Originally written for the "Surrender" prompt at Cheesemongers and influenced by Band of Brothers, in particular the "Bastogne" episode. Years after the events of MR, 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.
Two weeks later
Mal swung by the lookout post after patrol. As things go it had been a quiet night, the sentries were awake and the lads of her squad had stumbled back to huddle by the small fire. She dropped over the lip into the hole as quietly as possibly. Polly remained dead to the world, wrapped tightly in the greatcoat where Mal had left her two hours earlier. Mal quickly stooped to check her breathing, after years in the field Polly usually awoke at the slightest noise, and then relaxed as the heap grunted an enquiry.
"Go back to sleep Poll, it's not morning yet" Mal tucked the greatcoat in around the neck and gently stroked the dirty woollen cap covering what, in another world, had been bright blond hair. These early hours had become precious. They were times to gather strength before having to face another day of trial by hunger and cold. The lieutenant had too many troubles to carry and as a good sergeant, it was Mal's job to shield her as long as possible.
But Polly was awake now, and struggled to sit up so that she could see out over the frozen expanse separating them from the enemy. "Anything happen last night, Sergeant?"
It was a rhetorical question, neither side had the energy to try anything, and Mal didn't bother to answer, concentrating instead on getting as comfortable as possible against the muddy walls. They sat in silence watching the sky lighten as the sun crawled its way up over the mountains. There was nothing left to say.
They were woken about an hour later by a distant shout.
"What the hell?" Polly struggled to her feet, fighting to focus through the tendrils of sleep and cold. Mal was already up and was scanning the trees opposite with loaded crossbow.
Another shout echoed across the frozen expanse.
It was answered by a choice insult from one of the sentry points to their right.
"They're abusing us now?" Polly had to giggle at the incredulity of the ploy but became all seriousness when Mal nudged her arm and pointed. Something was moving in the woods. Before their startled eyes a figure emerged into the sun and waved something very like a white flag.
Polly rubbed her eyes and stared. "Mal, tell me the truth, am I dreaming still, or is that what I think it is?"
Mal put up the crossbow and slung the other arm around her shoulders. "If you're dreaming," she whispered, with a shake of the head "then I'm dreaming too. And this is one damn fine dream"
It was only later when she'd woken up the lads and got a squad ready to go and investigate, that it sunk in. All those weeks of effort rolled over her like a wave and for a moment Polly was swamped.
When she opened her eyes, the lads were looking at her nervously and she realised she must look like an idiot staring into the middle distance with her mouth open. She pulled herself together and tried to remember what she had been saying. Something about sending out a patrol? She scrambled through giving the orders and sent them on their way.
When they had moved out of sight toward the front line, Polly took a deep breath of the freezing air, feeling it chill all the way down. Not caring if anyone could see her moment of weakness, sat down against the tree behind her, dropping her head into her hands and allowed herself to relax. At last they could go home. By simple fluke she had avoided the difficult decision of how best to get her lads killed.
Unsure of how much time had passed, she jumped, startled, when a hand dropped on her shoulder.
"They're coming Sir" Mal, performing every good Sergeants job of avoiding making her officer look bad, had come to lend her support. "It's time for Diplomacy"
Dreamily Polly found herself wondering again if sarcasm was catching, and suddenly realised they were all more tired than they knew.
"Mal, I need,"
"Saloop Sir," A mug was placed in her hand and perhaps more comforting, Mal's other hand was in the small of her back guiding her forward. "Go-on sir, they're here" she encouraged and added almost inaudibly "you can do this Poll, go get the poor bastards."
And she could. The remaining Sergeant was remarkably obliging, though once Polly had seen the scraggly troops under his command she understood. The terms of surrender were agreed and prisoners taken into custody, though all that meant was that the victors shuffled around the campfires to make space for the defeated.
Messengers were sent and returned with orders. They were no longer needed to hold the pass. It was impossible for either side to use it until the snow melted, Polly wondered if they'd be back in the same holes come the spring. It was more than likely. They were to march to Scritz and await fresh orders there. More fighting probably, but hey it was what they had signed up for. Though perhaps this time, they'd get fed.
Polly was sat in the lookout post when Mal found her, dreamily thinking of sausage and gravy and freshly baked bread. The view was no different in substance from the weeks previously. Same open ground, same woods. It made no sense really. It was Mal though, who voiced the idiocy.
"There'll be celebrations in Bonk tonight. Drinks all round, "she spat out the words. "A toast to our brave boys."
Turning sickened, she looked out over the frozen ground they had just been gifted, too hard even to bury the dead, who still lay in ice-rimed in awkward positions as they had fallen. "What a thing to be proud of, eh Poll? We starve to death slower than our enemies. I swear, sometimes I wonder what's so great about you humans after all".
An arm found its way around her shoulders. "You just need a drink, sergeant." Polly said softly. And a number of other things unspoken. There were ways and means of forgetting the horrors of war and they'd tested most of them in their varied army careers.
"There are no victors here Mal, we all lost." She sighed.
"C'mon vampire, let's go home".