Savoury, Soldier, Spy

Submitted into Contest #135 in response to: Write a story where fortune doesn’t favor the brave.... view prompt



This story contains sensitive content

Content Warning - Physical Violence, Sexual Violence

They would lose, it was an unwinnable and untenable position. The S.E.F. had been pushed back and back for weeks and now there was no more back to which be pushed. Thomas Penrose knew it in his bones, even before he reported to what was left of command, most of the higher rankers having either deserted or fled Sunderton, but that conversation had confirmed his fears. 

Thomas was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Sunderton Expeditionary Force and an Intelligence Officer employed by the Coalition. Not that anyone would have accused him of possessing the slightest intelligence. A joke which he had made to his handler numerous times, not even winning a smile from her. Thomas scratched at his two day stubble and pulled the collar of his greatcoat up. 

The thick red jacket was the uniform of the SEF, though most by now had faded to pink from the rain and long days in the field. Thom's jacket was no exception, the dye had run to a pale pink. Slung over his shoulder was a Blitzmeyer Smoothbore Musket, what would be the last issue of the new weapon. At least the last of them to be made in Sunderton. His preference was for the breech loaded Havelford rifle, but tonight he needed to look like just another low ranking officer about to be killed.

Thom had his orders, not just from the Major, who had given him a frank assessment of the defence taskforce, but from his handler. 

They had been simple, and written, for once, in plain hand with no codes or cypher needed. 

"Fight, fight and die if you must, but you must destroy the cache of Muskets on the corner of Baker and Smith Street." the instructions read. He knew the place well, it was one of his safe drops, inside there was a duffel bag filled with hard money, papers of passage from Calon, the Union or even the Empire, and enough supplies to last him a week. Buried beneath the floorboards, hastily covered with a thick carpet was a store of 200 smoothbore muskets with enough powder, cartridge and shot for thirty rounds each and instructions on how to make more. At least 6,000 attempts for the engineers of the Imperial army to learn from and copy the muskets design. It would be a disaster. 

They had a saying in the S.E.F., God made man and the Musket made them Equal. 

Thom knew that it was true. 

Kate, the skinny urchin he paid to keep an eye on the house while he was away, often for weeks or months at a time, was sitting on the front step and waiting for him. She had large brown eyes that were too big for her face and a nervous twist to her lips. She wasn't as thin as when he had met her three years before, but she was still too thin. Thom pulled a roll of tobacco from his jacket and filled his pipe, lighting it. The puff of smoke filled his lungs and did something to ease his anxiety about the coming fight. He would die, he was certain of it. But would he die fighting in a trench, in a back alley with a tanto buried in his belly, or would it be at the hands of an Imperial inquisitor, extracting information from him one strip of flesh at a time. He puffed on the pipe again.

Thom was under no illusions about how he would hold up under their exacting care, he would hold out for a time, but they were patient and knew their craft well.  

"Alright Kate, you got something to tell me?" Thom said, exhaling a plume of smoke. 

"Not much, guv’na, Some post and there's half a pie still under the hob.” She said. He gestured for her to stand and they went inside. 

"Tell me about your letters then Kate, while I see about the pastry." Tom said.

Kate sighed and then did as he asked. He was slowly teaching her to read, more slowly than he would have liked. It was stupid, if she could read then she could read his notes, ciphered or not, and that would mean trouble. Thom had always been a sentimental sap though. 

Kate was doing fine, it was evident even that she had continued to work while he had been gone. Even with the city coming under siege and the steady circle of the Imperial Army closed its fist around Sunderton. Thomas ate the pastry and left a sliver of it on his plate. Eating was hard, the knot in his stomach made every bite and swallow feel like a brick. He pushed the plate towards Kate and pointed at it. 

"Eat." He said. She obeyed without a word. 

He gathered his bag and both of his spare pistols, loading and priming each one. The only thing beyond it then was his worn Legion Katana, taken from an Imperial officer. Thom had shot the red-faced bugger with his rifle, the Hobgoblin had barely flinched before drawing the katana and charging him. It had been nothing but dumb luck and the razor edge he kept on his bayonet that had saved him.

Now the Katana was his, a curiosity that made soldiers think of the friends they had seen cut down with them and made civilians think of the war and everything they had lost. 

Thom didn't see it that way. It had been that, before, when it was carried by a fantastic that worshipped a God of pain and misery and death. Now though, it was his, something that had been made to kill and harm being used to protect. He liked that. That something could be used for more than what it'd been made for. Even a weapon like that. Even man like him. 

Kate had finished the pie and was busy cleaning her nails with her knife.

"Kate." Thomas said, then paused. 

"Guv'na?" She said. 

