Castle Roland

Duty and Honor

by Eric Aune


Chapter 1

Published: 18 Aug 16

Duty and Honor

Copyright © 2016 by Eric Aune and the Revolutions Universe Partnership
All Rights Reserved

Duty and Honor LogoThe rising sun lit the crenellated roof tops of the brick walled main buildings of the Wheeler Military Academy near Courtland, Alabama. The Academy had opened its doors in 1902 and was named after General Joseph "Fighting Joe" Wheeler of the Confederacy and the U.S. Army, who had lived in the area in his later life. He had agreed to lend his name to the school and was present at its opening. In the museum in Alumni Hall, they had on display a portrait by a local artist of him as a Confederate General based on a well-known picture of him at the time. They also had on display next to the picture in a glass case, one of his Confederate General's uniform coats on permanent loan from the family. The family's only stipulation was that the coat was was to be returned only if the academy closed its doors, until then it was to stay at the school.

There were other pictures of him from his time in Cuba as a U.S. Army Major General of Volunteers when he commanded the division that included Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. In the museum were other pictures and artifacts donated by former students and supporters of the school who had served in all the wars since the Civil War. Most of the buildings on the grounds were named after well known officers who were from Alabama. In the case of some Civil War Generals who were not from Alabama but who led Alabama troops during the war, such as Evander Law who commanded a brigade of Alabama troops in Hood's Division at Gettysburg and Chickamauga, he was adopted by the school as an honorary Alabamian for his leadership of those troops.

Wheeler Military Academy was located on the shores of the Tennessee River, just a few miles north and a little east of Courtland, Alabama. It had a superb reputation in turning out top prospects for prestigious colleges and for the various military academies. Not everyone who came to Wheeler decided on a military career, but many of the students who attended Wheeler and wanted a military career found that their time spent at Wheeler gave them an excellent foundation in preparing for entrance to one of the military service academies. For those who failed to get the nomination necessary to attend one of the military service academies, many times they would find their application easily accepted at other military colleges such as the Virginia Military Institute in Virginia or The Citadel in South Carolina.

The level of education given to the cadets was only part of the reason that boys and their families chose Wheeler Academy. Some came for the traditions of the school, there were families that had been sending their sons to Wheeler for generations. There was also a wide range of military type activities that were available at the school which was also a big draw to many families, especially those who had a history of military service.

On the grounds they had a paintball and an airsoft arena that was a huge favorite of the boys. The school teams competed against each other and other teams in the general area. The school had even sponsored and hosted a few paintball tournaments for area teams.

The school also had a rifle competition team and a rifle drill team.

It also sponsored a horse events team that competed against other prep schools in jumping and dressage. Most of the members of that team had already started competing before they started at the school and brought their own horses with them. The school had a horse stable for up to twenty horses. There were outside and inside training arenas for the students to use for practice. Many of the horse owners had gotten together and learned 19th century cavalry tactics and performed them at special school events. So the school even had its own unofficial cavalry unit.

The school also owned several 19th century Hotchkiss Mountain Guns. These were used to fire ceremonial salutes such as flag ceremonies, but they were also used for an annual Mountain Gun Competition. The guns had originally been designed to be broken down and carried on two horses. The competition consisted of putting the gun in battery, and firing a blank shell. The gun was then broken down into four main parts, the two wheels, the transom and the barrel. The parts were then carried over and around some obstacles and then it was put back together and put into battery. The first team to successfully get to the finish line and fire off a blank round was the winner. The competition was mainly for the older boys due to the weight of the barrel and transom that they had to carry through the obstacle course.

Major Kenneth Hartley, the Assistant Commandant of Cadets until this last weekend when he had been asked to take charge as the Acting Commandant of Cadets for the Wheeler Military Academy, sipped on his coffee as he looked out the window of his quarters in Wheeler House. From the window he could see the tops of the crenellated brick walls of the Evander Law Barracks building and the similarly adorned walls of the Learning Center.

The early morning was quiet and the sun was barely peeking over the horizon as it lit the top of the buildings. He had told Cadet Major Clayton Aragon, the highest ranked cadet still here at the school, that today would be a holiday and to allow the boys to sleep in until seven this morning and breakfast would be at eight. There would be no classes as he had plans for the boys this morning. He had met with the other two instructors still on campus about his plans and they agreed with him. He thought his idea would be good for the remaining boys. It would help them to feel less isolated as they awaited word from their parents.

Of the approximately two hundred boys, aged twelve to eighteen, who had been here two weeks earlier, there were now only thirty boys left. All of the rest of the boys had been picked up by their parents and taken home until this insanity was ended. Ken worried most about the youngest boys. He knew that all of the boys were worried about why their parents had not come and picked them up yet, but the youngest of them were probably the most worried of the bunch, since this was their first year at the academy. They had only been here a couple months before everything started going to shit, because of President Ashwood. He decided he needed to talk to his cadet officers about being on the lookout for any of the boys who were having problems.

Colonel Joseph Giron, the Commandant of Cadets had turned over command to Ken on Saturday night. Joe told him that he was worried about his family and he had heard some rumors from men he had served with when he was on active duty, who were still serving in the military, concerning what Ashwood was doing. Ken had urged him to take care of his family. He had no family, so he promised he would do everything that he could for the remaining cadets, to keep them safe until they could be reunited with their families. On Sunday morning Colonel Giron said goodbye to Ken and Cadet Major Aragon. He shook hands with both of them and wished them luck before he climbed in his car and drove away.

