by Lou Antonelli
“Nobody knows how much I was hurt.”
Lawhon had too much time to think during the long walk from the city. Old memories throbbed like battle scars. He rubbed his neck. The uniform he wore had begun to crumble during the 20 years it had lain in a prison drawer. The old comlink wires in the fabric chafed.
“Nobody knows how much I lost.”
He could see the rounded hill and long ridge that flanked the pass down into the valley. He quickened his pace. As he walked down the straightaway before the pass, an old peddler walked over the rim. The old man waved broadly and called out genially.
Lawhon hated that he wore the despised Off World uniform–but it was the only thing he had to wear. Besides, it got him a deadhead ride on a space transport back to Padania.
The peddler sat down on a large well-worn rock. Lawhon reached the crest of the pass-—dubbed The Elephant’s Gate by the first colonists—-and then looked down into the Valley of Poplars.
The peddler saw the dust on his uniform.
“You look like you’ve hiked all the way from Neutrino.”
Lawhon winced. He’d been in prison so long, even the name of the city had changed. He knew it as Neu Torino.
The old man shrugged and saw that Lawhon stared at the valley. He smiled. “Beautiful isn’t it?”
Lawhon looked at the old man and gauged his age. “What are you smiling at, you old bastard?” he thought to himself. “You gave up on us, didn’t you?”
“Beautiful, yes beautiful,” Lawhon said mechanically.
Even at that distance, he could see the diagonal lines crossing the neatly furrowed fields-—the scars across the landscape left as the Off World groundcrawlers had poured out of the pass and made for the General’s compound.
“This is where I died,” he thought.
The peddler had cut into a wedge of cheese. He held out a slice. “Would you like some?”
Lawhon turned and forced a smile.
“Thank you, no. I haven’t been back here in 20 years. I still have a ways to go. I need to be off.”
He lurched down the steep road. The peddler shrugged and popped the bit of cheese into his mouth. He watched as Lawhon’s back disappeared.
“I don’t know why,” he thought to himself, “but that fellow looks familiar.”
Four hours later, Lawhon was in the heart of the valley. He could clearly see the battle scars across the fields–20 years and 20 harvests hadn’t erased them.
He walked across a bridge. A tavern with a luxurious grape arbor sat by the roadside next to a small river.
He remembered this place. It was where Captain Pinnelli’s battle tank had bogged down and the Home Guard counterattack had stalled.
Lawhon wandered onto the tavern’s patio and stared down at the water.
There was still a large gash in the bank where Pinnelli’s tank had ground its treads hopelessly. The grass was thick and green atop the opposite bank. That is where he had last seen Pinnelli, before he was cut down by the Off World troops.
“Would you like some wine? Or do you just want to go down to the stream and get a drink for yourself?”
Lawhon spun around angrily. He was ready to lash out, but stopped. The girl was stunning–young and very pretty, with raven hair, dark blue eyes and a pale complexion. She wore a traditional Padanian blouse and peasant skirt.
She blinked and rocked back slightly when she saw the look in his eyes. He walked over to an empty table and sat heavily on the bench.
“I’m sorry, I was just taking in the view. I grew up here, but I haven’t been back to the Valley of the Poplars since…”
He looked up at her. “…the war. I haven’t been here since the war.”
The girl stood opposite him. “What war?”
Lawhon pointed to a large dark reddish brown stain on the opposite riverbank.
“What about those scraps of metal? You’ve been pulling them out of the fields for years. Don’t you know what they are?”
She laughed. “Oh, old space junk is scattered all across the valley. The early colonists dumped all over the place!”
She swung her tray onto her hip. “You said you’re from the Valley of the Poplars, but I’ve grown up here, and I’ve never seen you before.”
“I’ve been in prison.”
She took a step back. “Very well then. What will you have?”
“A tall glass of beer, and bread.”
The girl walked over to a wooden cabinet and pulled out a large wooden bowl full of bread.
She walked back to Lawhon and dropped it rather heavily on the table. “I’ll be back in a minute with your beer.”
She gestured to the grape arbor overhead. “You’re welcome to help yourself to some grapes.”
Lawhon was pulling grapes off their stems when she returned. His old military uniform was tattered, but he was still handsome in a craggy way that befits a man in late middle age.
The girl returned and sat down at an opposite table.
“You’re wearing an old Off World uniform, so you must have been in the service before you went to prison,” she said. “Where did you serve?”
