Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Storm

"What did you say?" the sergeant was fairly sure he had heard the man correctly, but he wanted to be sure.

"I said no, Sergeant. No way I'm going out there in a f**king blizzard. Shoot me right here. We're all going to die out here anyway."

Part of him wanted to draw his sidearm and threaten the man, perhaps even shoot him. But this man was one of the most reliable soldiers in the troop, this was no rookie - new to the army - this soldier was a long serving veteran.

"What's going on Sergeant, why aren't the men falling in?"

Just what he needed, the men were rebellious, now the lieutenant was on his ass.

"Follow me, Sir."

In a serious breach of protocol, the sergeant tugged at the sleeve of the officer's coat and pulled him away from where the men were huddled together, desperately trying to stay warm.

"Sir, the men refuse to move. Honestly I don't blame them, the storm is getting worse and visibility is damned near zero. Even if we had a local with us, I doubt we could find our way in this storm to a position where we can cut those people off. I'm not sure they'd even try to pull out in this mess."

The lieutenant wanted to get angry, he wanted to yell at someone, anyone, but he took a deep breath before he spoke.

"Shit," he muttered, "can't say I blame them and you're right we'd probably get lost out there and freeze to death anyway."

The officer thought for a long moment, "Do we still have fuel for the cook stoves?"

"Yes Sir, we haven't stopped to cook for a few days now."

"Have the men go ahead and fire their stoves up, we need to get them warm, half of them probably have frostbite already."

"But Sir ..."

"If the enemy doesn't know we're here, then they are complete fools. And we know they're not."

"Alright, Sir, I'll see to it."

"It's no use, Sir. Scouts say that once you leave the trees and get out in the open, it's a complete whiteout, visibility is damned near zero. If we try to go out there, there's no way we can keep the men together, we'll get scattered."

"And once the storm eases up, the enemy can just scoop us up."

"It's more likely that they wouldn't find our bodies until spring. The wind is piling up the drifts pretty quickly."

"Anything on our enemy, can you even see anything in that direction?"

"Odd thing about that ..."


"Our observers claim to see have seen a glow in that direction. Like they've lit a fire, or more than one. The glow was pretty muted and not all in one place."

"Hhmm ... Well, sounds like they've gone to ground for the night. We should do the same. The enemy know where we are, have to men light their cookfires. We might die in the morning, but damn it, we won't die hungry and maybe we'll even be warm."

The sergeant had fallen asleep, he was so exhausted that he couldn't help it. A hand was shaking him ...

"Sarge, Sarge, wake up!"

The sergeant opened his eyes, rather he tried to. He felt a momentary surge of panic, then he realized that there was probably ice on his eyelashes. Carefully he worked a hand out of his glove, and then tried to get his eyes open. Eventually he could see, squatting in front of him was one of his corporals.

"What ... What is it?"

"We can't find the lieutenant."

Damn it, the man knows better than to wander off in this kind of weather. He slowly got up, trying to get his circulation flowing, his feet felt like blocks of wood they were so numb. Gradually he was able to get up and move.

"Where was he last?"

"He was with Rudolf's men. He was moving from fire to fire, trying to get the men's spirits up. Maybe he climbed out of the gully to check on the enemy. They built fires don't you know?"

Damn, he didn't know that. But it made sense, we know where they are, they know where we are, he was sure. We lit our camp stoves, why shouldn't they do the same?

"Okay, Corp, you come with me, you men," he said looking at the three men who had come with the corporal. "Don't wander off."

As the men wrapped their blankets around themselves and huddled close to the little stove, one of them said, "Ain't nowhere to go, Sarge."

The corporal stopped before they moved off, "Where is Elias?"

"He's with the horses, they're out of the wind, he's got a stove going for them as well."

"Good man. We'll be back."

It had to have been close to three in the morning when the storm finally died out. The clouds were starting to break up and the moon revealed its pale face sporadically among the scudding clouds. The landscape was a sheet of white, a rolling blanket which evened out the irregularities of the landscape.