There was a low fog rolling across the grounds that he knew would burn off as the sun rose higher. He looked up at the sky and saw that it was partly overcast, but he hoped it wouldn't rain, since the boys were going to be outside at least part of the time today. He finished his coffee, rinsed out the cup and put it in the sink. He put on his uniform coat and hat, and made sure everything was arranged correctly. Then he put on his overcoat and gloves, and checked himself in the hall mirror before going outside. He stood on the steps of Wheeler House and was glad he was wearing the coat because it was a cold morning. He could feel a slight ache in his left hip where he had been wounded in Mexico a few years before, which was the reason for his discharge from the Army. He had a permanent limp because of it and decided to accept a medical discharge.

Once out of the service, he got his teaching certificate and was contacted by Colonel Giron, whom he had served with several years earlier, about coming onboard as Assistant Commandant of Cadets and he readily accepted the position. He had since gotten his Master's in Education and taught military history at the Academy.

He walked down the steps and headed to Pettus Hall. As he neared it he could see the cadet officers gathering the cadets for morning formation in the Quad that was in front of Pettus Hall. He nodded and smiled at the cadets as he made his way to the front of the quad and faced them. He greeted the two remaining instructors, William Marmion and Gabriel Rodriguez. Both were first year instructors at Wheeler. Marmion was a science teacher for the middle schoolers and Rodriguez, a former Army Sergeant, was a math teacher for the high school students. Standing with them was also the school chaplain, Patrick Lafferty. As soon as Ken took his place before the cadets, Cadet Major Aragon called the cadets to attention.

"Battalion!" His command was echoed by the two remaining Company Commanders, Captain of A Company, Morgan Dawson and Captain of C Company, Clement Claiborne.

"Aten….hut!" Again his commands were echoed by the two captains and the cadets came to attention.

Major Aragon marched forward to Major Hartley, stopped and saluted with his sword. "Commandant! All cadets are present and/or accounted for, Sir!" Ken returned the salute. "Very well Major, carry on!" Major Aragon saluted once again, did an about face, marched back to his position and did another about face.

"Lieutenant Buchanan, carry on!"

The lieutenant located near the flag saluted with his sword. Next to him stood the Band and Staff Captain holding a bugle.

"Color Guard! Advance!" An officer and three NCOs marched solemnly forward to the flag pole. As they entered the memorial plaza where the flag pole was located, one officer and one NCO turned to the right and approached one of the three small cannons located near the flagpole. Two of them were for show only, the third was able to fire and was used for the morning salute. The others stopped in front of the flag pole. The NCO at the gun removed a shell from the spotless white canvas bag over his shoulder and loaded it into the breech of the Hotchkiss Mountain Gun and closed it. Once the breech was closed, the officer hooked a lanyard into an eyelet near the breech and stepped back raising his hand to signal his readiness.

"Color Guard! Prepare to raise colors!" The two cadets stepped up to the pole and one undid the halyard while the other partly unfolded the American flag. The flag was clipped to the two hooks on the halyard and they stood at attention waiting for the next command.

"Color Guard! Raise colors! Battalion…Salute!" The cadet holding the halyard, quickly raised the colors as the officer on the gun pulled the lanyard firing the morning salute. When the colors reached the top, the Band Captain raised his bugle to his lips and played 'To The Colors.' As the last notes faded Lieutenant Buchanan called out, "Two!" The battalion dropped their salutes and the halyard was tied off.

"Color Guard! Reform!" The two cadets at the flag and the two at the gun reformed into their formation. "Color Guard! Retreat!" The four cadets solemnly marched off to the side of the battalion formation and halted.

"Battalion! Dis…missed! Duty and Honor!" The battalion repeated the school's motto and then broke formation. Ken walked over to Clayton. "Another fine job, Major." He smiled as they shook hands. "Thank you sir." What was left of the corps of cadets made their way to Pettus Hall and the mess hall contained within. As they entered the mess hall they were greeted by Mister and Missus Mills who oversaw the kitchens. All the cadets smiled and greeted the two older people. A few of the cadets went into the kitchen to help serve breakfast. Clayton led them in a morning prayer before they ate. The room did not get to the volume that it normally had when all two hundred cadets were eating, but there was plenty of talking and some laughter from the boys as they enjoyed their meal.

The four adults along with the six cadet officers sat at a table together. While they ate, Ken laid out his plan for the day. He and the two teachers were doing what they could to keep the boys up on their studies and by combining the grades they were limping along. It wasn't great, but it kept the boys busy and their minds off what was going on outside their school. He knew that the boys were concerned, but their schoolwork helped to keep them focused on other things.

"Clayton, the reason for the holiday today is that right now with the remaining boys spread around the three floors of the barracks. I want to consolidate all of the cadets on the lower floor so that everyone is together instead of spread out throughout the building." Clayton nodded that he understood. "Thank you sir. That will be helpful for my officers as well. We'll take care of helping everyone move from their current rooms to the new rooms."