Lawhon took a sip and stared hard at her. “Right here, in this valley.”
The girl frowned. “There have never been any Off World troops stationed here.”
He narrowed his eyes to slits and hissed. “There was a war in this valley, once—-before you were born.”
“That’s ridiculous. I’ve never heard anyone talk about a war.”
Lawhon violently tore a piece of bread in his hands. He looked across the valley to where ruins sat atop a cliff, almost two miles away.
“What about those ruins, up there?”
“You mean the alien city?” she laughed. “Those were left by the extinct people lived on this planet before we colonized it.”
“Those are Padanian ruins,” he shouted as he stood up, toppling the bench. “I lived there once.”
She stood up also. “You’re crazy, old man. You went mad in prison! Now finish your drink, take your bread, and be on your way!”
Lawhon drained the glass and grabbed a large hunk of bread. He tossed a small silver coin onto the table in front of the girl. Someone had pressed it into his hand as he stood waiting for the transport that took to Padania—-they mistook him for a genuine Off World veteran.
He looked at her before he stormed off. “General Carlos died for your sins!” he snarled.
She gave him a look of irritated puzzlement as he strode from the patio and back to the road.
The tavern keeper had heard the raised voices and came out with a cudgel. He watched as Lawhon went down the road.
“He didn’t give you any trouble, did he?”
She shook her head. “Some poor old space-crazy bastard who just got out of prison.”
The tavern was near the valley crossroads. Lawhon took the east road and an hour later was at the base of the cliffs.
He tore aside shrubs and found the steps that rose up the mountainside. They had been rough to begin with, and the going was even slower now after all these years. He had time to brood.
The girl had pushed the wrong button when she mentioned the uniform. Lawhon was with the troops that had fallen back to the mountain when their lines broke on the valley floor.
He was on the fringe of the fighting when the numberless Off World forces overran them atop the plateau. To escape, he had taken off his proud dark blue Home Guard uniform and swapped it for the dull green uniform of a dead Off World private.
He had taken off his generalissimo’s badge, and thought of throwing it off the cliff–but stopped. He put it in his pocket instead. He then escaped down the emergency steps he was now climbing-—but was identified and caught on the valley road a few hours later.
The insignia was still in that pocket when they gave him back his worldly possessions a few days earlier as they released him from prison. The Off World tech had sneered when he dumped the bag and saw the old uniform.
To add insult to injury, because he was penniless he had to wear the cursed uniform and make his way back to Padania pretending to be an Off World vet.
Branches swung across his face like recriminations as he made his way up the steps.
“Why didn’t other colonies come to our aid? Why didn’t the people fight harder? Why did the people surrender? Why didn’t they keep fighting?”
These were the same questions he had spun around in his mind for 20 years as he lay on his back in a prison cot.
He allowed himself the luxury of speaking aloud. “Well, the people are fools then.”
He still looked around. He laughed sardonically at himself. “Who could be up here?” he thought.
“Hey, old man! Who are you talking to?”
Lawhon almost fell back as he looked up sharply. He hadn’t realized he was almost to the top.
A boy with a crooked stick was standing where the steps ended. He shook the stick as Lawhon reached the top.
“You need one of these.”
Lawhon sat down on a nearby boulder. The boy was right-—it would have been a much easier climb with a stick or stave.
He put his hands on his knees as he caught his breath. The boy stood and stared, the wind flapping his shawl and cap.
“Why didn’t you come up the trail?”
He was still winded and it took him a moment to reply. “This was the way I went down. This is the way I wanted to come back up.”
He looked at the boy. He looked almost like a younger version of himself from 30 years ago–except that when he was that age, he carried a machine gun instead of a shepherd’s crook.
The boy’s flock of Gambettan sheep were scattered across the plateau around the ruins of the General’s compound.
“Do you own this place now?” Lawhon asked.
“No, no one owns this place. This is where I tend my family’s sheep in the spring.”
Lawhon squinted in the fading daylight. Most of the buildings were jagged ruins now. He saw the doorway to the General’s bunker was still intact.
He stood up and pointed. “What about there?”
“The old concrete cave? That is where I stay at night when I grab some sleep.”
Lawhon began to walk towards the entrance. The boy ran ahead and down the slope into the bunker. He lit a lamp as Lawhon entered. It had been torn down clean to the concrete. Even the wiring had been pulled from the walls.
