Fame Is the Spur
_____Three spies had made it back to camp, all dirty, wet, and breathless.
_____“Two lines. Light artillery in the first, heavier guns behind.”
_____“They’ve dug ditches and flooded them, but they’re shallow and they left three gaps at least eight horses wide.”
_____“Dragoons dismounted. Infantry armed with muskets, some with just pikes. Gunpowder and morale low. Their uniforms look tidy, though.”
_____So, he knew everything he needed.
_____His army, once small, green, ill-fed, and on the run, was now large and hardened. The men had climbed cliffs, forded rivers, harassed in squads from cover and attacked in battalions on open ground. The cavalrymen, his special pride, recruited from the plains, were fearless and invincible. He had rangers too, tough men from the mountains who could walk soundlessly through forests, who terrified the enemy with night attacks on their camps, slitting throats with hunting knives. He’d drilled peasants into artillerymen more skilled with the captured field pieces than the men who had abandoned them. Three recent victories, the last a rout, had made his men confident, and so was he.
_____He summoned his last Council of War, laid out the order of battle, made sure his officers knew precisely what to do, when and where. He promised them the capital would be theirs before noon on the next day. They cheered and saluted but insisted on extracting another promise, that for once he would not lead from the front. Old Dominguez, who’d been with him from the first, spoke for all in his usual half-sentences. “Needed after,” he said. “Indispensable. No one else.” They believed they could see his future, saw him seated at a big desk and delivering speeches in epaulettes and a sash.
_____At first light, he took his spyglass and climbed the small observation tower to look over the enemy’s double lines of defense behind which the capital lay like a raped woman longing to be freed from the violator she despised. He thought of his lessons with Father Sebastián. The enemy was Cetus and he was Perseus. The enemy was the dragon and he was Saint George. But he didn’t believe in sainthood nor did he want to found a dynasty. He was a free-thinking republican. His job was to liberate, not to govern. He loved his country but did not want to marry her, to cope with appointments, taxes, ambassadors, the tangle of bureaucracy. He wished to be remembered as the Liberator, commemorated with an equestrian monument capturing what he would do that morning, not as an old man undermined by faction and defiled by compromise. And that is why he broke his promise, mounted his horse, raised his sabre, and led the charge through the gap in the ditches, making straight for the enemy’s cannon and the hail of grapeshot that would liberate him.
Robert Wexelblatt is a professor of humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. He has published seven fiction collections; two books of essays; two short novels; two books of poems; stories, essays, and poems in a variety of journals, and a novel awarded the Indie Book Awards first prize for fiction.