Ken looked at Gabriel. "Gabe and William, can you see that everyone gets keys to their new rooms?" The two men nodded. Ken looked at everyone at the table. "One of the main reasons I want to do this is because I'm a little worried about the younger cadets, especially those who are in their first year. I know that none of you have heard from your parents since this madness began and I want the younger cadets to be near the rest of you so that they will not feel abandoned. I know that some of you have younger brothers among the cadets, except for Rory who has to deal with his twin." Rory chuckled. "Yeah I know, Finn is who he is and probably will always be that way." Ken smiled at the lieutenant before continuing. Rory's twin brother Finn, had a bit of a reputation as a prankster and was prone to getting extra demerits from time to time, but he always did just about as many outstanding things to clear up the demerits. He was as smart as his brother and did well in all his classes. He could have been one of the battalion officers but he never really wanted that. He was happy to just be one of the cadets.

"So along with changing their rooms, I would like to allow the cadets to choose their own roommates. It doesn't matter what age or grade they are. I believe that this will help them cope with what is going on. Those of you with younger brothers I would like to ask you to room with your brother to give them a feeling of comfort. I do understand that you may not want to share with a younger cadet, but for now, if you are asked by a younger cadet to share a room, please agree to it. They just might be needing someone older to help them feel safe. I will rely on you gentlemen to be on the lookout for any cadet that is having problems. If one of the boys has too big of a problem and they really need someone to talk to, please let Father Lafferty know. He may be the best person suited to help those boys, or maybe one of you gentlemen will be the best person. Other than that, please do what you can to make them feel safe." Father Lafferty smiled at the teens. "Of course, I'm here for you boys as well. Don't take it all on yourselves. I'm always happy to listen to anyone. That includes you as well Ken." Ken smiled. "Of course Father." He looked at the others at the table. "Does this sound workable to everyone?"

They readily agreed with him. "Just to help out, I'll take Finn as my roommate so no one else is saddled with him. Besides I'm used to him and he knows he can't get away with sh…stuff with me." They all chuckled. Ken smiled and nodded. "Good." He then looked around the room to see if everyone was about done. He stood up. "Cadets! Listen up!" The room quickly quieted down and the cadets turned their attention to the head table. "I'm sure several of you are wondering why I canceled classes for today. Well I have something I want you to do today and since tomorrow is Thanksgiving and there will be no classes until Monday, I thought I would extend the holiday by one day." There were cheers from many of the boys.

"However, this isn't entirely a work free day." That statement was greeted by a few quiet groans. The loudest groan seemed to come from the table that Finn Buchanan was sitting at with two of the other sixteen year olds, Rhett Hotchkiss and Brock Stevens. Ken smiled at them. "Since we have only thirty cadets instead of two hundred right now, I wish to consolidate you onto one floor of the barracks. So everyone will be moving to the senior and junior barracks floor this morning. In addition to moving into the new rooms, you will also be allowed to choose your roommate. It will not matter who you wish to move in with. Those of you with older brothers may room with your brother if you wish to. I have discussed this with your battalion officers and they have agreed that it is a good idea. So after you have finished breakfast, go to your rooms, change into your ACUs (Author: Army Combat Uniform – current fatigue uniform used by the army), and pack up your gear. While you are doing that, you can talk to your friends and fellow cadets about who you want to room with. I want everyone to share a room, because that will be less rooms that you have to keep clean and you will then have someone to share the cleaning duties with."

He saw Finn talking to his two friends. "Oh and Finn, your brother has already graciously volunteered to room with you." He saw Finn's face fall slightly as he looked at Rory. Rory just gave his five-minute younger brother a knowing smirk. "Okay, this will be an easy day, just not completely work free as I said. Once you have chosen your roommate and cleaned your former room, you will turn in your room keys to Mister Rodriguez and Mister Marmion and they will give you your new room keys. I expect everyone to help each other to move in. If you finish early or you're not moving to a different room, show good brotherhood and help the others move. Any questions?"

There were none so he sat back down. "Well gentlemen, I will leave it in your hands. Clay, I need to talk to you about a couple of things, so I'll meet you at your room in a few minutes."

"Yes, sir."

A short time later the mess hall began to clear. The cadets on kitchen duty helped the Mills clean up first before heading to their rooms. The middle school cadets were all on the upper floors so they did not mind getting to move downstairs to the senior and junior barracks on the lower floor. The cadets quickly changed into their ACUs and packed the rest of their uniforms and gear. Once those that were moving to a new room were packed, they went looking for someone to room with.

In Clayton Aragon's room, Clay was sitting at his desk while Ken leaned against a wall out of sight of the door as they discussed possible activities for the cadets for that afternoon. They were interrupted by a knock on the open door. Clay turned to the door and saw one of the younger cadets standing there. "Cadet Hardy Henson sir." Because of where Ken was standing, Hardy did not notice that he was in the room as he stood in the open doorway.

"What can I do for you Hardy?"

Hardy glanced to the side of the room and noticed that the second bed and one side of the room was empty. "Sir, Cadet Hardy…." Clay held his hand up. "Hardy, you don't have to be so formal. Do you need some help with something?"