“At least the bastards were too lazy to blow this place up,” he thought. “Lazy, stupid bastards.”
“Who’s lazy and stupid?”
Lawhon turned. He didn’t realize he had spoken aloud.
“Some people who were here many years ago.”
The boy walked to the middle of what had been the General’s command center. “Well, I’m living here now.”
He had a small camp in one corner of the large room.
“The boy’s got spunk, and he’s quick,” Lawhon thought. “We could have used a kid like him.”
“Sorry, son, I was just talking about people I used to know, a long time ago. Way before you were born.”
“Good!” The boy nodded with finality. “I’m glad you didn’t mean me. And stop calling me son. My name is Crestes.”
Lawhon extended his hand. “Glad to meet you Crestes. My name is Lawhon.”
Crestes waved towards a large rock. “Please sit down, Mr. Law-One,” he said quite precisely.
“Thanks. Do you mind if I stay here tonight?”
“Shit, no! I mean, of course not!” The boy smiled. “It’s lonely here.”
He sat down and pulled a straw sack from behind his stool. He reached in and pulled out a thick wheel of Norditalia cheese. “Would you like a slice?”
Lawhon nodded politely. “The kid’s harmless,” he thought to himself.
As Lawhon gnawed on the cheese, the boy pulled out a large and very dark Lombardia sausage. Lawhon stared.
I haven’t seen one of those in 20 years!”
Crestes smiled as he cut him off a big hunk.
As Lawhon was finishing up, he realized the boy was staring at him with great curiosity. Lawhon gestured for him to speak up.
“Why did you come here, Lawhon?”
Lawhon wiped his mouth on his ragged cuff.
“I died here.”
The boy’s eyes grew wide. “Really?”
Lawhon grimaced. He knew, back in the home system, they had ways to revive the dead. He didn’t want to confuse the boy.
“No, not really. But I was hurt so bad, and lost so much, it was just like I died.”
“Down in the valley. Those old ruts running across the fields. Do you know what those are?”
The boy shook his head. “Not really.”
“Down in the cliffs. Those smashed rocks. Do you know what caused that?”
“I spent a few months in school once,” the boy said. “Teacher said the rocks and ruts were left over from an ancient ice age.”
Lawhon spit a piece of sausage skin from between his teeth.
“Padania never had an ice age!” He looked towards the door. It was dark now.
“Crestes, you’ve been good to me. I tell you what. I’ll repay you by telling you a story–a fable, if you like. You won’t hear it anywhere else, because I’m the only person alive who knows it. Are you interested?”
“Once there was a beautiful planet that was settled by people who escaped from Old Earth.”
The boy leaned forward as Lawhon continued. “Where they lived on Earth, people from the nearby lowlands had migrated to the mountains because their land was flooded by a rising ocean. The people in the mountains decided they wanted to leave and have a land of their own.
“The Imperial government of Earth was corrupt and cruel, but they were happy to see the people leave. They gave them permission to settle an empty planet, which the settlers called Padania in honor of their old homeland.”
“But that’s…!” The boy blurted out as Lawhon held up a hand.
“Don’t interrupt me! The government of the Earth colonies–called the Off World—-grew jealous when they saw what a wonderful garden the settlers had made of their new home. They began to pass harsh laws, and take more and more money away from the Padanians, who were very unhappy!
“Now, there was a young boy who loved his land, and especially his home valley, a valley where poplars which had been transplanted from Old Earth grew thick and tall. He learned to hunt and shoot in the valley, and grew up to be handsome and strong.”
Lawhon winked at the boy. “All the young girls liked him.”
“To protect the farmers and villagers of Padania,” he continued, “the Off Worlders formed what they called a Home Guard, to police the colony. The Home Guard was made up of Padanians themselves. And the young boy, who had grown up to be a man, rose to be the leader of the Home Guard.”
Crestes had his chin on his fists.
“His name was Carlos, and he was a true Padanian. He heard the groans of the people as they tried to pay the taxes and follow the laws of the Off Worlders. The Padanians came to him and said, ‘Carlos, you can be our leader! Drive the Off Worlders away!’
“Carlos knew the heart of the people, and they were with him. One night, he led the Home Guard as they destroyed the space port and the Off Worlders’ base there.”
Crestes eyes were wide. “It must have been a great battle!”
