Title: Protection in a Wild Land ~ Chapter 16 (Officer's Call)
Genre: Historical, romance, slash, war
Summary: Major Bailey travels West after the US Civil War to an isolated little fort commanded by a general whose intentions become increasingly suspicious. While there, he also meets a young lieutenant who appears to be hiding something.
Chapter summary: Questions are raised about the orders, some people raising their voice louder than others.
Rating: PG for this chapter
Warnings: Eventual m/m relationships, violence (individual warnings in chapters) None for this chapter
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Chapter 16 ~ Officer’s Call
Bailey knew that as soon as they left, there would be questions. They would stand and walk together for a moment or two and they would try and be quiet and brief but Bailey had witnessed first-hand the things they said about Prior, and sometimes they weren’t so quiet and brief. Some of the more reserved officers would keep their mouths shut, maybe would wait until later in their quarters with their friends, or maybe wouldn’t say anything at all, but Bailey knew there would be the looks, the little glances over to one another as an acknowledgement of their feelings. He could see them sitting by him right now, patiently waiting for what would be the first offensive orders they had received in a very long time but not really knowing what to wait for at all. Some would be more vocal than others once out of earshot.
Taylor was sitting at the adjutant’s desk beside him, waiting patiently like the others but Bailey could see his hands moving, fiddling with the corner of a blank piece of paper almost nervously. Bailey was going to whisper to him to stop it, but his head was down and turned slightly, as if he didn’t want to see anybody else. Bailey had watched him for a second curiously and then looked away again, back to the other men before Prior’s much larger, though now much tidier, desk.
Lieutenant Marshall was nearest, a young officer who had heard didn’t have many good dealings of common sense. He had seen him at the dance, clumsy as ever, and had listened casually to the amused whispers nearby about his history in the Civil War. Not the brightest of candles but apparently, still a very good soldier and horseman when it came down to it. Bailey took their word for it.
Lieutenant Fields was also there, older than most of the usually young officers and more reserved and, Bailey dared say it, gentlemanly. They respected him but he always seemed different to them and Bailey had never seen or heard him joining in with their comments about Prior, nor anything else they said that was impolite. He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, he didn’t swear and he wasn’t at all rude and Bailey admired him for it, though he knew it caused a large gap between him and the others. One of the things that joined them was his beautiful young wife, who some of the others looked at maybe a little too long when she walked past.
Captain McDowell, the quartermaster, sat in the midst of all of them, one of the only men to truly get along with Prior. They had been friends for a while, as far as Bailey understood, but despite this, he seemed to get on with the other officers well too. He was often jolly and making jokes yet knew full well what was happening at the fort regarding Prior. Bailey had never seen him act against it, apart from when the general walked too close to the mutterings, and he would whisper at them to hush up, yet he knew he must not approve, just probably didn’t want to get involved. He was a good soldier, after all, and Bailey had heard much of that – always one of the first people out of the gates when there was an attack.
The rest were also there, the Maurice brothers and Captain Rodgers, all of whom had a particular aversion to the general and Captain Sides, the oldest officer at the front apart from Prior. And sitting at the end, closest to the desk, Colonel Dawes. Bailey had tried to catch his gaze once or twice yet he wouldn’t turn to him, facing the front with a straight back and clasped hands.
When Prior finally entered, Bailey noticed he clasped his hands even harder. ‘’Good morning, gentlemen,’’ he said in greeting as he sat down, getting a smattering of replies. ‘’I hope you are all well – I certainly do. We have a hard mission ahead of us.’’
There was a pause but nobody reacted at all to this statement. They didn’t need to be told. ‘’Now, I don’t intend to keep you here for a long time. You have your duties and Colonel Dawes, I want the training and the drilling increased per day. When I outline these plans, you will evidently see why. We can’t afford for anything, or anybody, to go out of place or make a mistake.’’
Dawes nodded silently. Bailey knew how much he drilled the men anyway. He found himself taking the comment to his friend personally, as if the general didn’t appreciate or understand what the colonel did already.
