My Sweet Gentle Veteran
After the Lieutenant said that, my eyes went wide awake. Relieving me from my maid duty… that means she’s… firing me, isn’t she? I dropped the plate I was washing. And turned to face the Lieutenant.
“What? But why?” I asked, quite in disbelief.
“As I’ve said, I was thinking of relieving you of your maid duty. That means you won’t have to take care of me anymore.” she replied.
I turned the faucet in the sink off.
“But… but why? Have I offended you in any way? Ah, well, now that I think of it, I might have done that several times without knowing. And if I did, I’m truly sorry, I never meant any of it…”
“No… no, it’s not that…”
“Then why? Are you not satisfied with my overall performance? I’m… I’m sorry that I’m not that strong, and caused you pain every time I tried to help you out. But, but I’ll work harder to be better, I promise!”
“You see, that’s the problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“Lonnete, I told you before that I didn't have any friends back when I was your age, yes? I was too absorbed in my love for art. And I often found myself alone, sketching, painting… That’s the only thing I did throughout my school years besides the basic obligation. I missed out on a lot of things in my youth… Bah, I said that, as if I’m over forty or something, even though I just entered my twentieth year. But still, the fact remains that my late teenage years was a sad one. I don’t have any friends, I’m always lonely, and then the war took everything, including my ability to paint.”
“Lieutenant, then why…”
“I don’t want the same thing to happen to you, you know… You devoted all the time you have in taking care of me, I… I don’t want to take all of your precious time away from you… When was the last time you talked with your friends? When was the last time you hang out with them? When was the last time you visited your family? As far as I’m concerned, you were always here with me.”
When she says it like that, I just realized that it is true. It’s true that I’ve only been thinking of her in the past few months. I didn’t have much room for anything else, I actually hadn't written any letters to my friend for more than three weeks. And I haven’t read the letters my parents sent to me yet. But… for some reason, I didn’t feel burdened at all. The fact that I’ve forgotten to do anything else but to take care of her… Would you be thinking of doing something else when you like doing what you’re currently doing? I don’t think so.
“You could’ve spent your time doing anything else. Talking with your parents, hanging out with your friends. Pursuing the theatre life like you always wanted to. But no, no. Instead of that, you were stuck here, taking care of a troublesome big baby.”
“Lieutenant, don’t say that, that’s not true…”
“Again, I’m sorry, Lonnete… To tell you the truth, it is me who asked them to send me someone around my age to be my helper.”
“I-is that true? You can do that?”
“The fact that you’re here is proof of that.”
I’m not really sure what to think of that. Well, looking back, my work order does seem rather sudden without any prior notice. So that was her doing.
I went silent, and look down to see the palm of my hands. It’s quite wrinkly and rugged, either as a result of handling the broom too much, or having too much contact with cleaning agent. I remembered when I used to take care of my nail in my school year, every day, I would spend some time polishing it. I no longer have any time to do that now.
Then I stared at my reflection on the glass cabinet mirror. I could see a pair of noticeable eyebags forming underneath my eyes. Huh, weird, since when do I have these. I remember during my school years I’ve always taken extra care of my skin, especially of my face. Back then I would hunt the market for any kind of cosmetic products with my friends.
“See, Lonnete… you’re starting to lose sight of what you wanted. I asked you why you wanted to be an actress, and yet you couldn’t answer me.”
“No… Lieutenant, that’s different, because… because…”
“Because my reason was so shallow that I’m too ashamed to say it out loud… Especially in front of someone like you…”
“You are stressed out, Lonnete.” The Lieutenant said with a sigh, pulling my attention back to her again. “And that’s why, for your sake. I will be relieving you.”
Me? Stressed out? Is that for real?
My mind trailed for somewhere, I couldn’t be stressed out, could I? After all, I’m just a maid. I couldn’t even begin to compare to the Lieutenant.
I couldn’t. Not after I realise how much pain she’s been holding on to herself
Not after what happened yesterday at the cemetery...
“... Aand done. Phew, I must say, you look quite dashing in your uniform, Lieutenant. If you were a boy, I probably would have fallen for you! Hehe.” I said, as I finished wrapping the officer tie on the Lieutenant’s uniform.
“Geez, stop making unfunny jokes like that Lonnete.” The Lieutenant said that, but I can sense her being flustered.
I looked at the mirror and saw the figure of that gentle girl being wrapped in all sorts of military regalia. A royal blue uniform that has the same colour as the flag of the commonwealth, laced with all sorts of medals and insignias. Most notable is the medal of honour, hanging on her left chest. Supposedly it was a medal handed only to those who have accomplished the greatest of deeds, I heard there’s only twelve recipients in the entire Commonwealth military. Army, navy, and air force combined, which makes the Lieutenant all the more awesome in my eyes.