"You know about the war, yeah?"

"Course I do. Everyone knows about that. "

"The army, the people that are coming here. They aren't like me, or the other boys in red. They're dangerous." He said. 

Kate sniffed and looked at him with those large brown eyes. 

"What you gettin to Guv'na?" she said. 

He put the bag on the table and rubbed at his two-day stubble. 

"If...when the city falls. You need to find somewhere to hide. It'll be bad Kate, really bad." he said. 

She shifted uncomfortably but didn't say anything more .

"There's food and money in here, enough that you'll be able to get on a merchantman or fishing boat once the fires and the shooting have stopped" he said, Once all the rapers have been shoved back into order, he added silently. Kate was far too young for such things but battle and a siege did terrible things to a man's mind. 

"You'll be able to get into Calon, there's instructions inside about how to get to the Sunderton embassy. There's a woman there called Claire Worthington. Say her name back to me. '' he said. 

"Claire Worthington." 

"Good, she is an intelligence officer. Give her those papers and tell her you helped me while I was here. She'll look after you alright?" He said. 

"What about you?" She said, 

Don't worry about me. I've got other pokers in the fire. Stay hidden once they get inside the walls okay?" 

"Aye guv'na." She said, She had opened the pack and was looking in amazement at the roll of notes and coins inside. 

"The money will be useless if you get collared by the soldiers ya hear?" he said. 

"Yeah, yeah, I hear guv’na. Claire Worthington at the Embassy'' She said. Affecting the detached confidence every kid from the lanes had when it came to things like death and rape. 

There was nothing more to say. She would hide and maybe be killed, or gangraped, or killed by gangrape, or she wouldn't. Nothing Thom did now would change it. Just like he would die somewhere in this city, his city, at the end of an Imperial Bayonet or Pike, and there was nothing he could do to change that either. 

The previous message he had received from Claire had been an avenue of escape and the resources to do so. He had chosen to stay. Chosen death. This was his home and he was ready to die in it, whatever the knot in his stomach had to say about it. 

He checked the priming on his musket and both pistols and then pulled his great coat tight around himself and left the safehouse. With luck he would return to destroy the muskets and their ammunition. With a little less luck they would go unnoticed or be destroyed anyway. He didn't want to draw attention to the safehouse by setting fire to them now. It would have to wait until the city was breached by a desperate storming assault. When there were fires everywhere the city was filled with the crack of musket fire. 

Thomas walked through the misty streets, the light rain having passed now. The few people who were out avoided him, wanting no business from a soldier now. Most of the city's million or so people did not treat the S.E.F particularly well, they were occasionally celebrated for their victories but mostly derided as being upstarts, foreigners and a drain on public funds. Good for nothing but being used to sabre rattle by parliament. 

Thomas didn't particularly disagree, he had joined the S.E.F the same reason most poor kids from the streets did. Sunderton citizenship in exchange for 3 years minimum service. Thomas had been surprisingly successful and steadily risen through the ranks. 

Unlike most militaries there was no distinction in the S.E.F of class or background. The only thing that mattered was being good. Good at fighting, killing and otherwise destroying the enemies of Sunderton. His first officer, a middle-aged woman with a hard lined face and a wicked scar on her neck, had said. "We're all commoners when we're in a foxhole." Thom had found it to be true enough. 

Still, merit based army or not the S.E.F was small, pitifully small, when compared to the full force of the Imperial army which was swiftly closing on Sunderton. Muskets, cannons and riflemen would mean very little when compared to the endless ranks of the Emperors pikemen and legionnaires. The gambit of absorbing pressure from the bulk of the Imperial Army while the 4th and 5th Division from Calon swept onto their exposed lines had been a disaster. A fucking disaster. 

The Army of Calon, best in the world they said, had been repelled by a reserve force of imperial troops. Leaving Sunderton at the whim and mercy of those that had none. Thom went to the city's outskirts and found himself a likely looking trench to dig into. 

The troopers inside saluted him and asked if there was any news.

“Course there is boys, two dozen companies of Hussars and a horde of winged Steppe lancers. Turns out they’re only coming to wipe our asses though so we’ll have to do the fighting ourselves.” Thom said. The troopers laughed and one of them offered him some tea. It was bland, barely more than hot water with a sprinkling of leaves. But it was more than nothing.

The first sound of the advance was the drums, the dammed incessant beating that always heralded the oncoming of death and terror. Thom swallowed around the lump in his throat and forced the bland tea down. He felt queasy with the warmth in his belly and prayed to God he wouldn’t vomit. He checked the priming on his pistols and musket again. The troopers around him were doing the same. Then the shout came from somewhere in the darkness. 

