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A Whiff of Grapeshot

The James & Oneg Summer Writing Challenge Extravaganza - #5: You’ve Got Mail

By Matthew FrommPublished 8 months ago 4 min read
Top Story - August 2023
Felician Myrbach, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“What do we do next?” I said to my compatriot at the muzzle next to me. We looked toward him with confusion dotting our faces.

He stood sternly with unmistakable authority. Age may have grayed Captain Varmount’s beard, but still, he stood ahead of his cannons, a figure worthy of Liberty herself.

With a wave of his arm, the iron dragons unleashed their furious wrath.

The tails of his well-patched uniforms swirled as the cannonballs rained.

He had fought against Prussia, and against England, never abandoning his post even as the calvary from Brandenburg threatened to overwhelm his redoubts.

Captain Varmount lowered his arm without a word of encouragement or derision. His men set about reloading the great guns with methodical precision.

Smoke hung in the air thick as fog, a veil over the glory of the day.

The lines of age upon his face mixed with the scars that poxed his cheeks. Dark eyes squinted through the fog, scowling as if the force of his will alone would clear it. Captain Varmount never disobeyed an order. We never disobeyed him. It never even crossed our thoughts.

There was no greater servant in all of France. There was no greater steward of our sorry souls. We followed him until the end.

The beast's bellies were full again, and we awaited the next order. It came with another flourish of gloved hands. We sparked the fuses and unleashed another volley of hellfire.

Rage filled the fall sky once more, reverberating off the hills and the stones. It rattled me to my core long after the echoes died. Order after order came, and we followed them over and over until the thickness of the fog made the day from night indecipherable.

Only the cold of indifference filled me as sweat poured down my soot-covered face. The taste of blood and powder filled my mouth, and I suppressed the urge to wretch as the guns died.

The smoke cleared.

One by one, the bodies emerged. The Parisian cobblestones were no strangers to the red blood of martyrs, patriots, and villains alike, and neither were we now hardened veterans. Many of us had marched and watched as the guillotines fell and refreshed the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants.

Today, we refreshed it again. With such vigor did those traitors cling to their sacraments. What greatness could we have conceived had they loved liberty with such zeal? Instead, they chose our baptism of lead. Our great captain wiped away the sweat. A great cheer from those around us replaced the thundering of the cannons.

“Lo!” we cry, “Another victory for liberty! Another victory for the revolution!”

While I cheered, my heart hardened. Those poor souls who flew the royal standard, tools of the oppressor and of the English impressed to do their bidding, were no longer my countrymen. No longer men with whom we shared the sacred drink of the Seine. Their bastard colors flew as clear and proudly as the tri-color. Never would I forget their betrayal, their traitorous hearts.

Captain Vamount, as stoic as ever, raised his arms again at the latest crescendo of our merriment.

We stole ourselves.

Of course, the assault would continue. These vile wretches would not cease until they returned their boots to our necks. I thumbed the ring of my saber while only the caw of the crows filled the air. They would come again. They always did.

We looked to our captain, our fearless leader, and saw something so unexpected that it struck fear into me.

A smile.

He cheered as a madman as the horse broke through the haze, cheered as if he had just heard of the birth of a son, and we followed his hurrahs with renewed vigor.

The mounted man sat taller than Louis outside of Versailles, but with liberty lining his heart.

I waved my sweat-soaked cap at him as he rode past in victory. Within that Parisian avenue reduced to a charnel house, he rode like an angel as the sun illuminated him on that October day.

He rode as if to herald the end of the great struggle we had undertaken.

He issued no orders, yet we bowed anyway to this great protector, this savior.

To General Bonaparte.



This piece was inspired by Judey Kalchik and the The James & Oneg Summer Writing Challenge, details below:

I love exploring historical scenes as writing excercises and this was a great challenge, as I wanted to take a unique twist on the last email I got asking "What do we do next?"

I've explored similar themes for past challenges in my work below.

I tag Lamar Wiggins and Ian Read. Enjoy friends! Their great works can be read below:


About the Creator

Matthew Fromm

Full-time nerd, history enthusiast, and proprietor of random knowledge. The best way to find your perfect story is to make it yourself.

Here there be dragons, and knights, and castles, and quests for entities not wished to be found.

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Comments (15)

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  • Machinery Packing / ماشین آلات بسته بندی7 months ago

    I waved my sweat-soaked cap at him as he rode past in victory. i love this part

  • Exotic History7 months ago

    Loved this piece

  • THis is an excellent take on the challenge

  • OluwaBukunmi 8 months ago

    Wonderfully written!!! Congratulations onTop Story!!!

  • Babs Iverson8 months ago

    Wonderfully written!!! Congratulations onTop Story!!!💕❤️❤️

  • Lamar Wiggins8 months ago

    Hurray!!! Congrats! This is a good thing!

  • Judey Kalchik 8 months ago

    Yay! Congrats on this receiving Top Story!

  • Jazzy 8 months ago

    This challenge boggles my mind; you did this with one line! I loved the imagery and how you built that world and character for us. 😊

  • Lamar Wiggins8 months ago

    Wow! Great work! It’s amazing how a simple prompt can produce a great story. It says to me that your mind is just bubbling over with ideas.

  • Oneg In The Arctic8 months ago

    Oh wow! This was written so well and expressively! And what a story you turned just from one email line 😱 amazing job!

  • This is such a brilliant take on the challenge! You nailed this!

  • Mother Combs8 months ago

    Very good. Enjoyed immensely

  • Judey Kalchik 8 months ago

    Wow! This is stirring and powerful. Bravo!

  • Ian Read8 months ago

    A marvelous piece! I shall endeavor to do you proud in my submission. Do I have to do the same prompt or do I have free rein?

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