“And besides, I never really got much chance of using this uniform. I actually spent most of the war as a corporal, and only got promoted to lieutenant near the end of the war.”
“Hee, Is that so… Well, regardless of that, it looks good on you!”
“Well… Thank you, I’m glad you think so.”
“Ehm, but are you sure you wanted to wear that for today? I mean, the victory parade is only four days away. Shouldn’t we save it for that?”
A week before, several men from the military came over to our house. They wish to inform the Lieutenant that the military is going to hold a victory parade in the capital city, Aronessa, to celebrate the first anniversary of the end of the war. And since she was one of the few recipients of the medal of honour that are still alive, they wished that she could attend and take part in the parade. I raised a point regarding the Lieutenant’s condition, on how she most likely won’t be able to walk, let alone march. But they assured me that they will accommodate her to the best of their abilities.
“Yes, I’m certain. I will be visiting all of my friends after all. I need to make sure that I dress up properly”
“Visiting your friends…”
The Lieutenant did say that. But she also mentioned that we will be visiting the monument of heroes. A war memorial dedicated to those who gave up their life in the war. If I recall correctly, a vast burial ground surrounds that memorial. It wasn’t hard to put two to two together.
The ride towards the memorial was quiet. I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to the Lieutenant’s friends. She never really told me of her war stories in detail, only bits and pieces scattered throughout random conversations. And even then, it wasn’t much. I did read her dossier back then. It is mentioned that she was a sniper, and I remember reading some of her achievements, which includes ' around 500 to 600 ground kills, 15 Aircrafts downed, and 1 Heavy cruiser sunk.' Even I, who were not that familiar with military terms, knew what a huge accomplishment that last part was. For a single soldier to sink a large warship all on her own, no wonder they gave her such a prized medal.
But she always avoided speaking of it. She didn’t like dwelling on her accomplishments and never wanted to take any credit, so I never probed any further. And my gut feeling told me that something really bad had happened to her friends.
We finally reached the memorial. It was a quiet place; you could listen to the breeze of wind gently caressing your face as birds sang in the distance. I remember that it’s dedicated to those who gave up their life in the war. It was a large structure made of marble, that made it quite difficult for someone in a wheelchair to go all the way to the top, so we were content just looking at it from the ground. There was a huge plaque mounted below the bronze statue of a knight standing at the top, which lists the names of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who have given up their lives for this country. The Lieutenant looked around, looking for the names of her friends, her eyes glanced over every single name on the plaque.
I myself joined in with her. Though the words on the plaque were so small that I can barely see what’s written. The Lieutenant, however, seems to have no problem reading them at all. Probably reminiscent of her being a sniper. Nevertheless, I noticed that the names were separated in some sort of a group. I think I remember the Lieutenant mentioning something like a division, a battalion, a battlegroup, and a company. Maybe whichever one of those?
After several minutes of looking around, a man in blue uniform similar to that of the Lieutenant approached us with a salute.
“Afternoon, misses. I noticed that you’ve been staring at the plaque for quite some time. Are you looking for someone in particular?”
“Ah, yes. Well, I was looking for a group to be exact. Where’s the entire Ouroboros drop troops battlegroup buried?” Asked the Lieutenant.
“Ouroboros? Are you…” He approached from behind us, so he didn’t see it at first. But as I turned the Lieutenant’s wheelchair around towards him, he recognized the medal of honour she’s wearing on her uniform. And I could see him raising both eyebrows in awe before talking to us again. “I see, yes ma’am, right this way.” The guard said, as he walked towards a paved path on the burial grounds. I followed through as I pushed the wheelchair.
I observed the guard further. He was a tall man with blond hair, like many others, he doesn’t seem that old. Even though he does seem quite older than the two of us.
“Ma’am, I noticed the medal of honour you are wearing. Are you by any chance, the white witch, Cromwell?”
White witch Cromwell? That’s the first time I’ve heard of that nickname…
“In the flesh.” The Lieutenant said, sternly. I was quite surprised when she said that in a very matter of fact tone. It was unlike the Lieutenant that I know, whose gentle and soft voice would make even the hardest of rock soften.
“I see, it’s an honour, ma’am.”
“And you are?”
“Yes, sorry for not introducing myself earlier. I am Corporal Jakob Saarinen, Commonwealth army 42nd Mechanized Infantry division. I served on army group north, like you, ma’am.”
“I see, it’s a pleasure, Corporal.”
“No no, the pleasure is mine, Lieutenant.” He stopped walking and turned towards us. “Actually, I’ve always wanted to give my personal gratitude to you, Lieutenant.”
The Lieutenant seems quite surprised at this. “For what? I’m sorry, but as far as I remember, this is the first time we’ve met.”
