Descourtilz, the young officer, however, was devoted to his leader. No one knew why he was so attached to him. He did everything to satisfy his slightest desire.
Known for his boldness and perfect spirit of submission, Descourtilz had been proposed to take part in this expedition as second in command by Colonel de Mauduit himself. Not only has he never been in charge of any regiment, but he also never took part in any expedition.
He certainly had no particular military talent. Had he been able to use weapons, he would carry one. He has more subtle assets, though. He was sure to lose in close combat, but if the fight were prolonged, he could do more damage than the artillery.
His admiration for the commander did not prevent him from believing that the latter did not appreciate him much. And yet he had to do everything to stay in his favor. Lurking in the shadows, he bided his time. Confident in his talents, he knew he would eventually succeed in his mission.
”Amadis, the Creole had joined the insurgent camp. He has taken control of the operations, ” announced Descourtilz, raising his chest to reinforce his self-confidence, if not to impress his superior.
Desmarrate frowned. He leaned with both hands on the table to keep himself upright. His legs shook for a moment. He managed to contain his stupor. There was nothing to be afraid of, he thought. He tried to convince himself that Amadis was probably dead. He attempted to share this with the young officer in a tone that was meant to be reassuring.
”Amadis was captured and killed during the siege of the Egliads High Temple by the Houjas, ” the commander murmured, trying to smile.
Descourtilz assured him otherwise, for he had recognized Amadis battle strategies. The commander was more of a believer in what he wanted to believe. He was willing to bet that Amadis would have passed his talents to someone else. The young man then reminded him that this warlord had always been known as a solitary man.
The young officer looked in all directions, swallowed painfully, and added:
”It is said that he is a follower of the drum of Matta, an Algovi. ”
”So what? ” shrugged Desmarrate.
By announcing this terrible news, Descourtilz hoped to surprise his chief. But his face left him speechless. He wondered if his commander had even heard of these fearsome warriors of the Northern Province.
”You say nothing? ” asked Descourtilz with slumped shoulders. ”You show no fear toward the servants of the sacred drum. These men serve the Ancient Spirit, who speaks to them through the Matta drum. Do you not know why there are no expeditions to the North? It is because this story scares everyone. The Algovis are frightening and irreducible fighters. Only one can decimate a whole regiment without taking a shot, not a single one. ”
The commander listened with one ear to Descourtilzs words. The latter hesitated for a moment. He scratched his head strongly before coming up with a new detail about the life of the Algovis.
”The drum was told to have special powers. It was said, for example, that he could command dark spirits and bind them with the vows of the sacred flame, ” revealed the young officer as he waved his hand firmly. ”They were thus compelled to fulfill all the wishes and desires of the summoners. This would make the disciples of the holy drum dreadful opponents for any army. ”
”How many of them are there? ” asked the expedition chief calmly, whose eyes were wandering somewhere in the camp. ” Perhaps, I should point out that Im talking about men, not Spirits. ”
”Hundreds, no thousands of them, I guess, ” stammered the officer. ”They come out of every bush and rush before our cannon with a bewildering contempt for death. ”
Desmarrate raised his hand to indicate that he had heard enough. Some of the soldiers approached to listen to the conversation, but Desmarrates glared at them, and they left without delay.
”It didn matter whether the rebels despised life or not, ” he replied. ” They end up dead anyway. ”
The young officer drew up a report on the frontlines losses, almost in total confusion. He had so much trouble talking that, in the end, the information he gave was of little use.
His report left the commander open-mouthed. As he delayed giving any sign of life, Descourtilz involuntarily approached the table and grabbed the coffee pot.
”Would you like more coffee? ” he asked with a broad smile.
”No, ” Desmarrates replied sharply.
”We can still find a way to bring back the key, I presume, ” asked Descourtilz.
”It is the war we should win first, ” shouted the commander while gesticulating furiously. ”If you can be of any help, you should leave. ”
The young officer received these words like a stab in the chest. He stepped back.
”The second column will have to surprise them and bring them down on our rear guard, ” he continued with the cocky smile that was his. ”Then well see what these savages will do. ”
He was still talking when someone else caught his attention. A horse rider was crossing the clearing, heading to the command post. He was spurring his horse as if the devil was chasing him. The forehead wrinkled, the eyes bulging out of the head, the mouth open; he was moving forward with a look that frightened the young officer. When he was close enough to make his voice heard, he stopped his horse, pulling with all his strength on the horses strap. His eyes crossed the commanders eyes. He spoke as if he could no longer control his vocal cords.
”Sir… The second column… ”
”What now? ” thundered the commanders voice, making an impatient gesture with both hands.
” It has succumbed to enemy fire, ” announced the breathless man. ”They were ambushed. No one survived. The insurgents had set up posts on the side of the hills. ”
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