“The Off Worlders were as cowardly as they were cruel. They fled like birds before a storm,” he continued. “The Home Guard proclaimed Carlos their leader and they built a beautiful new headquarters for themselves, high on a plateau where they could look over the most beautiful valley on the planet. The Home Guard and the people of Padania had a very happy and peaceful time for two years.”
Crestes interrupted. “Why only two years?”
Lawhon shook his head sadly. “Because that is how long it took for Old Earth and the Sol System to send a great fleet to join the Off Worlders and attack Carlos and his people. The sky of Padania one morning filled with golden ships of the Sol Imperial Fleet–Old Earth spins around a bright yellow sun.”
“They sent these screaming ships with giant laser cannon to destroy the Guard’s defenses, and then dark gray groundcrawlers to seize the land and hold it for the Off World army. It was a horrible, horrible sight.
“The Sol System sent super weapons of death against the Padanians. The guns of the groundcrawlers spat flames that wrapped their bodies like cloth,” he continued. “The soldiers carried guns that reduced them to bone in a flash. The people fought bravely but had to surrender in the face of these horrid weapons.
“How awful!” Crestes exclaimed.
“They say that General Carlos survived, buried under the bodies of the soldiers who had fought and fallen with him. When the Off Worlders took away the bodies, they found the once proud general barely alive, at the bottom of the horrid pile.
“Although they were defeated, the heart of the people remained with the survivors of the Home Guard and Carlos. Not only did they remain loyal, but also the memories of what the Off Worlders had done kindled the people’s hatred against them even more.
“With an almost supernatural cleverness—-you know the old saying, ‘the devil gives his servants power’?—-the Earth Satanists—-I mean scientists—-devised a means of infect Padanians with a nano-virus which not only erased their memories of the war but which would gave them false memories to explain the scars on the land left by the horrid battles.
“They fed the same virus to the survivors of the Guard in prison camps and then sent them home. It was as if a spell of forgetfulness fell over Padania.
“The Off Worlders, to insure the Padanians would never rise up against them again, also took away all their weapons and most of their machines. The viruses made the people forget they had ever possessed them.”
The lamp had almost burned down. “That’s how the story goes.” He saw in the dim light the boy’s eyes were almost closed.
“What do you think?”
“I don’t understand it,” the boy yawned widely. “Time to sleep.”
“Probably some aversive programming,” though Lawhon bitterly as he also laid down his head. In a moment both were sound asleep.
* * *
Lawhon realized as he stumbled out of the bunker it was already late morning. He looked around and saw Crestes leaning on his shepherd’s crook near his flock.
As Lawhon went over, he saw a large canvas sack at Crestes’ feet. Crestes noticed his puzzlement and nudged the sack gently with a toe.
“My big sister came up from the valley and brought me some provisions. She does that every few days.”
Lawhon sat down on a log and looked around. “She must be quite a horseman to make the trip so quickly. After hiking all day from Neutrino—-I mean, Neu Torino–I was exhausted and slept like a dead man,” he said. “I’m sorry I missed her.”
“I told her all about you,” he said.
Lawhon walked over to the cliff and looked down into the Valley of the Poplars.
“There’s nothing more for me here,” he thought. “What now?”
Crestes seemed to read his thoughts. “I know it’s hard for veterans to find work once they’re mustered out,” he said. “If you’re looking for a job, they need hands at the sawmill on the other side of the valley.”
“I really don’t know what to do with myself,” said Lawhon. “I guess I’ll just head back and see what I can pick up.”
Crestes smiled and Lawhon shook his hand. “Thanks for putting me up for the night. Maybe we’ll see each other again in the valley.”
Lawhon brooded as he walked along the gentle mountain path.
“I’m a veteran of a war no one remembers,” he thought.
At the crossroads he headed north. “I started out with nothing, and I’m back to that again. Old and broke. No future, and no past.”
He stopped and leaned heavily on a fence. “I need to get a grip. Goddamn, what I am going to do with myself now?”
“Come back for more beer?”
He straightened up. It was the dark-haired blue-eyed girl. He was outside the tavern where he had briefly stopped the day before.
He shook his head and began to walk past her up the road.
“No. And besides, I have no money.”
“That’s alright. If you’re willing to help around the tavern, I’m sure you can have some beer—-and sausage.”
Lawhon stopped and his stomach growled. He turned around and shook his head again.
“Don’t be such a proud bastard. That’s what got you in trouble before.”
He headed back to her. “What do you mean? What do you know of before? You said he didn’t know anything about a war.”