The corporal spoke, "I'll bet the gullies have drifted over, ours would have if we hadn't kept clearing it."

The sergeant nodded, he was looking towards the hillock. He had a sense that he was being watched. He could now see the enemy's camp fires, there were a lot of them, far more than he would have suspected. But in reality, they could build more fires than they had people, make us think there were more of them than he suspected. Or there could have been more of them than he realized.

They'd found the lieutenant. He had decided to do a little reconnaissance towards the enemy held hillock. He hadn't gone too far from the gully, the wind had shifted, revealing the soles of the lieutenant's boots. No doubt he had fallen asleep while observing the hillock. His field glasses were still in his frozen hands.

"They say that freezing to death ain't that bad, Sarge."

"Dead is dead, doesn't matter how it comes to you. The man should have let me know what he was up to."

"He didn't want to wake you, I'll bet." The corporal looked towards the hillock, then sighed.

"Think this is worth it, Sarge?"

"What, that hillock. It ain't worth a damned thing."

"How about the lives of those guys up there, how about our own lives? Is this bullshit worth it?"

"Dangerous way to think, Corp."

"It's just you and me here, Sarge. Well, you, me, and a half-frozen troop of cavalry. Those guys on the hill might outnumber us ya know? I doubt we have twenty horses fit to travel."

"Poor bastards look like they're on their last legs. Hell, half of 'em aren't even mounted." The sentry shook his head as he watched their pursuers digging themselves out of the gully they had taken shelter in. He handed the field glasses back to the commander.

"Looks like they lost a few men in the night as well." The commander had the glasses on five bundled up bodies next to one edge of the gully. "Do you know how many of our own died?"

"No sir, rumor has it that all the wounded died."

"Who told you that nonsense? We lost one man, one out of all the wounded."

"Wow, just one, Sir?"

"Yes, just the one. There was little hope of him surviving out here anyway. Stomach wound."

The scout grimaced, "Awful way to go."

The commander nodded, "I can't think of many pleasant ways to go in a war."

"No Sir, nor can I. Wait ... What the hell is that?" The scout took the field glasses from his commander and trained them down the slope.

Standing on the edge of the gully nearest the hillock was one of their pursuers. Waving a white rag on the end of a saber.

"D'ya think they want to surrender Sir?"

"Go back and get the Sergeant Major, he speaks their language. I think those people wish to parley. And give me back my field glasses, I'll watch from here. Go man, go."

As the scout headed up the hill, the commander watched. Another man joined the man with the parley flag. It appeared that they were arguing.

"Interesting," the commander muttered. "Interesting indeed."

To be continued ...


  1. That photo sure helps sets the mood for reading this post. Not one for roiling things up but those giving orders need to remember if those orders will get obeyed during desperate times. Well done Sarge.

    1. All the training, all the discipline, it all boils down to whether or not the troops obey when the fit hits the shan!

    2. Dittos on kudos to Sarge for his superb selection of images to amplify the power of his prose.

    3. Sometimes I find a good photo and it propels the story onward.

  2. Replies
    1. I like the unexpected. (In my writing, not in real life!)


  3. "If the enemy doesn't know we're here, then they are complete fools. And we know they're not."
    "Hhmm ... Well, sounds like they've gone to ground for the night. We should do the same. The enemy know where we are, have to men light their cookfires. We might die in the morning, but damn it, we won't die hungry and maybe we'll even be warm."
    Puts me in mind of, "“I know. You know I know. I know you know I know. We know Henry knows, and Henry knows we know it. We're a knowledgeable family.”"

    Tare Victor George! Especially having commanders knowing what NEEDS to be done, or what SHOULD be done tactically, but bowing to the reality of what CAN be done.

    1. I aim to please.

      Every now and then I succeed.

      Thanks, Joe.

