Fire


We come with fire.
With fire as comfort.
The flickering red heart at the centre of the dancing, bewitching yellow petals. The reassuring tang of charred pine or oak. We warm our frozen hands and feet as eaves and joists crackle and burn. Watching the smoke and sparks swirl up and away until they merge with the ice crystal stars. The juices stain our beards as we crunch the bones of bayonet-roast hare. Ignoring the wary howling of the wolves, the firelight reflected in their hungry, yellow eyes.
We move on.
With fire as retribution.
Like Torquemada with more victims to find. Tongues to loosen. Heretics to root out. Souls to liberate. We could erect the stakes, stack the chords, bind the sinners. Listen to their prayers and pleadings and screams. But that takes too long. There are quicker ways. The church is wood, even its garishly painted onion of a spire. We herd them in. A generous dousing of petrol. The satisfying crack and flash of a grenade. Mass martyrdom. A flame thrower helps if it is raining.
We move on.
With fire as purification.
When the phosphorous ignites and the white-hot flood engulfs the tenements. Rats and partisans scream and flee, their coats ablaze. Cockroaches, fleas and lice sizzle into nothing. Two-legged vermin we shoot, then dance drunkenly around the bonfire like frenzied revellers on Johannisnacht. Until, with walls, roofs, everything ablaze the buildings stagger and collapse in an incandescent eruption of sparks. By morning all resistance is reduced to a pile of smoking, sterile ash, which the wind blows away across the steppe.
We move on.
And fire.
The field guns roar like the crescendo of a chorus of angry gods. Odin’s hammer thundering, its sparks the armour piercing shells that explode against the tanks. How small they look from a distance, how helpless as they crawl across the steppe like squat beetles. One flails its proboscis impotently against the sky. How satisfyingly they burn. Diesel, cordite, leather, wood, men.
We move on.
To Hell.
Ash rains down like snow. We trudge like ghosts among the ruins. The city is ablaze. The flames’ reflection turns the river into liquid fire, blood-red Phlegethon burning through its heart. Surprisingly the water is still cool enough to soothe our ash-scoured throats and fire-tanned faces. We are approaching Dante’s seventh circle. The flames lick at us in friendly welcome. We are home now, in Vesta’s hearth where our metal will be tested, melted, reduced and re-cast.
If we are lucky, there will be enough of our helmets, belt buckles and buttons left to make tin soldiers. To be played with by children dreaming of conquest.

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