There's so many of them…!
Janus Kolby sat mounted on his horse, surveying the scene ahead of him. The three stripes on his right shoulder indicated that he was a strzelec of the Polish army, and the stars on the other signified that he was a member of the 18th Uhlan Regiment. He seemed a young man, maybe of eighteen years of age, and his whole body quivered with tension. His pupils were vibrating with a manic energy, burning black stars in a vast field of white.
He looked again at the incredible scene ahead of him, unable to tear his eyes away from it. Over a thousand German tanks were advancing through the lush Polish countryside towards the border village of Krojanty. The tanks were as an invasive virus in the scenery, man-made tools of destruction ruining the beauty of pristine Krojanty and the deep, lush, leafy forest that formed a green wall around it.
The tanks purred on at a steady rate, heading straight for the forest. It would take them a while to get there yet. Giant metal behemoths. The greatest of all of the steeds of war.
And I'm going to have to fight them. That's delusional! Uhlans can't destroy tanks!
Janus had never before imagined that joining the military would be anything like this. For him, it had initially been a peaceful job, something that he would enjoy, something allowing him to serve his country.
I wasn't supposed to get tangled up in a bloody war!
Janus fumed to himself for a moment, then started impatiently fidgeting on his horse. Waiting for the Kapitan to begin the ambush was allowing his tension to build up further and further. His thoughts were already darting towards the possible disastrous consequences of the attack.
What if they're expecting the attack? What if we can't beat them all? There's not so many of us anyways, and besides, they're on bloody tanks! What if we lose? We might all die! Why am I stuck here in this mess?
This was nothing like his early days in the military. Back then it had just been him and his comrades, proudly declaring that they were eager to serve their country in any way they could.
Now that it's come to it, though, I'm being rather a hypocrite, aren't I?
The offhand thought passed through Janus' mind, and he grimaced. Had he really once proclaimed openly that he would die for Poland? Had it been him who had claimed that he would slay all his enemies, no matter how strong?
I was a fool. And now that I'm here, I can see how wrong I was. Real war is different. I don't want to die. It would be so…-so WRONG! This isn't supposed to happen!
Janus' thoughts reached an overwhelming crescendo of despair, and he allowed a groan to escape his mouth. He decided to look at the village of Krojanty, hoping that the breathtaking scenery would capture his attention.
It really was a most stunning place. A picturesque village with a quaint sort of feel to it was nestled comfortably on the fringe of the massive, lush, and beautiful forest. Just by staring at it, some of Janus' tension seemed to disappear. But not enough. He was still frightened.
When did I first start feeling like this, anyways? It was only yesterday, wasn't it?
He had been ordered by the military head at the barracks to join the 18th Uhlan Regiment and go to Krojanty. Initially, he hadn't taken it very well. All his false illusions of military life seemed to fall apart in front of his eyes, and he had gone and sobbed shamefully in a corner, berating himself all the while for being such a coward. He had felt horrible cheated by life, and it was in a sulky manner that he had first come here.
Most of it had worn off by now, though, only to be replaced with a powerful, gnawing fear.
Why don't the others look scared? Is it only me? Am I a coward? Oh God, I wish I had a friend here!
Janus was distracted from his tumultuous thoughts as the Kapitan approached him. He was by far the oldest soldier there, almost old enough to be retired. He had a kind, fatherly air around him, and was much loved by all the soldiers.
"Nervous, Janus?" The Kapitan asked kindly.
Janus stumbled for a moment before replying, but decided to be honest.
"Terrified," he mumbled, shamefacedly, scratching the side of his face.
The Kapitan chuckled upon hearing his reply, and spoke encouragingly to him "Don't worry; I was much the same before my first battle. It gets much better once the fighting starts and you don't have time to think about all the possible ways it could go wrong anymore. Besides, this is nothing. I don't put much faith in these tank machines, we can always outmanoeuvre them. We shall meet them with fire and sword. What an energetic boy like you ought to see is a REAL battle, like the ones in the Great War."
"Sir…you were in the Great War?" Janus was amazed. He was amazed.
He's a hero! A real, live, Polish war hero! Maybe we still have a chance after all!
The Kapitan's eyes twinkled as he replied, "Yes, I was indeed. And I can assure you I felt much the same as you before my first battle. Don't you worry about a thing, young man. Just enjoy the fun. Trust me, it'll be the most exhilarating experience you've ever had."
Janus fell completely victim to the paternal air of the Kapitan, and let out his greatest, and most shameful fear.
"Sir…do you think that we're all going to lose? …To-to die?" He practically stammered the words, unable to say them without feeling an intense feeling of shame. But to his great surprise, the Kapitan only laughed, a tuneful chortle that gave the misleading impression of a much younger man.
"To die? We may, and yet we may not. Does it really matter all that much?", he asked. "I found out the secret to enjoying life long ago, during the last war. It's to stop worrying. Some things may go well, others may not. Accepting this makes everything easier, doesn't it? All that can ruin your life is that horrible feeling, worry. It clouds everything else, and forces you to see the beautiful world as a hellish, god-forsaken place. So, my advice is that you simply don't worry. Only the good God can see the outcome of our battle."
He cast a last friendly glance at Janus, and then spoke again, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get the troops into position. I'd suggest you get to your post too, young man!"
Janus watched him ride away; calling out orders to the Uhlans, and it was as though a great weight had lifted from his chest. He had found a friend, it seemed.