“I don’t. But I know about your fairy tale. The shepherd up on the mountain—-Crestes? He’s my brother.”
“You’re the sister who brought his provisions early this morning.”
“Right, riding my Tuscan pony. He told me all about your story. Very imaginative.”
“You don’t believe it, either.”
“Of course not.”
Lawhon was standing close to her. She slipped her hand into a pocket of his uniform and deftly pulled out something golden.
He tried to grab her arm, but she was too quick for him.
“I’ve seen you fingering this in your pocket,” she said, as she held it up. It glinted in the sun—-a badge of five golden stars in a circle.
“This is a generalissimo’s badge,” she said. “That’s what I thought. You’re not just a veteran of this forgotten war. You’re the loser. You’re General Carlos. That’s what you said to me when you left yesterday: ‘General Carlos died for you sins.’ What a self-pitying bastard!”
“Give that back to me!”
“Why? So you can still feel sorry for yourself? You should consider yourself lucky. Rebels are usually shot.”
“This is worse. It’s like being a living ghost.”
She crossed her arms. “Let me guess. When they decided to turn you loose, they realized that–since you had never been given this dose of whatever it was that caused forgetfulness–it would serve you right to set you free the way you are.”
“I remember the message the Star Chamber judge read,” said Lawhon. “It came directly from the Imperial Court on Old Earth: ‘Turn him loose as he is. It is even to his greater shame, for no one knows who he is, and what of he speaks, and he shall wander like a beggar through the land he once ruled, and the people shall call him mad.”
“Well, of course, I don’t believe you—-but even if I did, what difference would it make? In fact, I think you should be grateful. No one will point to you and say, ‘there’s the great general. How far he had fallen!’ Your punishment is all in your head now.”
Lawhon snatched at the badge but she was too quick.
“Not so fast, old timer. This is solid gold. I can use it.”
She looked at him. His voice was breaking. “Please. That’s the last thing I have.”
She walked onto the patio, and sat down on a bench under the grape arbor. “You don’t have a family?”
“I was married to the Home Guard. All my other family members either died in the war or have passed away since then.”
“You never had any children?”
“No. Please give me back the badge.”
“You know, now that you’re back on Padania, you’ll probably catch this ‘virus’ as you call it. Did that ever occur to you?”
Lawhon sat down heavily on the opposite bench. “It’s not a highly transmissible construct. After its initial dispersal, you can only acquire it through the direct exchange of bodily fluids.”
“Which explains why, although I was born since the supposed war, I have it,” she said. “It was passed along by my mother.”
“Yes, everyone on Padania had their memories erased right after the war by the initial release of the virus. And the Off World Council changed all the history files so there are no official records of it.
“There are probably a few people on other colonies—-and perhaps even Earth—-who remember it personally,” he continued. “But no one would be stupid enough to question the official record.”
She turned to him. “Truth be told, general, even without the virus and false memories, after 20 years, there probably wouldn’t be very many people who would care on Padania.”
Lawhon stared at her blouse. She had pinned on the badge. She saw he saw it and looked down. “A circle of gold stars. Quite pretty. I think I’ll keep it.”
She turned back again. “Seems to me the decision is yours. Do you want to spend what’s left of your life feeling sorry for yourself, babbling at people who don’t understand you—-or do you want to let go and get on with your life?”
She began to slice bread on a cutting board in her lap.
“Seems to me there’s still some things you haven’t done in your life yet. You’ll never get them done if you’re going to keep being a self-pitying bastard.”
“You don’t know how much I was hurt. You don’t know how much I lost.”
“You can’t undo the past, general. You can make a decision move on.”
She turned towards him as she said that, and turned back again.
Lawhon rubbed his chin. “You know, it never occurred to me that the badge could be such a pretty piece of jewelry.”
He leaned forward. “You’ve never told me your name.”
She didn’t reply but kept slicing bread.
Lawhon sat back against the grape arbor, and thought real hard.
“My name’s Carlos—-Carlos Lawhon. What’s yours?”
She didn’t say anything at first, but after a while she smiled.
“The tavern keeper needs a sweep out… boy. Why don’t you ask him if you can stay?”
Lawhon put his hands on his knees and rose. He began to step back into the tavern when she spoke up and he stopped.
“Paola. My name is Paola.”