Hardy relaxed a little, but still stayed at attention and shook his head. "No sir, just a request. If no one else has asked, may…may I room with you, sir? That is if it's okay. If not, then that's okay too. But Major Hartley said that since there was only thirty of us left here and he didn't want us to use too many rooms, cuz it would be easier to keep less rooms clean and that makes it fifteen rooms total, which means two people to a room, and Sammy and Quint already decided to room together and Andy is going to be with his brother and Tucker already asked Captain Dawson, cuz he thinks he's a good person, cuz even when he's upset with us, he's not mean, and Major Hartley said that it was okay for anyone to room together and that the officers agreed and…. "

Clay held up his hand, trying his best not to laugh. He was amazed the boy got all of that out without taking a breath. "Hardy. Hardy! CADET!" That seemed to get his attention. Clay glanced at Ken, who stepped forward into Hardy's line of sight. Hardy's eyes widened when he saw Ken and you could almost hear his spine creak as he went rigid and saluted him. "Sorry sir, I did not know you were here. I'll come back later." Hardy did a quick about face and was starting to leave when Ken stopped him. "At ease Cadet."

Hardy stopped and turned around, even though he was still at attention. Ken looked at Clay. "I think this is a good idea Clay." Clay smiled at Ken who was trying real hard not to laugh, and nodded. Hardy did not notice their exchange as his eyes were staring straight ahead at the wall at the other end of the room and he was almost holding his breath.

Ken walked over and put his hand on Hardy's shoulder causing him to flinch a little. "Hardy is it?" Hardy glanced at Ken and nodded once. "Hardy, relax. I think it is a good idea and Clayton is okay with it as well." Hardy relaxed slightly and glanced at Clay who nodded to him. "Welcome to our room Hardy." That seemed to be the signal for the boy to finally relax. He smiled at Clay. "Thank you, sir. I'll go get my things." Clay stood up. "Do you need help?" Hardy shook his head. "No sir. I can manage." Clay nodded. Ken clapped Hardy on the shoulder and turned to Clay. "Give it some thought about the afternoon and we'll talk at lunch. I'll leave you two to get settled." He left the room.

The rest of the morning was busy for the boys as they moved into the new rooms. There were five sets of brothers in the school and all of them decided to room together, so that took care of ten of the boys. The rest had to do what Hardy had done, find someone to room with. For some of them the hardest part was asking someone to room with them, others found it pretty easy. Everyone was moved in and settled just before lunchtime.

At lunch, Ken discussed the afternoon activities for the cadets.

"Well Clay. Tell me what you think?" Clay finished chewing his sandwich and took a sip of his coke. "Sir, I was thinking that a game of Ultimate after everyone gets a chance to digest lunch. It's easy to play and takes no special skills. That way no one should be embarrassed by any lack of skill. Most everyone can throw a Frisbee. This way we can be outside for an hour or two and just run around having some fun. After that, I would suggest some free time to do what they'd like. We don't often get much of that, but I'd say let them do school work if they want, or relax, maybe play some pool or some of the games that are available in the common area, read a book, things like that, sir. Within reason of course. Some may want to go shoot some hoops or kick a ball around. I wouldn't mind getting a chance to get out on Hephaestus myself. It helps me think and relax when I'm riding him. The other horse owners may like to do that as well."

Ken looked around the room for a few moments. "Well I did say today was a holiday. So I think your idea has merit, but I want your officers to be aware of what everyone is doing and I would prefer that none of the cadets are just sitting around thinking about home and their parents. I would prefer that if any of the cadets, especially the younger ones are just holing up in their rooms, I want you to get them involved in something else to keep their minds off that. Watch out for any who are homesick. Don't forget to call on Father Lafferty to help out. I'm also going to try and see if there is any news about what is going on. If I hear anything, I will let you gentlemen know. I want the officers and NCOs to take guard duty at night, and I want one of the other cadets with you when you have the duty. Pass that onto your NCOs. While I'm off post, Mister Rodriguez will be the adult in charge. I will leave the afternoon's activities in your hands Major."

Clay nodded. "Thank you sir." Ken stood up and took his tray to the wash line and gave it to one of the cadets on kitchen duty. Richard Mills, the head of the dining hall motioned for him to come to the back. He followed Richard to the small room he used as an office. "You wanted to see me Richard?"

"Yes, I wanted to let you know that we are running low on some of the perishable items, like milk, fruit, eggs, and things like that."

"How about other things?" Richard looked at some notes he had. "We have plenty of can goods and dry foods. There is also plenty of meat as well, because we haven't had to use as much. Just before all of this started, we received a large shipment of food stuff, so we're good on most things. It is mostly the perishable stuff that we are running out of."

Ken nodded. "I'm going into town and I'll see what I can do about getting us supplied. There is a distribution center near Decatur. I'm going to see if I can contact them in some way and see what, if anything we can get. I should have an idea when I return."

"Good luck." Ken nodded. "Yeah I may need it. I'm going to check with a friend first and see if he's heard anything new about what's going on out there. We've been sort of isolated here. I will let you and the other adults know what I find out. Depending on what it is, I will tell the officers as well and discuss it with everyone, if it is anything that we need to tell the rest of the cadets." He got up and started to leave, but stopped at the door. "Oh and Richard, thank you, to you and Hillary for staying behind to help us out. I don't know what we'd do without you two."

