The Company Gunnery Sergeant was shouting, shouting, shouting. His voice echoed off the parade deck, while the Marines of House Kilo stood motionless at parade rest outside the company holdfast.
“Seven Hells, if just one of you gets the pox this night from the maidens at Littlefinger’s pleasure house, or pays the iron price instead of the gold price at the Exchange, I’ll take a sword to the lot of your throats,” Gunny Clegane shouted at them.
A half dozen corpsmen from House Navy lazily watched the formation from the smoke pit. The base loudspeaker was faintly playing John Philip Sousa, or somewhere a cart full of chimes had collided with a cart full of drums. It was hard to tell.
Lance Corporal Stark sat in a musty chair by the company clerk’s desk, also watching the formation from above. Captain Frey must be deaf as well as dumb to call this a safety brief.
Stark was dressed in a short-sleeve khaki shirt with dark green service trousers, holding a dark green garrison cap with a chipped and faded Eagle Globe and Anchor on the front. He wore his Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Service Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Ribbon, and Sea Service Ribbon.
He had never bothered getting his Good Conduct Ribbon. He had never needed to.
Lance Corporal Renly, the company clerk, looked over at him. Renly was wearing woodland MARPAT, with his sleeves rolled in a loose and wrinkled manner where his veins were not popping out. He wore a set of Danner hot weather boots, with a red dogtag that he claimed had been issued to him by the Battalion Aid Station.
“Fear cuts deeper than swords, Lance Corporal Stark,” Renly said. Stark, a crofter from the frozen northland of Minnesota, eyed him coldly.
Renly drank a swallow of Monster, then bit into some chicken fingers as he spoke. Grease dribbled down his chin as he enjoyed their succulent taste. They were still hot from Church’s Chicken.
Stark could not fault him for his choice of dining.
The chow hall had served dry chicken and greasy lasagna, with a side of bland potatoes and even blander green beans. The drinks had been water-flavored soda and juice, and half a cup of coffee-like sludge until the machine had broken down again.
“Captain Frey will see, kof, see you shortly, kof kof…” Renley’s words broke up in a fit of coughing. The Monster slipped from his hand and green liquid went running across the desk.
First Lieutenant Bolton, the Executive Officer, walked by them towards the door. He was dressed only in his smallclothes, a damp olive green undershirt, non-regulation silkies, a fluorescent yellow reflector belt, and what were almost certainly issued running shoes.
He smelled like sweat and discount Old Spice. On his left arm he had a tattoo of what looked like a blind beggar’s attempt to paint the Eagle Globe and Anchor, the sigil of the Marines.
“My lost PFT score sends its regards,” Bolton said to Renly in his whispery soft voice as his cold milky white eyes fell upon the clerk. Renly’s face was turning red, but not as red as the Gunnery Sergeant, who kept shouting at the formation.
“… Gods be good, if she’s not flowered when you have her, I’ll have you sent north to The Front Gate to live out your days saluting lords and ladies,” he continued to shout as Stark was summoned into the office of his liegelord, Captain Frey.
Frey sat in an cheaply-upholstered reclining chair, with no back and missing a rolling wheel. Years of midnight phone calls and non-putative letters of caution had taken their toll on the captain, who was at that most ancient age of 32.
Stark cleared his throat. “I have come to make my apologies for the wrong I did to House Kilo, and to beg for your forgiveness, my lord.”
“Words are wind, Stark,” Frey glared at him. “You’d do as well talking to my chamberpot, heh. And where is the hauberk that you were issued from the CIF? At the local pawn merchant?”
Lost on last week’s night march while you were sleeping in the saddle, Stark thought. “No words can set my crime right,” he responded.
“That makes me grievous,” Frey said. “You could have sworn a hundred oaths, but that won’t sign the missing gear statement.”
From the shadows at the back of the office, First Sergeant Payne appeared. The specter of the company, thought Stark as he watched the Captain’s Justice stride forward, gaunt and grim.
He had been too young to have known First Sergeant on the drill field, before he’d lost his wife. He would have been a different man in those days, but now the silence is as much a part of him as those hollow eyes, clipboard in his arm, and tan line on his finger where his wedding band had once been.
The Gunnery Sergeant had stopped shouting. Instead he made a gurgling sound as a quarrel sprouted from his neck. The corpsmen in the smoke pit now had crossbows in their hands instead of Marlboros and Copenhagen.
The base loudspeaker was now playing “The Rains of Castamere.” A dozen Staff Sergeants emerged through the holdfast’s portcullis and fell upon the formation with axes and daggers gleaming.
“Time for their terminal leave to start, heh,” cackled Frey over the sound of screams. “No police blotter for House Kilo this weekend. As for you… First Sergeant Payne… bring me his rank!”
No, don’t, don’t take my rank, I have another interest payment on my car. Then the NJP was in Stark’s hand and its bite was red and cold.
Duffel Blog writer Tony of House Army sent a raven to contribute to this scroll.