“That might be true, but your actions affected countless of people, Lieutenant. Including me, and my family. You see, I am a Norden, many of us who fled from the Empire to the Commonwealth settled in on the city of Arcour.” He explained, I saw the Lieutenant made a long face that says ‘oh.’ “When Arcour was besieged by the Empire, my entire family was trapped in there. There is not a single day where I did not think about them, I’ve lost counts on the numbers of sleepless night I’ve went through because of that.”
“But then something happened. The besieger on Arcour seems suddenly undersupplied, and Commonwealth forces managed to break through the siege line and liberate the city. Later, I found out that was because of your heroic deeds. I heard that you sunk a heavy cruiser and blew up an entire logistical port, causing supply problems for the Empire. I don’t know how you did it, but…” Again, in a gesture reminiscent of Mr. Hiigata and Le Blanc. Jakob bowed deeply towards the Lieutenant, holding one hand in her chest. “I am profoundly grateful! I can see my family again thanks to you, I always wanted to thank the white witch for saving my entire family, and here you are now. Thank you so much for your service!”
“I see, I see, I see, I am glad you and your family are safe.” The Lieutenant said, still in her stern and matter of fact tone. Although I noticed something else in her voice… She seems very nonchalant about her answer.
“No no, that won’t do. I don’t know how much this will help but…” He reached for something in his pocket. And handed it over to me for checking. “… Here’s my contact address. My father is a parliament member, I’m sure with the connections he has, we can be helpful for you.”
“I see, I appreciate it. Thank you, Corporal” The Lieutenant said.
“It’s my pleasure, Lieutenant!” He said, ending it with a fine salute before turning back to escort us towards our original destination.
Saying that the burial ground is large is a severe understatement. The sight stretched for a couple of miles. It was so quiet; one could hear the wind. Rows and rows of crosses, headstones, and tombstones sat on hills and swales all the way down the hill into the valley. Written are the names of those who have given their lives for their countries. Coats, helmet, uniform, belts, children’s toys and all other keepsakes were lies atop some of these graves, all in the likeness of those who wore them.
And then our guide stopped walking. "Here it is." He said, pointing towards a section of the grave, "The Battalion of Heroes, the Ouroboros drop troops." It wasn't far from the one I was staring at. At the sight of it I was spellbound. There were about 80 to 90 names written on the separate granite stone.
“Thank you, Corporal. Now, would you mind? I need some time for myself.”
“Yes, of course Lieutenant.” He said, leaving with yet another salute.
“You too, Lonnete. Would you kindly give me some time alone?”
“Eh? Uh, yes, Lieutenant, of course.”
So, I left the Lieutenant alone with all of her supposed friends, I can only hope that she is okay. With that being said, I took some time to explore around the cemetery.
I saw one man with an old cloth folded over a picture of his young boy. It was so quiet that I can hear what he was mumbling about. "Here he was" he said. "He was in the war. They put him on a train one day and took him away". The peace on the face of the man told a whole different story. "So a thing that we think so highly of, our strong soldiers, is in reality just a fading picture, they never really exist. "
That was quite a sad thing to listen to. Here and there, I would see people visiting their loved ones, leaning over their gravestone, reading the dates. Some of them looked so upset, others so tired and sad, that you could tell they wanted so badly just to cry. One of the graves that caught my attention belongs to one Amy Nicholas Ann, a girl who served in the army, its epitaph reads "Mother, I love you so much. Goodbye. I am leaving you. Please forgive me." Reading that sent shivers down my spine, the harrowing message left me wondering why the military, or for that matter anyone would send their children off to die in a war when you can at least choose to live in peace? Those children don't have the choice that they do. And looking at how the Lieutenant ends up, it's all the more absurd.
On the other end of the row, I can see a little boy no older than nine. It was so quiet that I can hear him crying and shouting. "Please daddy, don't leave me!" No one answered him. I approached him slowly. He stared at me with a confused look on his face.
"I'm sorry" I said, "I can't imagine how hard it must be for you right now. I just wanted to let you know that I'm here for you, and if you ever need any help, I'm always here for you." I got no response, he just kept crying.
I felt like I was walking through a nightmare, seeing someone go through this. I wished I could do more for them. Feeling that my presence was not enough to help, I walked away. If I wasn't already, I was definitely leaving the cemetery with a very heavy heart if not for the Lieutenant. I will not even go there, it's not my place to give anything like that any sort of moral value. I was told I should not pity people who kill, but seeing her, I am not sure if that rule applies to her.
That's all I can think of right now.
"Lonnete? Lonnete? Where are you?"
That's when I heard the Lieutenant calling for me.
"Ah! Yes Lieutenant, I'm right here!" I replied, running across the field, raising my maid skirt up as I go to not make it dirty. ”I’m here, Lieutenant. How can I help you?”
“Uhm, so… I told you to leave me alone before because I want to have some time for myself, right?”
“Uh huh, that makes sense.”
“I wanted to visit all of my friends buuut, I uh, can’t move the wheelchair by myself, you know, soo …”
“Oh. I see. Okay.”