Ken felt a poke in his back and saw Hillary was there. "Don't you worry about it. Do you think we'd leave our boys to starve? We'll stay as long as there is one boy here." He smiled at her. "Thanks Hil. I'm sure the boys appreciate it. Well I'll be going. I'll let you know what I find out about the perishables."

"Whatever you can get will help. If necessary, we have powdered eggs and powdered milk." Ken shuddered a little. "Yuck. I hope it won't get that bad. I remember having to eat that when I was on active duty. That stuff is nasty. In fact, it is beyond nasty." Richard chuckled. "Well it will be better than nothing." Ken shook his head. "No it won't. I'll do everything I can to keep us from having to go that far. If I have to go out there and milk the cows myself and raid the hen houses." Richard waved him away. "See you later Ken."

"Okay see you two later. I left Gabe in charge, so let him know if there are any problems or issues." Ken shook hands with them and left.

He made his way back to Wheeler House and got changed into jeans and a flannel shirt. Outside he climbed into his truck and left the grounds. He drove the five or six miles south that led to Courtland. He went through town and headed to the southeast corner of the town and followed Monroe Street to where it dead ended at a house. When he stopped the truck, an older man in his late fifties came out of the house and smiled when he saw who it was.

"Hey Cap, how's it going?" The older man had started calling him Cap when Ken had received his Captain's bars and they had served together. Ken walked over to the man and they shook hands. "Sar Major. Great to see you. We're hanging in there, Floyd." Floyd put his hand on Ken's shoulder. "Let's go inside. I've got a fresh pot going. We can talk." Ken followed him inside the house.

They sat down at the kitchen table and Floyd brought Ken a cup. "How many have you got left at the school? I know there were a lot of cars heading through town over the last couple of weeks, but it seems to have slowed down now."

"We have thirty boys left. We haven't heard anything from their parents. The colonel left on Sunday morning to take his family to safety. I told him I'd take care of the boys until we can get them reunited with their parents, but I'm starting to worry about the fact that we haven't heard from them. I know the boys are probably worried as well, but I think they are handling it. My biggest worry right now is we are running low on dairy type items and fresh fruit and vegetable. Luckily we received a big order of meats, dry and canned foods, so we're set there, but I thought I'd check around and see if I can find some of those items so that we can replenish our supplies. I thought I'd drive over to Decatur if necessary."

Floyd shook his head. "Let me take care of it. I'll see what I can get together for your boys and I'll have it delivered to the market. If you send someone to Buford's Market on Friday, I'm pretty sure I can have some supplies for you. Buford can store the supplies in his reefers until you pick them up." Ken smiled. "Thanks Floyd. Hey, speaking of food. Why don't you come out to the Academy tomorrow for Thanksgiving dinner? You can meet the boys." Floyd smiled and nodded. "That sounds good. I'd love to meet your boys. What time would you like me there?" Ken shrugged. "We'll have dinner at five, but you can come by whenever you would like. Maybe come out earlier and spend some time around the boys."

They talked a little more, some of it was reminiscing about some of the men they had served with. "Floyd, I know you know a lot of people. I mean Command Sergeant Majors are next to God after all." Floyd smiled at the old saying. "We've had so little news that I really would like to find out what is going on."

Floyd nodded. "Well I have been doing some checking with my contacts, at least as best as I can, but with phone service so spotty it's been difficult. From what I've found out, it all starts with that pencil dicked asshole who is sitting in the White House. He has started a Civil War because he didn't want to give up power. Only it's East versus West instead of North and South. We are behind enemy lines here. At least we're in an area of little strategic importance so we should be able to weather this and hope someone takes out that bastard, and his Vice President because he's just as bad."

"I've heard something about terrorist attacks, but nothing specific." Floyd scowled. "Terrorist attacks, my ass. You know how Ashwood claimed that Jack Bryce was an international terrorist?" Ken grimaced and nodded. "Yeah, like that wasn't an obvious lie." Floyd continued. "Well it appears Ashwood tried to kill him and his family. The plane they were in was shot down by U.S. jets under Ashwood's orders, but some group of loyal soldiers and airmen saved them and got them to safety. His wife and unborn son were almost killed, as well as one of his other sons. Anyway, soon after that, there were several other attacks, chemical gas, dirty bombs, and nasty shit like that. Ashwood tried to blame it on Bryce, but Bryce was pretty much able to refute what he was saying and had the proof to back it up. From what I can find out, it appears that Ashwood may have been planning this for some time because he seems to have done what he could to get military commanders who are loyal to him in command slots. Luckily he hasn't done that with every unit and those who are following their oath, to defend the country against enemies foreign and domestic, have sided with Bryce. The word went out that Bryce won the election by a large margin, but Ashwood has declared the election null and void and has set himself up as a dictator."

