutiful Brother within me raged onward.