“Death for the Emperor!”

A thousand voices joined into one. A chorus for the damned. The beat of the drums came quicker, the march sounding at double time. Thom braced his musket against the trench and forced a steady breath. Then another. Guns boomed and canister shot whipped across the open fields. The sudden belch of fire and light illuminating the terrified faces around him. 

“Easy boys, wait for my word.” He said. Another stab of light from the guns. 

“Death for the Emperor!”

Thom saw movement in the darkness, a sudden wall of figures stamping towards them. Another flash of light from the guns, a dozen of them fell and were immediately replaced by those behind. 

“Aim low!” Thom shouted and fired. They vanished behind a cloud of vile smoke, the stink overwhelming Thom’s senses. The ache in his shoulder flaring at the recoil from the shot. He loaded quickly, despite his fear his fingers were steady and sure. Powder, then shot, then the ramrod to compact it. Finally he primed and aimed back down into the cloud of smoke. There was nor order or rhythm to their fire. Normally the S.E.F fired by rank or company, to create a constant wall of lead to stall the Imperial advance. This was a frantic scatter of loose fire. Each trooper could shoot three times a minute, some of them able to shoot four or even five times a minute, but it meant nothing if it wasn’t given some rhythm or order. Thom fired and loaded as fast as he could, but he knew already it was pointless. Elsewhere along the line the crack of musketry faltered and then stopped, replaced by the butcher sounds. Blades on flesh, grunts of effort and mewling screams of pain. Thom took a step back and pulled his katana free. A pikeman stabbed blindly down into the trench and then jumped into it. Thom punched the pommel into the man’s face and then hacked at his neck. The sword stopped when it hit bone. Thom twisted and pulled it free. The trooper next to him fired at another pikeman. The body thumped into the trench between them. A third jumped down, wielding one of those short stabbing swords. He thrust into the trooper, burying the sword into his gut. Thom swung two handed and took the man's head clean off. The trooper sank to his knees and coughed up blood. A gun fired over the trench, sending cannister shot screeching into the darkness. It would give them a moment's reprieve, but only a moment. Thom looked along the line, there were fires to the west and the sounds of a bloody slaughter to the east. Men were running, taking the opportunity of a break in the fighting to flee. It was now or never. Thom pulled himself out of the trench and jogged back into the city. Compared to the anticipatory silence earlier, it was chaos now. Now Imperial troops had made it this far but many S.E.F troopers had fled into the city. Some were looting, others hiding and a handful were taking a darker pleasure from the cries of fear that Thom heard. Each cry made him want to stop but he couldn’t. Not yet at least.

He was soaked with sweat by the time he made it to Smith Street. A group of Bobbies from the city watch were standing on the corner, two doors down from his place. They were arguing but stopped when they saw Thom.

“A deserter!” One of them cried. The others joined in shouts of anger. Thom swore and pulled both his pistols. 

“I’m no deserter, I’m an agent of the coalition. If you don’t stand aside I’ll kill you.” He said. He cocked both of them and aimed at the one who had shouted.

“Desertion and threatening an officer of the law. You Serfs are all the fucking same.” The man said. He didn’t come any closer though. 

“Yeah? You Bobbies are all the fucking same too. Cowards in love with themselves that like to beat on the weak. Sounds right?” Thom said. The man’s face twisted in anger and his fellows moved out and around Thom surrounding him. 

“Where’d you get that sword ey Serfy? Maybe you aren’t a deserter, maybe you’re a spy for the Emperor.” The man said. Thom licked his lips and spared a glance for the Bobbies surrounding him.

“Ah fuck you too.” Thom said. He fired both pistols. The man vanished behind a cloud of acrid smoke. Thom flipped the pistols around and clubbed the man on his left with one. A billy club swung at him and struck him hard on the shoulder. Thom moved with the blow and threw the other pistol at the wielder. He reached for his sword but felt other hands gripping his wrists. Another strike from a Billy club hit him in the back of the head. The world faded, like it was happening in a far off dream. He distantly felt more blows landing but it was far enough away it didn’t matter to him. He curled into a ball and waited for it to stop. He cracked an eyelid and saw Kate hiding beneath a grate to the sewer. He could only see her because she was at eye level with him, when standing she’d be hidden. Clever girl. She’d be just fine. He grinned and winked at her. Then a boot connected with his skull and darkness swallowed him.      

February 28, 2022 11:04

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Sharon Hancock
02:18 Mar 08, 2022

I like the ending especially. I’m glad you showed readers Kate was safe. 😻


Jordan Williams
09:58 Mar 08, 2022

Absolutely, if Kate gets hurt we riot!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply