Standing in the middle of his headquarters area the commander could not believe his eyes. This just couldn’t be. His eyes were playing tricks on him. How could two of his best scouts be headed into camp when they were supposed to be out watching the enemy? He had assigned them the task himself not more than three weeks ago. It was critical that they know where this particular enemy Light Calvary Unit was and what they were doing. This just didn’t happen in his command.
“Arrest those men!” he shouted, to the captain of the guard. “Arrest them and bring them to my tent.” he shouted again. He was on the verge of just killing them on the spot, but he had to know why. Why were they here and not where he had assigned them to be? They would live just long enough to tell their story and then they would die. They had to die as an example of what happened to soldiers who disobeyed orders in time of war. The commander prided himself on a sense of honor. The fact was that he commanded the best army anyone had ever seen, so he was justly proud. How this type of blatant direct disobedience of a direct order in time of war was possible in his command he had to know.
Once in his tent he faced them and fought down the urge to kill them again. He shook as he gripped his sword hilt and fought for control. I run a disciplined army. I train my troops hard, so they know they can do any task assigned to them. To see that training wasted, and discipline flaunted was too much. They will die. Yes, they will die soon. Steady, he told himself, you must wait and hear the explanation if there is one.
As he looked at them standing at attention before him, they seemed not at all nervous. These scouts were seasoned veterans not much fazed them. If they knew how close to death they were, they might be afraid. Yet, if they were aware they didn’t show it. They seemed relaxed almost resigned to what was to come. He had to know why.
“Of all the insubordinate, undisciplined, unprofessional stupid soldiers I have seen in my life you two take the prize,” screamed the commander. “You know we are at war and that intelligence is vital to our campaign, and yet here you stand like two green recruits without an idea as to where your assigned Calvary unit is or what they are doing. You know that the punishment for this is death. You are guilty of disobedience of a lawful order, desertion in the face of the enemy, and cowardice”; the commander could barely control his voice as he said this. “I should just kill you now and have done with it. What could you possible say to me that would save your miserable lives?” He shook and gripped his sword tighter; knuckles whitened as he spoke almost drawing the sword as anger gripped him. “Well what have you to say?” screamed the Commander.
“Do you what us to give our report now Sir?” asked Gus. “Yes,” the Commander said, “I want you to give your report now! That’s the only reason you two are still alive. I just have to hear from your own mouths why you left your assigned post.” “Well sir,” said Gus, “we found them right where you figured they be. We didn’t have no trouble keeping track of them neither. They was real easy to follow cause they was real sloppy troops.” Said Gus. The Commander knew Gus and knew this was as big an insult as Gus could give, to call anyone a sloppy troop. “Yeah,” said Dolf, “they was real bad soldiers.”
“And this gives you an excuse to disobey orders, because they were bad soldiers?” shouted the commander. “You talk about bad soldiers and you stand here when you should be out there watching them. By the gods I could kill you now without a second thought. This is possible the worst example of soldiering I’ve ever seen.” The commander was taking a breath to start screaming again but he was interrupted. “Do you want us to finish our report now?” asked Gus. “Yes, by all means let’s hear the rest of this report.” Said the commander.
“Well, like Dolf said they was real bad soldiers.” Began Gus. “They didn’t set out many scouts by day and even fewer pickets by night. They didn’t care where they camped, as long as it was an easy place to set-up. They didn’t seem to care if it was defensible or not. They didn’t care if they could see or be seen. They never really checked the area to see if it was trapped or just plan dangerous.” Gus shook his head as he continued. “They never would have made it in our army sir, not a chance.”
The Commander was confused. How could they say the other troop were bad soldiers when they were standing accused of cowardice? He resisted the urge to interrupt again just so Gus would continue. He had to hear this story. So, despite all the questions burning inside him he stood quietly and waited for Gus to continue.
“Well, old Dolf and me couldn’t stand it no more and we talked it out. We decided if the circumstances was right we’d do something. We knowed we was only supposed to watch but we couldn’t help it. We followed ‘um for another week. One of us would scout ahead a little, real careful not to leave any sign of ours. We was looking for the right spot to set it up. They was traveling West like you figured Sir.” As Gus said this he gave the commander a nod. As if he was acknowledging the fact that the Commander had helped them in their plan. “Well according to our map there was this real dangerous area and it was right in their path. We both couldn’t believe when they headed right for it.” Gus was shaking his head in disbelief as he said this.
“Well we knew we could do it if we hurried and was careful not to leave no sign. First Dolf went out hunting for some critters and the scat; I mean dung Sir that was what we needed. Dolf also started to work on the exit trail, set the traps and loose handholds and such. “I made real sure that there were no safe exits from that trail.” Dolf said this in a very determined voice. “When Dolf got back, he had everything we wanted and more. It seems he had found a nest of vipers and bagged em all. Must have been more than a dozen of ‘um.” Dolf kind of grinned as Gus said this. The commander had heard of Dolf’s attraction for snakes, it was legendary. “Well Sir, Dolf went back to check on the troop and let me do my work.” Gus said this with a weird sly smile on his face.
By now the Commander was intrigued. What could they have been planing? There was only the two of them against one hundred men. Maybe they were trying to scare the troop off or embarrass them, but why the Commander could not guess. “They was real bad soldiers.” That’s what Dolf had said and he hated bad soldiers more than anything in the world, but what were they going to do? The Commander knew he would just have to wait and learn what his two scouts had planed.
“When I got back to the troop they was just where we expected them to be. That meant they’d be there in two days, just like we figured.” Gus nodded at Dolf as he said this and Dolf nodded back in agreement.
“In two days they found that camp site in the hollow and just as we hoped they set-up camp without checking the perimeter or anything else for that matter,” said Gus, with such discuss in his voice. There was something else in his voice too. The commander could have sworn it sounded like someone saying, “you’ll be fine”, and meaning your going to die horrible. Why did he hear this when the rest of the report sounded so matter of fact? Now he really was intrigued.
The Campsite “Now looking from the south like we was, that hollow was about a hundred yards across. It was lined with hills to the north and west. The hills made the hollow seem deeper and more inviting. Those hills at the northeast were real low gentle ones but they got steeper and rockier as you looked toward the west. At the northwest end there was a trail leading north between the steepest hillsides. The best part was that this place looked like it had been used before and the trail looked well traveled. Course we helped it a bit. We cleaned the fire pits and left some wood nearby, so they wouldn’t have to look too far. They acted like they had won a prize and never thought it might be a set-up.
It was near nightfall, so they set-up even faster and sloppier than normal,” said Gus the disgust in his voice almost too heavy for the words to carry. “Tents pitched near the hills to keep them out of the wind, so they’d be comfortable. Horses tied out front beyond the pickets, so they wouldn’t have to hear ‘um or smell ‘um,” said Gus. “Pretty damn dumb for cavalry if you ask me. The horses are your life, your best defense, and your best weapon why in hell would you put them so far away from you. If I was cavalry I’d sleep with my horse, so I’d be close to it.” Said Dolf. “They put their horses outside the perimeter. Dumb, that was real dumb.”
“Well, we waited for them to get to sleep and then Dolf grabbed his sack of snakes and moved in to the camp. At first the horses were a little nervous, but they settled down after a bit. So, Dolf puts some of them snakes behind the tents and a few alongside the trail. When he knew I was all set, he dropped the last two in the laps of the two sleeping sentries. I had loosened the ropes on every one of those horses by then and when the sentries woke up and felt those snakes, boy, did they let out a yell,” said Gus with a bit of a grin.
Incredible thought the commander; they’re trying to throw a real scare into a hundred light cavalrymen. Why was it so important to find the right spot? What were they trying to do chase off the horses? Now turning a hundred cavalrymen becoming foot soldiers that would be something to see. It would also help in the up coming battle as the enemy cavalry move quickly, was hard to predict and therefor hard to defense. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad day after all.
“They yelled,” said Gus, “and the horses started to move around and that’s when I launched that scat, I mean dung, sir. You see horses know their predators by smell as well as sight. So, when they smell that wolf scat coming at them, they turned to run. You see we used some small trees and bushes like little catapults. We bent them down, tied them in place just after dark, and put a small package of scat in each one. When the sentries yelled, I ran from tree to tree cutting the lines and launching the scat at the horses. They must have thought that a whole pack of wolves was coming for ‘um, cus they turned and ran back toward the camp. Then those dumb sentries, still yelling about the snakes, start running after ‘um.
The camp is awake and they comes stumbling out of their tents and here come the horses. They’s running right at ‘um. So, now the troops have got to run to get out of the way of their own horses. There is an easy way to go and that’s back toward a pass in the hills behind the tents. Now this trail it starts out okay, but it gets pretty narrower as it goes back farther. They don’t notice how steep it’s getting at first but a little later some of them tried to climb off the trail and out of the path of the stampeded horses.
You remember I told you Dolf fixed the handholds and had a few snakes to spare. He set a few traps and rockslides too, nothing too heavy just enough to keep them on the trail. We used our bows to take care of any stragglers. They never saw us; this was a statement of fact.