"There has been some fighting in parts of the country. The dividing line is the Mississippi. Ashwood has dropped all the bridges across the river. I've heard that there are some big battles in Memphis and Chicago. There are some other smaller fights along the river between Bryce's forces and those loyal to Ashwood. I've heard that there may have been a naval battle in the Gulf between ships from each side. And it appears that there is a big battle happening in the northeast around Maine. From what I've learned, Bryce's forces seem to be advancing on a few different fronts, although the Mississippi River line seems to be mostly static. I've also heard that Bryce seems to have the backing of our major allies, Britain, France, Canada and I believe some of the other European nations. I even heard Russia is giving him support. Ashwood seems to have some connections to the Middle East and south of the border. The newest thing I've heard, is that there appears to have recently been a big battle in central Florida near Orlando and troops loyal to Bryce have gotten a foothold in the state. They are working on cutting it in half, north and south. Beyond that, I'm still waiting for more info. For now, we seem to be okay here, because we have no assets that Ashwood wants or needs as far as I know."

Ken digested what Floyd had told him. He knew that he needed to talk to his officers and decide how much they should tell the boys. He finished his coffee. "Well that's a lot more than I knew. Now I have to figure out what to tell the boys."

"My advice is to be honest with them, Cap. If you're honest and explain what is going on, they'll trust you." Ken nodded. "I'll think about it. I don't want to scare the boys, but I do think they need to know what is going on. Hopefully Ashwood will remain ignorant of us. Not that we're any threat. It's just a bunch of middle and high school boys at a school."

"Well with that nut job, you never know. I'd advise you to just keep your heads down until their parents pick them up." Ken agreed. "Well it was good to see you Floyd, thanks for the coffee. I better head back to the school." Floyd went outside with him. He leaned into the window of the truck. "I'll see you tomorrow and I think I should have some info on the supplies by then." They shook hands. "Thanks Floyd. See you tomorrow." Floyd waved as Ken drove off. He went inside to grab the keys for his truck, so he could get to work on getting some supplies for the boys.

Ken's drive back was uneventful. As he drove back to the school he thought about how much to tell the boys. He decided to have a meeting with the officers that evening after dinner and discuss it with them at that time. Together they would decide how much should be told to the rest of the cadets.

Once he had parked in the garage at Wheeler House, he went inside and changed into some slacks and a polo shirt with the school crest on the breast. He followed the noise of a bunch of active boys and it led him to the soccer field. He saw that most of the boys were playing Ultimate. A few of the older boys were acting as referees for the game. He walked over to the bleachers where Gabe and Will were sitting and watching the game. Father Lafferty was with them.

He greeted them and sat down. Clay saw him and waved. He waved back. "Well how are they doing?" Gabe smiled. "Clay's doing a good job with them." Ken nodded. "Yeah, he is an impressive young man. He was one of the two choices for Cadet Light Colonel. When Jay Hutton was chosen, it was obvious that Clay should be his exec. After dinner this evening, I'm going to have you three, plus Richard, Clay and the four Cadet Captains over to Wheeler House for a meeting." The men thanked him for the invitation. They continued to watch the boys until the game broke up.

Ken walked over to Clay. "Clay, after dinner, I want you to bring your captains and come over to Wheeler House. I have some things to talk to you about where other ears can't hear." Clay looked around and nodded. "I'll let them know. We'll be there, sir." Ken smiled and walked away. He greeted several of the cadets as he passed them. From what he could see they all seemed to be in good spirits after the game. Everyone was smiling and laughing. He saw some of the guys had their arms around each other's shoulders as they talked with each other. He saw that the older boys were interacting with the younger boys and that caused him to smile. That had been his intention all along by combining the cadets together. It looked like it had worked out well. He hoped that it would continue to work once they learned what was going on out in the world.

Clay made sure that the equipment was picked up and told everyone to head back to the field house to clean up and change back into their polo shirts and slacks that were the everyday uniform for the school. After that they had the rest of the day as free time, until dinner. As everyone started to head back, Clay found Hardy standing next to him. He smiled at him. "Is there something you need Hardy."

"No sir, I just thought I'd walk back with you, if you don't mind." Clay let out a little sigh. "Hardy, you don't have to say sir to me all the time. When we are in a formal situation, then you absolutely must call me sir. When we're informal like this, or in our room, you can call me Clay or Clayton. However, unless one of the other officers, gives you permission to call them by their name, you will continue to use their rank when addressing them." Hardy nodded his understanding. "Yes, si….Clay." He said it like he was trying it out. "Better. Let's get changed I want to spend some time with Hephaestus." Hardy was confused. "Who's Hephaestus? I don't remember anyone with that name, and I'd remember that name." Clay looked at him and grinned. "If you want, I'll introduce you after we get cleaned up. He's my best friend." Hardy returned his grin. "Cool. Thank you, sir… um sorry, I mean Clay." Clay let his arm drop across the younger cadet's shoulders as they walked back to the field house.

Fifteen minutes later, the two boys were heading back across the soccer fields to the stables and the horse arenas. "Ohhhhh. Hephaestus is a horse right?" Clay nodded. "Yep. He's my horse. I've had him for ten years since I started entering horse competitions when I was eight. He's the same age as you, thirteen. He and I have grown up together." While they were walking, five other cadets caught up with them. All of them were horse owners and they had the same idea as Clay did. The others were Clement and Andrew Claiborne, Penn Farquhar, Dalton O'Hara and Ashton Baird. Hardy was glad to see his friend Andy. The others he didn't know very well, but they seemed nice enough.

