Todder watched them retreat through the mist. The small crew of the Watch looked to him for counsel.
“Their just leaving us?” Brendan said. “They can’t–”
“They can,” the sergeant spoke.
“What’s so different about them?” Brendan tossed his crossbow to the ground and kicked the dirt. “Why should we stay here to die? I’d like a damn drink too.”
“The difference is,” Todder said, “We took an oath.”
– From Hero in a Halfling: A Humorous Fantasy Romp
By William Tyler Davis
I came out pretty hard against this book, but, in fairness, it does have its redeeming features (which make me somewhat thankful for my stubbornness in finishing it). This scene, in particular, touched a nerve.
The men of the Watch have protected their city and its people for a very long time. A number of them died in the line of duty ten years ago, and Todder considers himself only lucky to have survived that slaughter, but since then, things have been pretty quiet. Fresh blood has come in, but they’ve not been tried in real battle, to the point they grew complacent. Then the trolls came, mowing straight through the unsuspecting Watch before they knew what hit them, kidnapping and/or devouring men, women, and children, then bounding back out again over the city’s dead and wounded defenders, all in the black of one night.
The next night, the Watch was much more prepared. They swelled their ranks with every available guard as well as mercenaries. When the trolls returned one was forced to retreat and one was killed, but two more, the smaller ones, still got in. Once again, the Watch was wounded and weary, with dead friends at their feet, and expecting the trolls to pass them again on their way out, with only the guardsmen barring their path. The mercenaries had a good fight, killed the one troll, and left, going for a drink instead of waiting for Round Two. The above scene is what follows.
The Watch does not succeed in stopping the trolls from leaving, with humans in their bags and bellies, but they still stand their ground. Where others who know little of loyalty depart, they continue to put their very lives between their people and what threatens them. Whether they succeed or fail, that is what they are sworn to do, even if they die for it.
There is something about such stalwart integrity and caring which simply demands respect. The guardsman is as human as the mercenary, but they make a different choice. That choice is what makes it worth honoring them, both the living and especially the dead.
My country celebrates Memorial Day tomorrow, and this weekend is filled with the honoring of those soldiers who have laid down their lives in service to us, our nation, and our freedom. These are men and women who did not simply fight for a dollar, a thrill, and a drink. They fought and died for us. They swore and oath, and held to it.
To them and their surviving comrades, I would express my deepest gratitude.
Thank you, Soldier. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.