‘’…the orders for the offensive mission are simple but this doesn’t mean they are not potentially costly.’’ Prior rose from his chair, moving over to the stand by the window where a map of the fort and its surrounding area had been placed. If Bailey hadn’t been so concerned over what he was about to say, he would have found the occasion humorous. He hadn’t ever known any other commander, or indeed any other man, with as many drawings and maps as General Prior.
‘’Two detachments of cavalry will leave the fort. One of these detachments, the larger of the two, will consist of three companies. The other shall consist of one. The smaller detachment will move out closely behind the infantry, consisting of one company. The infantry and this one company of cavalry will march towards this ridge here –‘’ Prior gestured to a ridge about three miles from the fort. ‘’-while the other three companies of cavalry will leave the fort approximately ten minutes later on a different route. With some luck, our hostile Indians will be surprised by the infantry and the cavalry with them. If they are not, they will certainly be surprised by the other three companies of cavalry converging on them from behind. Therefore, they will be trapped by these two large detachments and will be forced into fighting, or surrendering to us. And gentlemen, that will make our superiors very happy.’’
The officers took it in quietly, nodding at Prior’s words, something he was obviously quite proud of. Bailey noticed the hint of a smile on his face as he asked them if there were any questions.
‘’Sir,’’ said McDowell. ‘’Who will be commanding these detachments?’’
‘’Captain, Colonel Dawes will be command of the whole mission and will be with the infantry and cavalry companies marching from the fort. You, sir, will be in command of the cavalry and accompany him. Lieutenant Fields and Rodgers will be with the cavalry coming from the opposite direction.’’
‘’Sir.’’ This was Lieutenant Marshall. ‘’How many Indians shall we expect to meet in the camp? How many warriors?’’
‘’Lieutenant, I cannot be entirely certain of how many there will be, but an educated estimate would be over 1000, of which I would say three quarters are warriors braves. It will be a tough battle but we have surprise and military precision on our side and I believe we have a strong chance of succeeding.’’
‘’General?’’ Now Captain Sides. ‘’When will we be starting our mission?’’
Prior paused. He looked for a moment back at the map, then outside to where the men were before turning back to his officers. ‘’Early next week, sir.’’
In response to this, a sudden surge of mutters broke out in the headquarters. Prior watched for a short time with the smile gone from his face, as if he had been waiting for this, and then with a glance over to Bailey, who was staring at him with ice in his eyes, stepped forward again. ‘’Gentlemen, gentlemen, please –‘’ he said. ‘’I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that we should wait for the reinforcements to arrive from Fort Laramie. I was expecting for your reaction to be this, and, indeed, it was my reaction too to begin with. But, surely, if we wait any longer, then the Indian numbers will increase and our chances of being successful will decrease, and I cannot begin to guess how many more will arrive at their camps. It may only be ten, but then it may just as much be 1000 more. We cannot hold this off any more.’’
Bailey glanced around again at the men, saw that these statements hadn’t done much at all for what they had been, and still were, thinking. He could feel his throat tightening, the heat starting to rise in his cheeks. Did this man not have a single clue what he was doing?
‘’Sir –‘’ James Maurice said from the back. ‘’I think that waiting for the men is a risk that may be worth taking. There will be one more company of cavalry and one more company of infantry.’’
‘’Lieutenant, I have thought of this. Not only may the Indians gain more numbers, they may also be formulating their own plans to attack us. If we stop them soon, they will learn that it is not so easy. We will show them a lesson. Fort Phil Kearny – no offensive missions were taken from the fort – no planned offensive missions – until December last year, months after the fort was built. It still amazes me that that fort is still running, what with the situation it got into. We must show the Indians that they cannot take us like they did the men of Fort Phil Kearny. And Lieutenant, there is no guarantee that our reinforcements will arrive at the time they said they would. That has happened many a time before for us. And they may not be equipped correctly, that has also happened before. Gentlemen, I realise your concerns, but there are far too many risks to wait for this any longer.’’
Bailey glanced across at Dawes, looking up at Prior and not flinching or turning to any of his fellow officers, as most of the rest of them were doing. He almost willed him to say something, to speak up. But Dawes wouldn’t do such a thing. He was a good, respectful man and he would agree to these orders, and he would march out, as the general wanted him to, he would march out and run into the Indians, right into them and be shot down, just like the other men. Bailey could see it now, hundreds of them strewn out on the ground like some great bloody mosaic. This plan would fail.