* * *
The tavern keeper was a gruff man with a mustache you could see from behind. He was pleased to see how hard Lawhon worked. For his part, Lawhon was content to bustle about. After spending so many years in prison, it gave him a sense of freedom.
After closing time, and after everything was in order, the tavern keeper spoke up. “There’s a shed against the back. You’re welcome to sleep on the bales of hay.”
Lawhon stood with his hands on his hips, slightly out of breath. “That sounds fine.”
Paola came up behind him and locked her arm through his. “You’re welcome to sleep in my room.”
The tavern keeper’s eyebrows shot up and his mustache fairly twitched. “Mama mia!”
Paola leaned around Lawhon. “I think he’s handsome, in an older way.”
Lawhon stammered. “I… I… really…”
The tavern keeper crooked a finger at Lawhon, who disentangled himself from the girl. The man hissed over his mustache into Lawhon’s ear. “Paola’s an orphan, and if she likes you, it’s her business.”
The tavern keeper slapped Lawhon lightly on the side of his head. “Idiote! When a beautiful woman calls you to her bed, you go!”
Lawhon turned and looked at Paola. “Lead on.”
* * *
In her embrace and his passion, he had forgotten what had crossed his mind when she first wrapped her arm in his. As they made love, he saw in the dim light a bead of sweat on her brow–and he remembered.
He hesitated, and she opened her eyes. She knew.
The exchange of body fluids. The nano-virus.
He stopped. “All I have is my memories.”
She looked him in his eyes. “I have given you my body, and I also give you absolution, and a future.”
“She is so beautiful,” he thought, and a question welled up from somewhere deep in his past, a question he once asked himself.
He had ducked the question in his own mind for pomp and power–and paid the price. He looked at her–really looked at her.
Something cut loose and began to drift away.
She squeezed their fingers, and he began again.
“This what is important,” he thought.
* * *
She looked at him from the bed as he splashed his face in the washbasin.
“Open the window, Carlos.”
He threw open the shutters. Brilliant morning sunshine streamed in.
“It looks like it will be a beautiful day,” she said.
She saw he was staring at the nearby riverbank, where the old tracks still scarred the sod.
She came up behind him and pressed her body against his.
“What are you thinking, old timer?”
He squinted. “That old scrap metal lying in the field across the stream. It looks… strange.”
He grabbed her hands. “I feel like I’ve forgotten something.”
“Of course, you have, you old goat! You’ve forgotten what it’s like in the real world after spending all those years in prison.”
“Hell of a welcome, eh girl?” He smiled. “Thanks.”
“Don’t thank me too much. There’s lots of work to be done here.”
Later, as Lawhon busied himself setting up the tavern, the keeper couldn’t help but grin. He finally absented himself in the kitchen.
Paola was setting up benches under the grape arbor when Crestes rode up on a donkey. He saw Lawhon inside the tavern, and quickly sized up the situation.
“Well, sister, you found a man to your liking?”
“He has no family, so no mother-in-law,” she laughed. “He’s penniless and needs help and he’s a hard worker.”
Crestes grimaced. “But he’s mad! The stories he told…”
Paola laid a finger alongside her nose. “They’re just fairy tales. Don’t repeat them. Besides,” she said, looking as Lawhon came outside, “he doesn’t believe them himself.”
She looked at Crestes. “There are myths about a great war in this valley, that left the rivers running with blood, and an evil general who dragged down all his people to defeat to try to save himself.”
Lawhon rubbed his chin. “Never heard ’em.”
He sat down. “Funny thing is, I can’t recall clearly anything before prison, or even why I was there.” He tugged self-consciously at the old uniform shirt. “I think it had something to do with stealing.”
“It’s the shock from seeing the light of day after all those years,” said Paola. “You’ve paid your debt. Now it’s time to get on with your life.”
“Yes, get on with it,” he said with a smile. “Nice to see you, son. I’ve got work to do.”
He loped back inside the tavern.
Crestes hugged his sister. “Best of luck to you both! Let me know when you set up house.”
She kissed him on the cheek. “I will.”
As he rode off, she grabbed a broom of twigs and began to swiftly scour the flagstones. As she looked down, she caught a flashing glance of the pin on her blouse.
She unfastened it and turned it over in her hand – a circle of five golden stars.
She thought for a moment, and then pinned it back on, looking towards the tavern.
“Welcome home, general,” she said softly. “The war is over.”
Irredenta (c) 2011 Lou Antonelli. Previously unpublished.