Inside the stable Clay led Hardy into one of the stalls. Inside was a beautiful gray horse with some dappling on the rear and a dark gray mane. The horse was already facing the door when they came in, like he was waiting for them. "Wow. He's beautiful." Hardy could only stand there and stare. "He's an Irish Hunter or Irish Sport Horse as some call it. I used to watch my older sister compete in horse events when I was little and when I told my parents I wanted to do that too, they bought him for me. I've been competing on him, since then. Come up here and I'll introduce you." Hardy looked up at the tall horse. It looked huge. Clay looked at the mesmerized younger boy. "Here." He placed a quarter of an apple in Hardy's hand. "You can give him this. Watch how I do it and then you can try. When you present it to him, keep your hand flat and just hold it out to him, don't try to put it in his mouth and don't curl your fingers up." Hardy nodded as he watched Clay present the apple piece he held out to the horse. Hephaestus bent his neck down and with his lips picked the apple up and began crunching it. "Okay, you're turn. Remember keep your hand flat." Hardy nodded and put the apple in the middle of his palm and held it out. He had his fingers so flat they were almost bent backwards. Hephaestus bent down and blew on the boy's hand, sniffed a moment and then took the apple. Hardy giggled as the soft lips and hairs on the horse's muzzle touched his palm.

Clay smiled and grabbed the other two quarters of the apple giving one to Hardy. When Hephaestus was ready, Clay held out the apple and stroked the side of his neck. Hephaestus looked at Hardy expectantly when he finished with Clay's piece and Hardy stepped up a little and held out his hand. This time he reached up with his other hand and stroked the horse's cheek. "He so soft." Clay grinned. "Yeah he is." They were interrupted by someone at the door. It was Clement. "Hey Clay, the others wanted me to ask if you wanted to ride the horses around a little, maybe do some cav stuff." Clay nodded. "Yeah, let's use the indoor arena, so Hardy can watch from the viewing stands." Clement nodded and left to tell the others.

"Hardy, I'm going to get him saddled up. You can help me." He clipped a lead line to the halter and led him out of the stall. Clay brought him over to a hitching post. He handed the lead line to Hardy. "Here you can hold him, while I brush him down." Hardy held the line with one hand and rubbed his hand on the horse's forehead and cheek. Hephaestus snuffled his hair which caused Hardy to giggle. Clay was back quickly and began brushing his horse down. He wasn't really dirty so it was quick work. He also quickly checked and cleaned his hooves. He put the tools away and grabbed the McClellan saddle that he used when doing cavalry maneuvers. All of those that took part in the cavalry maneuvers used a McClellan saddle since that was the main U.S. military saddle from the time it was invented in 1859. He quickly had Hephaestus saddled and ready to go.

They joined the others as they rode their horses into the arena, while Hardy scrambled up into the stands to watch them. Clay got them into a single line and took his position in front of the formation. "Company, By Files Right, Forward, March!" They turned to the right and began moving in a file. "Trot, March!" They sped up a little as they went around the arena a couple of times. Clement was giving his younger brother Andrew pointers on keeping his spacing. "Canter, March!" They were now at a controlled gallop for a couple of more circuits of the arena. He then slowed them back down to a trot and then to a walk. "By Twos, March!" They formed a column of twos. He then brought them back up to a trot and then a canter. As they came to the end of the arena he called out the next command. "By Files, March!" They went back into a single line. "Right into Line, March!" Clay turned to his right and the others passed him and each turned to their right as they passed the horse in front of them, so that they formed a battle line. "Halt! Dress! Front!" They stopped in a single line facing the far end of the arena. "Forward, March!" Once they were moving he quickly followed that with, "Trot, March!" and moments later, "Charge!" They went to full speed across the arena whooping and yelling. As they neared the end of the arena, they pulled up and then rode back to the center of the arena. Hardy was cheering them. Clay went over and called Hardy out. Hardy came down from the stands and looked at the older teen with apparent hero worship as Clay dismounted.

"Okay. Your turn, get up there." Hardy's eyes widened and he stepped back. "Huh. I don't know how to ride." Clay waved again. "C'mon, I'll be right with you the whole time." Hardy still wasn't sure but his hero was looking at him and he stepped forward. Clay helped him put his foot in the stirrup and up into the saddle. He then pushed Hardy's foot out of the stirrup and put his own in and mounted up behind Hardy. It wasn't the most comfortable seat as these saddles were not really made for two to ride, but he was just going to go for a short time. "Okay, hold the reins like this. Good. Now just give him a slight kick and he'll start moving."

The others had gone back to just riding around and working with their horses. Clement was riding beside his brother Andrew and was teaching him how to keep the proper distance when they rode side by side in a column of twos. They all rode around the arena for a little while with Clay teaching Hardy how to ride and use the reins and his legs to give the signals to the horse to tell him what he wanted him to do. A short time later they headed back to the stable and Clay brought them over to the hitching post. He slid off and then helped Hardy dismount. He unsaddled him and then taught Hardy how to groom a horse. When they finished, it was back to the stall and after making sure that Hephaestus had some fresh hay and feed, they headed back to the barracks to get cleaned up for dinner.