He could feel the words rising in his throat again, pushing to be shouted out at Prior. The only thing that stopped him was Prior himself, holding up his hands to his men and raising his voice above them. ‘’Gentlemen!’’ he exclaimed. ‘’I see that you have concerns about this mission! However, I have thought of the possibilities and what could happen and what may and what might, but presently, I am most concerned with what will happen. And this plan will commence early next week, and you will obey your orders, and we will succeed. Gentlemen – that is all for this morning. You may return to your other duties.’’
The officers obeyed begrudgingly, rising from their seats before Prior’s desk and making their way to the door. Bailey watched them go, still feeling the warmth on his face. He caught Dawes eyes as he stood, being the last to leave. They stared back at him, knowing for a long moment, before he turned again and made for the door. Bailey could feel his stomach twisting further, his jaw clenched as he tried to swallow down what he wanted to scream. One more look at Prior, looking over his map instead of seeming concerned at what his own officers had said to him, was all it took.
‘’General,’’ he said. He noticed Dawes pause at the doorway, the rest of the men gone.
‘’Yes, Major?’’ Prior didn’t even turn away from the stand.
‘’General, I would appreciate it if you looked at me.’’
Prior stopped and gradually moved around to stare into Bailey’s eyes. ‘’Major, I will brush off that comment as I know that the situation we are in is affecting everybody. But I would appreciate it if when you speak to me now, you act respectfully. What is it, Major?’'
‘’Sir, I have a problem with this plan.’’
‘’I thought you might. Well, Major, if it’s about the reinforcements, then, I’m sorry, but I don’t what to hear of it. I knew I would run into some trouble today and –‘’
‘’General, this plan will fail.’’
Prior paused. Bailey stared at him, saw his eyes flicker a little, his mouth purse. ‘’You put it so bluntly, Major. I suppose you think I have not done all I can for it.’’
‘’Sir, I strongly recommend that you reconsider the whole plan. The officers gave you their ideas – not just today but over the whole time you, I and Lieutenant Anderson spent collecting them – and I don’t think you listened to them. They are your own officers, sir, and they are there to help the whole fort. They do not need to be hindered by their commanding officer.’’
‘’Major, I told you to act respectfully. You may correct me in that brash tone of yours but the way you are speaking to me now is not respectful. Now, Major, I listened to my officers. Hell, I know the importance of working with people. I worked behind the scenes in the War. Just because I wasn’t on the battlefield doesn’t mean I didn’t do something for it. I know how to do this job, Major. You may think you know more just because you’ve been out there, you’ve seen first-hand what happens, but, sir, I am your commanding officer and I will damn well tell you what you will do out there!’’
Bailey noticed Dawes come hurrying up the desk beside him, grasp him by the arms. Bailey shrugged him off. ‘’General Prior!’’ he retorted. ‘’You are too stubborn to take any suggestions! I did not accuse you of not knowing – I am accusing you of knowing and not doing anything about it! I know why as well, sir – I know you can’t stand to think of Colonel Carrington and what happened to him! You are too scared to wait for the reinforcements, don’t want to be called a failure if they don’t arrive and the Indians defeat you and the government tear you apart, so you will send your men out anyway, no matter what they say, and you will make sure it wasn’t your fault! You will make sure they won’t blame you! You’ll make sure they blame somebody else for something that is really your fault!’’
‘’Major, for God’s sake!’’ Dawes tried to step in, grasping harder at Bailey’s arms and tried to drag him away. ‘’For God’s sake, you’re not thinking before you’re speaking!’’
‘’How dare you speak to me like that, Major!’’ Prior shouted over the top of Dawes. ‘’How dare you be so insolent!’’
Bailey tried once more to protest but was cut off by a sharp slap. He reeled in shock, hand pressed to his cheek, and Dawes steadied him. He looked up and expected Prior to say something, maybe something to defend himself, but he said nothing. Pushing Dawes back, he immediately hurried out of the room, silenced. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Taylor watching, looking on the verge of tears.
- Current Mood: happy