Finely garbed in the uniform suited to his rank, and glittering with the setting sun in polished silver and green, General McAlister stood atop the sill of a mountain – a sharp precipice overlooking the valley below, striking feelings of awe and reverence in all hearts that paused in its wake. Beneath him were the indigenous oaks and chestnuts that grew wantonly about the place, sneaking into clefts and fissures left in the hillside by wind and rain, clinging as their giant boughs spread forth from the rock, craving the warmth of the sun – an unlikely relationship that spoke of the mysterious ways of nature. Still further, a stream wound its way down the side of the mountain and into the valley, beneath the shade of the many trees, passed the shrubbery and the creatures that abounded by its gently inclining banks, and through the deep gorge still further, bringing the lush green pastures to life, feeding the cattle and the people that grew crops on the farmland that had been ravaged in the space of time it took to sow a single acre. The wheat and barley were flattened, the herds dispersed, the birds quiet, and the river red with the blood of innocent and guilty alike, and the general felt shame.
A war is an ugly and cruel thing. It does not take solely from the aggressor, but from all of life, embroiled as it is in the nature of human intercourse. This political extreme, be it caused by kings, religion, or the petty squabbles of noblemen over land, money, or women, strikes fear and loathing into the hearts of those it touches, and General McAlister then believed that not a single person escaped this description. Wherever he went – for it was his office to prepare his men for death and his duty to defend the lives of others – he saw the scars and grief caused in the name of war – a thing saved to the last to protect the innocent, or so it has long been believed. The general was not a young man, and it was with this thought that he considered this his last battle. His heart was hardened against humankind by the effects of their orders, and yet softened from the pity he felt for those affected by them. His was a spirit not often found in military operations – one of compassion and honour, yet also with knowledge of what must be done, and a willingness to carry it out. He was held in high regard by those who mattered, and adored as a hero by those who mattered more, but none of that mattered now. He was done.
Returning home to his family, Willoughton McAlister, as he would now be known, felt the weight of ages released from his tired shoulders as he removed his armour for the last time. He set it on the side to be cleaned and returned to the castle with his letter of resignation to the king, and walked into the gardens attached to his handsome property in the valley now fed by stained water, and was relieved to see it beginning to run clear once more.