"Thank you, sir, I mean Clay, for letting me ride your horse. It was so cool." Clay clapped him on the shoulder. "I'll try to teach you how to ride if you want. Maybe we can do it again this weekend, since there are no classes on Friday, maybe we can do it then if we have the chance. Next time I'll put him on a lunge line and let you ride while I teach you." Hardy smiled.

After dinner, Ken, along with the two instructors, the chaplain and Richard met at Wheeler House. After making sure the junior officers and NCOs knew where they would be, Clay and the three other captains, James Blackard, Morgan Dawson and Clement Claiborne headed over there. The adults already had snifters of brandy in their hands when the four young men arrived. Ken invited them into the large sitting room and offered small snifters of brandy to the teens with just a small amount in them. It was a tradition of the academy that when any Cadet Officers were invited for an important meeting in the evening at Wheeler House, that they would be offered a small glass of brandy to signify that they were being treated like men, instead of boys.

After the teens had their glasses, Ken raised his glass. "Duty and Honor." They all repeated it and took a sip of the brandy. Ken gestured for everyone to have a seat. Once everyone was sitting down he started the meeting. "Gentlemen, I asked you all here to impart some important information. Today I learned some more information from a very good friend whose word I trust implicitly." He looked at them for a moment before continuing. "It was confirmed today by my friend that this country is presently at war." There were different looks on the faces of people in the room. The cadets were mostly surprised about it. They knew that something was going on, because of all the parents who had come over the last couple of weeks and taken their kids out of the school, but they hadn't been sure what the problem was. "You all know that something has been going on. That is obvious by the exodus of students and faculty. Some of you may be aware of how President Ashwood has been declaring former President Jackson Bryce as an international terrorist and all that. There is a reason why there has been little communication. Phones, landline or cell have been spotty at best and nonexistent for the most part. There is no internet access or television. That's because Ashwood has cut off all such communication. From what I understand there have been a few short announcements on television about what has been going on but you had to be awake at oh dark thirty to see them. So we have had basically no information about anything."

He took another sip of his brandy. "Ashwood has declared the election null and void because it appears that Bryce won the election and Ashwood has set himself up as a dictator. He has also declared martial law. It also appears that he is behind several terrorist attacks on American soil that includes chemical gas attacks on some cities and the use of dirty bombs. He apparently attempted to blame it on Bryce, but President Bryce has, from what I've been told refuted them and offered solid evidence that Ashwood is behind the attacks so that he could take control of the U.S. The dividing line is the Mississippi River. So it is mainly East versus West. There has been fighting between the two sides. From what I have been told, there are some battles in Memphis and Chicago. Also a large battle is being fought in central Florida, near Orlando. Another huge battle is going on in the northeast in Maine. Finally, there was also at least one naval battle in the Gulf of Mexico between the forces loyal to Ashwood and those loyal to Bryce. From what little my friend could tell me, it appears that Bryce's forces have been successful for the most part. So we are, in effect, behind enemy lines. So far, other than the students leaving, we have not been affected by what's going on. I believe that is because we are under Ashwood's radar with everything else he has had to deal with, we are not important enough to get his attention."

He paused for a few moments. "It is possible that at some point we may be noticed. If that does happen, and I hope it doesn't, we may have to get out of here and try to get somewhere safe. I don't know yet where that may be, but I promise you all, that I will do everything that I can to keep you all safe. What I really hope for is that if President Bryce is able to keep advancing against Ashwood's forces and beating him, then it will be over soon and everything will go back to normal. So I'm going to change the orders I gave you concerning night watch. For now though, I want the cadets on night guard duty to keep an eye on the entrance to the academy. If they see anyone approaching, they are to contact me by radio, immediately. I want you to put two cadets on each shift. Pair an older cadet with a younger cadet, so that they can make sure they are able to stay awake. Keep the shifts at no more than two hours each. Start the watch at five pm and end it at seven am the next morning. That will be seven watches of two hours each. We will not post guard during the day because I believe we can all keep an eye out for anyone approaching. The one thing that I wanted to ask of you gentlemen is… how much of this do we tell to the rest of the cadets?"

He leaned on the mantle of the fireplace as he gave them time to think about it. After a few moments of thought, Clay spoke up. "Sir, I think we should tell them about what is going on. I know a lot of us have been wondering about it. Although I think it may worry them more when they hear that there's a war. At least they'll know a little bit about what's going on. Is your friend going to let you know more about what is happening?"

"I know he will let me know more if he hears any news. In fact I invited him for Thanksgiving and he'll be here tomorrow. So you'll all get to meet him. His name is Floyd Bundy. He spent thirty years in the Army and retired after thirty years with the rank of Command Sergeant Major. He lives here in Courtland." Ken finished his brandy. "Well that's pretty much what I wanted to talk to you about. I'll think about when and what I'll tell the cadets. I might wait until Friday, no reason to spoil Thanksgiving. I must ask all of you to keep what I've told you to yourselves for now." Everyone agreed to his request. That was the end of the meeting. They stood up and he walked them to the door, shaking each of their hands and thanking them for coming. He told Richard that Floyd was looking into supplies for them and said he would have an answer when he visited tomorrow. Ken went back to the sitting room and poured another brandy, before sitting down in a chair and staring at the fire in the fireplace. He knew he had to make some plans in case something happened that might endanger the boys.

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