    2. Love that movie that JL quoted. (A Lion in Winter.) Excellently done, and extremely quotable.

    3. It's a great quote and I confess that when I read the comment, I didn't key on that. Not until you pointed it out. That's a film I need to rewatch!

    4. John: "If I was on fire, nobody would piss on me and put it out."
      Geoffrey: "Let us strike a flint and see."

      Eleanore: "I'd drape you (a necklace) from the nipples but it would shock the children." (She and her ladies in waiting actually rode bare chested as 'amazons' during her previous husband's crusade...)

    5. And I can either rent in on Amazon (and why not?) or sign up (again on Amazon) for one of those free trials and watch it for free.

      Guess what I'm doing this weekend?

    6. Baker Zebra to Joe Lovell for using the olde WW2 phonetic alphabet which lasted up to 1949 or 1956 depending on who you believe. It was long gone before I raised my hand, but I knew the old one from the olde Blue Jacket's Manual I had studied in Sea Explorer Scouts.
      Jig Baker

    7. Thank you. It's the only signal I know from that era. For some reason it seemed appropriate.

  4. Crusty Old TV Tech here. General Winter, looks like he's dictated the terms of this engagement! Excellent turn in the story. Did not see that one coming.

    1. Something armchair generals (and real ones too) often forget is that the enemy AND the weather get a vote.

  5. I ... I'm shivering, snuggled inside, here in naked Minnesota, with no snow and 30°F outside. Living can be hard, and reality harder. Temporary peace for mutual recovery, then part in different directions? Most well told, Sarge.

  6. I can picture the scene precisely, Sarge. Very well written - and an unexpected outcome.

    As a note, I do enjoy these sort of non-defined military writings. Could be any time, any place - maybe another world entirely.

    (Question: "No doubt he had fallen asleep wile observing the hillock. " Maybe "while"?)

    1. Going non-defined (or even loosely defined) makes doing research easy.

      D'oh, corrected the typo. I make them more often than not as I type much slower than I think. (In both meanings, I think very quickly when I'm storytelling and I think I can type fast. 😁)

  7. Ah, damn. The poor LT. He was such a good guy, too.

    Being the pursuers often means enduring even worse hardships than the pursued. You have to maintain the ability to fight, you have to maintain numbers, maintain cohesion. While the pursued can drop practically anything that would slow them down and go off in as many directions as there are them.

    This situation, though, dangit, I'm cold now...

    1. He seemed to be the sort who would push the envelope in doing his duty. He paid the ultimate price for his dedication.

  8. Looking forward to more.... although like most of Sarge's scribblings, they really stand quite nicely on their own merits in each installment. Read one, or several in sequence, they are good either way.
    War often happens in winter, sometimes memorable as Knox's logistics from from Ticonderoga to Boston, or Chosin, Fredericksburg, Valley Forge, or Trenton. But, most often just as the endless chill of winter quarters and relatively meaningless guard posts, minor scouting and the like.
    Well done, both as fiction, and as a tribute to the "universal soldier" and the burdens they have borne.
    John Blackshoe

    1. Please allow me to pile-on to Brother Blackshoe's praise! Sarge captures the universal truth of people in wartime, something he's done in snippets" mini series" and in "Once in a Lifetime". War is eternal to the human condition; something the Pax Americana has allowed a number of people to forget or ignore. We feel for both of these groups of soldiers; whoever, wherever and whenever they might be. Pray we can avoid becoming more familiar with war.
      Boat Guy

    2. I pray we never see another war. If we do, then I pray we can get through it.

      And thanks, BG.

  9. Great story. War seems part and parcel of mankind. Even Plato spoke of it:

    “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
    ― Plato

    In this story the soldiers and horses are suffering. Back home I suspect more than the fear of losing your husband or his returning a cripple is happening. Wars eat up the treasury and lack of manpower limits harvests and such.

    1. War brings suffering and death. But Plato was right.


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