Originally written for the "Surrender" prompt over at Cheesemongers on LJ (like MR? Come see us!) and influenced by Band of Brothers, in particular the "Bastogne" episode.
Summary: Years after the events of Monstrous Regiment, Polly has led her "lads" into a testing situation and is faced with a difficult decision. Polly/Mal implied.
Disclaimer: Terry Pratchett owns the characters and the world they live on. I am grateful for all the brilliant books and make no claims of ownership in any way.
Dulce Et Decorum Est
A lone figure sat in the lookout post, gazing out over the barren frozen land. It was more of a hole really, Polly thought. But it did mean you could see the enemy without getting shot at. Or at least see where they were supposed to be. Polly squinted in a vain attempt to see anything in the tree line. They might make a rush, you never knew.
"Tea up!" It was impossible to tell from her smile whether it was aimed at the welcome distraction of her sergeant or the steam rising from the mug placed into her cold hands.
She sipped and felt the warming spread, damping the shivers for a while at least.
"Mal you are a veritable angel" she murmured, shifting over to allow the vampire to shuffle more comfortably down beside her.
"And you look almost like a vampire" her sergeant replied grinning. "You have to start eating again my dear; this fashion of hollow cheeks does not suit you at all."
The elbow to the ribs delivered in response was not a method of communication normally used in the field between lieutenant and sergeant, but they had found non-verbal communication worked well and used it whenever possible.
They sat for a while in companionable silence, but the ever invading cold began to creep back in. Polly wrapped the greatcoat closer around her shoulders and swore.
"So" said Mal brightly, "how goes the war?
"Same old, same old" muttered the now shivering form, burrowing closer for warmth.
Mal sighed. "Two groups of troops, fine bodies of men (hah) sitting in holes each side of a field, watching each other. Isn't modern warfare great?"
They huddled together for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts.
"It aint them we'll lose to". In the chilly silence Polly's quiet admission fell between them like a stone.
They both knew it was true. Stronger enemies than the Moldovians faced them across this high pass in the mountains. Thanks to the wonderful efforts of the high command they had been sent with no additional food and no winter clothing. A rush job, they'd been told. Only take a couple of days. Stop the enemy crossing the pass until the cavalry got there. But then the snows came. The route into the mountains was impassable on both sides. Both invaders and defenders were cut off. No cavalry, no relief troops, just holes to hide in and the ever-invading cold.
There had been sorties in the early days. Men lost on either side. They lay in front of her, snow covered heaps impossible to tell which side they had fought on. There was no energy for sorties now. The opposing sides clung to their small patch of mountain side. Two armies, slowly starving each other to death.
"Hooper got back" Mal recollected. "That boy's the luckiest lad around."
"To be back up here with us?" Polly laughed. "He should have fallen off that cliff like the others, or stayed down there."
Few messengers were surviving the trip down the perilous goat track to the remainder of the regiment in the valley below. Overlooked by enemy positions it was only attemptable at night, when it was even harder to judge a secure footing on icy rocks.
Those that got through hadn't brought back much hope. The high command appreciated their situation but they were to fight to the last man. And now, even those at base camp were on short rations. Thanks to up-to-date, first-class intelligence, supply carts had been sent through enemy held territory and lost.
Polly perked up abruptly. "What did he bring? Anything good?"
"A bag of potatoes, 4 turnips and a side of horse. At least he thinks it's horse, looks more like boots to me. Oh, and a bag of coffee." Mal added with a rueful smile. "Smart lad."
"Between how many? 27?" Polly was planning meals already. "That'll last about 4 days, if we're careful and…"
"26" Mal interjected quietly. "We lost Mitch"
Polly's shoulders slumped and she sagged back against the mud wall staring out over the wasteland.
"Look at them, hiding in their holes. They must be just as hungry and as cold and as tired as us, why don't they do something!" She gestured wearily at the invisible enemy. "Those damn !" She swallowed the epithet as she dropped her head in her hands.
"Shh, now." The thin arm around her shoulder was strangely comforting. Mal always claimed she was terrible at being sympathetic, but somehow her appalling attempts always worked better than the real thing. Polly shifted her cheek more comfortably into her sergeant's shoulder and sighed.
"I can't do this Mal. I've tried. I really have."
Encouraged by the squeeze to her shoulder she took a breath and tried again. "Either we surrender, and take our chances in the Moldovian cells, or we continue sitting here and starving to death one by one."
Mal attempted to protest, but was interrupted
"I promised them," Polly sniffed and angrily wiped away a tear, smudging her dirty cheek. "I promised to look after them. They trust me. Hell, they trust us! If the interrogators found out…" She looked up hopelessly "I have to starve them to death. I have to kill them to keep them safe. How damn stupid is that? Jackrum would kill me."
"He'd say you did what you could." Mal inwardly cursed the stupidity of Majors and Colonels who sat in warm war rooms and planned brainless operations like this one.
"I don't think so." Polly pulled away. "I think he'd be disappointed that I turned into a useless Rupert like all the others." She started to climb out of the hole. "I'm gonna fail him, and them and then they're going to die. 'Clever Perks, always using that brain'. Well I can't think! I'm hungry and I'm cold and I'm so darn tired and I can't think of anything!"
"Polly!" Mal grabbed her ankle as she rolled over the lip. "Get back in you idiot, it's freezing and they're still taking pot shots at anything that moves."
"Let go Mal." Polly attempted to stare her down. "I have… I have officer things to do. Like checking the stores and encouraging morale" she added sardonically. Her anger rose again as she pulled unsuccessfully to get away.
"Let go Sergeant! That's an order!"
There was a short tense battle of wills but then Mal reluctantly released her ankle and gave a mocking salute.
Watching her lieutenant crawl away she swore and kicked out at the compacted earth wall of the hole. She should say something. Something about how she would be here, waiting, should Polly need anything. Something hopeful. But she couldn't think of a way out either.
They were well and truly stuffed this time and she was having to think seriously about how to say goodbye to her mortal lieutenant.