Maybe this isn't so bad after all. We might just win this war yet. And if not, what does it really matter anyways!? We'll have done our best, and we'll die defending our country. What more can I wish for?
The Uhlans had all assembled, and were arranged in rows of a hundred. It was an awe-inspiring scene, thousands upon thousands of men with gleaming weapons mounted on their horses, facing down a slope which led to the forest of Krojanty. It was a scene right out of a fairy tale.
Janus was in the front ranks, and his tension had all but disappeared. He felt astonished by its absence. It had been replaced with a feeling of hope, a desire to do his best. The forces arranged, the Kapitan turned around to face them and spoke.
"Fellows! Comrades! Friends! It seems as though it's finally time for us to begin. Before we charge, I want each and every one of you to know that the people of Poland will be forever indebted to you, and your actions on the battlefield today will determine the future of our beloved country. Today, you show yourselves to be men! To be soldiers! To be heroes! And now, we charge! Onward, heroes of Poland!"
The Uhlan's charged, tearing down the beautiful slope at a breakneck pace, dashing through the scenic landscape like a bowshot. Janus felt empowered to see such vital energy in all his friends. The Kapitan had done his job well, and they were now all as ready to fight as Janus. He laughed enthusiastically as they rode.
They will sing about us for decades to come! We'll be the immortal heroes of Poland!
As the cavalry neared the tanks, they began to sound the horns of war, massive bellowing sounds emanating from among the ranks of horses. It was time! They would all prove their worth!
The tanks were taken completely by surprise as the first ranks of Uhlans fell upon the frontline of infantry defense. Janus charged in, and looked into the eyes of a German soldier, stabbing him as he passed. Even though he was rushing by, he saw the man die, saw the light leaving his eyes. And he felt a new feeling rise in his chest, taking the place of the fear which had been there only minutes ago.
I have power. They cannot best me. What are they fighting for, anyways? I'm fighting for a reason! There's no way that they can defeat me!
He had enjoyed it. Enjoyed seeing the man die. And Janus learned one of the truths of the world then. The only two types of people were the predatory and the prey. He had been the prey up until now. But it was oh-so-much more satisfying to be a predator.
He slit another German's throat in his next rush, watching the red nectar seep out from his neck as he inevitable surrendered to fate and succumbed to the wound.
Within seconds, the infantry defenses were decimated. But by now, the tanks were ready to fight. As the cavalry charged them, trying in vain to damage them, they were taken off guard. A tank had fired. The shell exploded near a group of Uhlans, piercing the sky with the sound of a massive explosion. The sudden silence which followed was terrifying. And then, there were more explosions.
The Poles screamed and broke formation, spreading out randomly into the battlefield, trying only to avoid the devastating shells. The tanks fired, again, and again. Grown men cried, hundreds screamed, and horses ran amok. What had only minutes ago been a victorious charge was now a massacre.
What? We're losing? But…how?
Searching for the reassuring face of the Kapitan, Janus scanned the battle. His eyes fell upon him almost at once, and he screamed.
"Sir! What should we do? We cannot match these monsters!"
The Kapitan looked at Janus, and was about to speak, when a shadow fell over him. A shell was about to land. He looked straight up at the men who had rallied to him, and gave them a comforting, kindly smile.
But then he was gone, gone in an explosion of fire and smoke, a terrifying pandemonium of limbs and shrapnel. The Poles screamed in unison. Their leader was gone; they had no chance any longer. And then they began to run, to flee, doing whatever it was that they could to get away from the horrifying battle.
Janus looked on helplessly as they were cut down by oncoming shells. Fleeing was only serving to have his allies slain faster. Where there had only minutes ago been a peaceful forest there was now devastation, a wildfire, a graveyard to be.
However, he had no intentions to flee. He was at peace with himself after the Kapitan's words, and decided that he would stay and die for Poland. And then, an incredible rage took over him. These foreigners had stained his country. They had sown Her fields with the blood of Her own children!
Vile, two faced monsters! I'll kill you all!
By some luck, he was still alive, and he meant to make the most of it. He dashed forwards, slashing wildly at the nearest tank. He had gambled on the fact that if he was near enough to attack a tank, then the others would not dare to fire at him, in fear of damaging their ally. So far it seemed to be paying off. His sword cut through the crisp air like a siren's shriek, perhaps the last true Polish defender left on the battlefield.
A few Germans had come out of their tanks, and were now shooting at him with their little pistols. But they were no match for Janus. He had been expecting it. Almost as fast as the wind itself, he swept onto those foolish infidels who had forsaken the safety of their tanks, and cut them down. He swept among the tanks, darting, left, right, left, right, cutting and tearing at the exposed men.
But he knew, in his heart of hearts, that the battle had failed. It was not impossible to marshal the remaining forces, to turn them around to victory. The Poles had been defeated here. The Germans were evidently superior. There would be no way for them to win the war. Poland was doomed.
All these thoughts passed through his head as he swayed with his blade. The Germans had all retreated to their tanks now. All he could do was cut in vain at the armoured bodies of the tanks, like a needle pricking at a metal bar.
He charged straight forward at the tank of the commander, screaming in rage, directing all his hatred into the hand clasped firmly around his blade, pointing it straight forward towards the Enemy.
He saw the nozzle of the tank facing him. And he saw the shell coming out of it straight towards him.