“Ah, what are you talking about Lieutenant. It’s okay to have some time alone for yourself once in a while. Here, let me help you.”
“Thankyou, Lonnete. Move over there please.”
I moved towards the spot the Lieutenant pointed to with what’s left of her right arm. Another row granite cross that looked like the others on this section.
“So… these are your friends, Lieutenant?”
“There’s… A lot of graves in this section…”
“Yeah. I’m the only one left alive.”
“I-is that so…” No wonder why she’s never keen with dwelling on the past… “The guy from before, Corporal Saarinen seems to regards you very highly.”
“I’m sure you and all of your friends were all very brave heroes.”
This time, the Lieutenant did not give a reply immediately. She gave a long look at the graves of her past comrades. And then she sighs.
“I’m not a hero, Lonnete.”
“Oh, come now Lieutenant. You’ve heard what Corporal Saarinen said. You’re basically his hero.”
“Eight hundred and twenty-seven.”
“Eight hundred and twenty-seven. That’s how much people that were on board the Mistaya that day.”
“The Cruiser that I sunk.”
That’s… a lot of people, but surely those were the people from the Imperial navy, right? So, what’s wrong about-
“There are mothers that won’t see their children. Children that lost their parents. Siblings separated.”
“That’s… sad. But the sailors should know what they signed up for, shouldn’t they?”
“Oh, I know what you’re thinking. So let me tell you this. The Mistaya lost control and crashed into Baron Severny, An Imperial convoy ship with 231 people on board as it docked on the port.”
“The convoy ship was carrying volatile explosives. The crash triggering massive explosion on the port as it reached the fuel storage and munitions depot. There were thousands of people.”
“I caused the death of thousands of people in a single day, Lonnete. Thousands of people, dead.”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you I was from Edna? The exact same port town that happened? When I got back to what used to be my home after the city had been liberated. I found corpses of my siblings. Both crushed by a combination heavy steel beam and concrete slab just in front of my ruined house.”
“My god… Lieutenant, I’m… sorry, I have no idea… So does that mean when Corporal Saarinen told the story of how his family was saved by your action…”
“You know what’s funny? I didn’t cry at all when I saw their lifeless body. You know what I did? I laughed. I laughed, and laughed, and laughed. I laughed so hard that I vomited what little food I ate that morning. But still, I continued to laugh. I kept laughing until I feel like I couldn’t breathe anymore. I kept laughing until I collapsed on the ground and passed out. When I woke up the next morning, I found myself lying on a medical tent, with people hailing me as a hero.”
“You know, that’s why I hated the word hero. Is this what heroes do? Kill? Is this what heroes do? Laughing upon the dead remnants of their own siblings? Ah, that was messed up, wasn’t it? What kind of person would burst out laughing like a maniac upon seeing the rotten carcasses of their own siblings? Apparently, I was that person. I should’ve cried. I should’ve howled and wailed in despair. Because, because, that was my family, right? That’s the last of my family. Gone. By my own hands. I should’ve been in tears. But no, I did not cry. The tears wont flow. I laughed, why? I wonder why, why won’t the tears flow? Why won’t I cry?”
“L-lieutenant?” I noticed a subtle change in her voice. She conveyed all of her words in a deadpan tone. As if she wasn’t talking to me. As if she was talking… to herself.
“Ah, thinking back, I remember how messed up my mind was back then. I think I remember why I didn’t cry. It was because I thought of how stupid and pointless their death looks. My little sister got her head planted onto the ground by a large concrete slab. My little brother made this weird pose after a steel beam cut his body in half. I think, that’s what I was laughing at, yeah. The comical poses they made when they died. Didn’t know that was possible with a human body. But of course, I laughed. This life would’ve been a tragedy if it weren’t funny. So I laughed.”
What is this? I couldn’t believe what I’m listening to. Who am I talking to right now? Who is this? Never in my entire life have I ever seen something like this. Is this really the Lieutenant? How come she could say all of those words? It’s one thing if a mentally insane person says all of that erratically. But no, she said that in a very calm and composed tone. It is as if she was just talking normally over an afternoon tea. What is happening here?
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m fine. I’m fine. I am sober now. I can think objectively, now. I was just relaying to you my thought process at the time and I objectively know how messed up my actions was back then. I assure you that I won’t be that messed up while I still have clarity of mind. I’m-“
Listening to her jumbled mumbling was not pleasant at all. I remember covering my mouth in disbelief at the words coming out of the Lieutenant’s mouth. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to tap on the Lieutenant’s shoulder, putting some amount of force into it in hopes it would stop her.
And I’m relieved to found out that she stopped talking.
A moment of silence followed between us. The sound of leaves rattling in the wind could be heard, gushing through the both of us.
“Would you… like some cigarette?”
“Let’s go home… Lieutenant.”
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