Dulce Et Decorum Est
AU!FFXII, AU!European History. Inspired by silverariane's WWI AU and mahokiwi. Title from the WWI poem by Wilfred Owen.
(The people of his brother are cruel in the summer; the people of his brother laugh guttural.)
He and his brother die with a river between them and a thousand unvoiced arguments. They die on different soil. On the afternoon that French soldiers spare a moment to put Basch into the ground, the sky is filthy with smoke from the front lines. German troops are moving steadily closer with each passing hour. The soldier who slapped the first spadeful of dirt on Basch's face leans heavily on his shovel while cradling a bent cigarette in his hands, unwilling to strike a match until the enemy's position can be ascertained.
Basch's fingers brush the English Channel. His toes are in the Mediterranean surf. The Seine crosses his belly like a wet lash, like the wound he took that spilled out his guts in beslimed ropes. He sleeps, and sleeps, and dreams of Luxembourg -- of their mother's land, with their simple fields and cottage and half-a-dozen dim-witted sheep -- and what it had been like to possess two strong arms and two strong legs and a mouth that could laugh, free of muffling dirt.
Death spreads him out like butter on toast. Grassroots and worms devour his remains. As the battlefront festers, Basch forgets the span between childhood and adult, and thinks only of home. He thinks about his brother, and the times when they both were young together. He does not know if this is what either of them wanted from war. He does not remember why it matters. Their mother is dead. Their home is no more. Only old grudges remain.
Old grudges, and ghosts.
Noah sends him messages in the form of an escalating body count.
Basch answers with a winter of poetry, hungry artists cobbling together words to protest war, speaking with the voice he no longer possesses. Germany's police crack down on foreign imports, foreign influences, but the artists and philosophers have already had their imaginations sparked. Germany fights with itself. In Berlin, a man named Hugo Ball is banned; in Pirmasens, he is loved, and Basch sleeps through the rest of the year grinning to the sounds of Le Cabaret Voltaire recited through the snow: remind the world that there are people of independent minds -- beyond war and nationalism -- who live for different ideals.
Soldiers come to his shores. Soldiers leave, whispering of gas masks and agony. Basch hears the rumble of footsteps above him, of militia rallied together and set loose on the field. As a boy, he heard those kinds of sounds before: submerged in the river while swimming, or in his bed, feverish. Distant thrumming drumbeats, mimicking a heart's rhythm beneath fingertips. The earth vibrates.
Flags are being planted over his bones. He does not know which colors.
The line advances and retreats. Every recruit becomes a convert on the battlefield. Arrêtez, aidez-moi, aidez-moi, they call out, choruses of rain and terror and artillery. Mon dieu. They pray to him, to the nameless unknown god who lives in gunpowder cartridges rather than inside a cathedral, and Basch can do nothing to save them, not even the ones who voice their pleas like lovers: aide, aide, aide.
At times they bleed with his brother's tongue, and Basch tries to ignore the whimpers.
Bitte. Bitte. Es verletzt.
Ech verstinn nët, Basch thinks desperately in the dialect of his homeland, over and over until the noises stop.
His brother sends more. Troops advance across the human-drawn boundaries of maps and into the restraints of geography, butting up against hillsides and wading through streams. Basch feels them crawling over the soil. He feels them abandoned where they fall, or entombed in mass graves for efficiency and to prevent the spread of flies. He hears them crying at night when they think no one else is around, and how they each speak yearningly for home over cups of rancid coffee, and how they hope the enemy dies soon.
(He was on the other side of the river. Noah watched from the furthest bank. It was the same barrage that took them both out at once: awkward casualties of friendly fire, blossoms of red and orange explosions, Noah's silhouette stamped on Basch's retinas like a window paper cutout. And then Noah was toppling over with the left side of his body gone all funny and the air was shuddering hot like a wave, and Basch let the earth hit his knees, dragging him down, down into a sleep that never let him go.)
In Luxembourg now, the Moselle vineyards would be heavy and lush. The August rains will have peaked and settled into their last sultry gasps before October ushers them off to rest. In France, soldiers cluster together in hastily-dug trenches that are filling up with slime and rot. In Germany -- across the river, an impossible distance away -- the invading commanders shield their eyes from the sunset's glare, and frown.
Where Basch lies, the breeze sings with shellfire. His storms are heavy with the thunder of the rolling barrage. He is a soldier's nameless god, having died for the honor of a country where he was not born. He will dream of war forever.
Death has not tempered Noah's aggression. Noah's people claim vast portions of land as their own, stamping down muddied grass with regulation military boots. Noah's anger has not dimmed, and his hatred for Basch is being spelled out in sacrificial corpses, and Basch thinks with each fresh, futile round of artillery: bitte, aidez, hellef.
Arrêtez: Stop (formal) (French)
Mon dieu: My god (French)
Aidez-moi: Help me (formal) (French)
Aide(-moi): Help me (informal) (French)
Bitte: Please (in this context) (German)
Es verletzt: It hurts (German)
Ech verstinn nët : I don't understand (Luxembourgish)
Hellef : Help (Luxembourgish)