Well most of ‘um keeps running ahead of the horses. Them that trip and fall get trampled, so, they rest run faster. The snakes and scat has the horses in a panic. We keep them moving and keep an eye out for any that try to slip back through. With a hundred horses running in that narrow trail there is not much of a chance of ‘um getting through. Dolf had done a real good job on those handholds off the trail too. There was not a rock or bush that he didn’t loosen or cut. Them that tried that way rolled right back down into the path of the horses.
Remember we told you that this was a dangerous area? Well, that’s cause there are lots of rockslides and cave-ins and the lands always changing around. You really have to watch were you’re going. You’re liable to end up in a box canyon or worse. That’s why you should always scout your campsite and check any trails to find where they go.
We heard the yelling and knew it was going to get tricky soon. So, we start yelling at the horses to get them to run faster. Dolf has a snake left and throws it onto one of the horses’ back. You should have seen him jump and kick when he felt that snake. They’re all running real fast and are packed real close together. There is a lot more screaming and yelling coming from up front, but we keep yelling and waving our arms to keep them horses moving at full speed. We had a small bag of scat tied to our belts so we smelled like wolves to the horses. That helped keep them moving ahead of us, said Gus.
The commander tried to imagine what would happen at the end of that boxed canyon when there was no place to run and a hundred horses were running at you. It was not a pretty picture. War was a nasty business at best but sometimes it got real ugly. This thought the commander was one of those times. He didn’t know how right he was.
“Well Sir, a frightened horse will just keep running no matter what and that’s what we wanted. You see the trail ended after about three-quarters of a mile. Yeah, it ended in a hundred and fifty-foot drop. You see it was one of those rockslides took out the trail completely. So, we figure the first men were looking back for the horses and it was dark. They kinda ran right off the trail into the air. The rest tried to stop but there was a hundred horses coming and no place to go. No handholds, no footholds, and a few rockslides, so, they tried to stop the horses. We was yelling and they was yelling but we had them horses moving our way. They had to stop a charging herd and none of them was mounted, and we was. It was an impossible job from the start cause that’s how we planed it.
So, you see Sir, we know where our assigned troops are. We can point you to every one of them. They ain’t going nowhere. You see Sir, they’s all dead sir everyone of ‘um, yep, all hundred of ‘um. So, we’re not neglecting our duty, and we come back to report in person cause we didn’t trust this news to any kind of signal. That’s our report, sir,” said Gus.
The commander just stood there for a few moments trying to absorb what he had just heard. These two men had found one hundred light cavalrymen to be bad soldiers and had planed and executed them and come back to report. They had come back to report in person because they knew that this information was too important to trust to any signal system. He had been screaming at them only a few moments ago about what bad soldiers that they were and about how he was going to kill them. What if he had killed them before they could give their report? He had come dangerously close to doing just that. They had to know about his temper and they had to know that they might be killed on the spot. A shudder ran through his body as he considered what might have happened.
He had to ask. He had to know if they did this aware that they were facing death. He had to know if they were as perfect as he now pictured them. "What if I had ordered you killed on the spot before you could give your report,” he asked? “What if I had killed you myself for what I thought was disobedience of a direct order and deserting your post, he asked? “You know how close I was to doing just that?” The last question was asked and then he paused to hear what they would say.
Again, without the slightest hesitation Gus replied. “Yes, sir we did sir. We knowed we took a risk but like I said this was too important to send by signal. We planed that too. Dolf ain’t much for talking so, on the way back he wrote down what happened. I kind of talked him through it you might say. Even riding hard and trying to hear me talking and him writing at the same time, he done a pretty fair job of it too, Gus smiled as he nodded to Dolf as he spoke. Dolf produced a tightly rolled parchment from small map tube. He handed it to Gus who it turn handed it to the commander.
The still dazed commander took the document and nodded to the scouts. “Better get some chow and rest men we’ll talk more of this later,” was all the commander could think of to say. They saluted as they left. Leaving the commander holding the written report in his hand and a puzzled expression on his face. Were do you find men of this caliber and with such honor and courage. “Those two could probably win the war by themselves if they put their minds to it,” he managed to chuckle under his breath, “but I swear that they just took ten years off my life.”
He walked to the war map and removed the piece that had represented the enemy light cavalry unit. Won’t the enemy commander be surprised when he signals for these troops to attack and nothing happens, thought the commander? He’ll be almost as surprised, as I was to find that they have already been eliminated by two of my scouts. He looked down at the piece in his hand, round one to us, he thought, and the battle hasn’t even started yet. I wonder what I can assign them to scout for me next? He chuckled, maybe they can keep an eye on the enemy commander for me and if he turns out not to meet their standards, well… He laughed to himself. I can hear the enemy commander’s personal guards now, “I swear he was there a minute ago. Scouts honor.”
John A. Mortenson