Author Topic: A Father to His Men  (Read 1143 times)

Offline Benionin

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A Father to His Men
« on: March 27, 2017, 05:03:33 PM »
Father to His Men
A Story of Infinity Wars
Commissioned by Mew28

     The death of Thomas II came as something of a shock to his kingdom. The man had seemed so solid, so permanent, and so vital that it seemed he would live forever. He was built like a gorilla and as hard as a brick with a grin as bright as the dawn. Stories had it that he would rise before dawn and run five miles every day, even when on campaign.
     And what a campaigner he was. He had expanded the red and gold banners of his reign from shining Aubade all the way to Bask in the east and the shining port city of Pallydium to the west, though that city still held out against his rule. Most notably he had conquered the fire-worshipping desert kingdom in the desert south of Aubade, bringing vast swaths of conscript soldiers into the ranks of his army. A third of Talich, some said, lived in the shadow of his banner with its black hawk on a red field.
     No one expected him to die, yet one day that vital, powerful, boisterous, alive man stopped being so alive. Four provincial governors immediately rebelled, leaving Lord Regent Pyrrhus, formerly Thomas's Lord Commander of the military, in a precarious position in Aubade. The armies besieging Pallydium set to looting friendly territory in the west, the desert tribes seemed to disappear overnight, and the kingdom Thomas II had built over a lifetime seemed doomed.
     The crown fell to Aberion, the elder of Thomas's sons, with the younger Syn only barely out of infancy. Aberion had been trained for combat and groomed for war--it was everything the young man would ever know or want.
     Lord Regent Pyrrhus was confident he could control Aberion, with the "lad" not even twenty years of age. He would soon learn that he was horribly wrong.
     "The first step," he explained within Aubade's council chamber, "is to stop the bleeding. We must recover the rebellious provinces and prove to them that we will not suffer disobedience. Then the kingdom can return its attention to Pallydium before turning our armies south."
     Aberion nodded and stroked his chin, where his beard was beginning to thicken into a dark black. "Right. We'll start with the desert province."
     Pyrrhus quickly shook his head. "No, no, no my Lord. The desert will be our most difficult conquest and should not be undertaken so quickly. Might I suggest the east?"
     Aberion glanced at a map and frowned. "Many of our best soldiers come from the desert. Hardy, determined warriors."
     "Conscripts," the Regent said dismissively.
     "Our best," Aberion repeated.
     "I have been campaigning for as long as you have been alive, young Lord," Pyrrhus said, drawing himself up in his indignation. "I should think I know how to conduct a war."
     "Father did, that's for certain," Aberion replied. "I'll see soon enough what you can accomplish without him."

     The march to Bask had been simple, with the two rebellious eastern provinces withdrawing all of their troops to the city. Aberion had insisted that his soldiers refrain from pillaging--"This is still my kingdom, after all"--and they arrived outside of the city after a week on the march.
     The armies of the rebels were smaller than those of the Kingdom of Aubade, but they were well fortified and entrenched, having spent the past week digging in. Pyrrhus chewed his lip and scratched at his thinning hair.
     "We'll launch a frontal assault, overwhelm them with force," he shrugged. "I'll have the men attack, I suggest you rest while they take the city."
     "Pyrrhus," Aberion interjected, "attacking like this is suicide. At least let the men rest from the march."
     "We cannot let the rebels think we are hesitating, or weak. An immediate frontal assault will demonstrate to them that rebellion simply is not an option."
     Aberion fumed. "You'll throw away our men needlessly. A frontal assault is well and good, but with ready, rested troops. I suggest we attack at dawn, from the east. Their soldiers will be blinded by the sunrise and we'll be able to get in close and dislodge them from their positions."
     Pyrrhus scowled, but relented. "Very well. As you say, my Lord."
     "I'll be joining them."
     Pyrrhus was shocked. "By no means! We just lost your father, the kingdom simply cannot afford to lose you as well."
     "It won't."
     "I have let you question my ability, I have let you dictate the conditions of the attack, I have let you refer to me without proper title or respect, but I will not let you throw your life away in a brash attack. This is where I draw the line, young man! For the time being I am regent, and you will return to your tent until tomorrow morning when you and I will oversee the battle from the rear and direct troop movements. Understood?"
     Aberion returned Pyrrhus's scowl. "Very well. If you cross me and order an attack while I rest, know that I will have your head."
     Pyrrhus smiled thinly and bowed. "Of course, my Lord."

     Much like his father, Aberion was awake before dawn. The young warlord ate and exercised a little before putting on his battle armor and going to meet with Pyrrhus. Surprisingly, the Lord Regent was not wearing armor.
     "Aren't we attacking today?" Aberion asked.
     "Oh, yes, we are, but you're not going to need your armor. We'll be safe here in the rear." Pyrrhus gestured out at the ranks of the army with a grand sweep of his arm. "Is it not grand, my Lord? Thirty thousand men, willing to die at your word."
     "Grand isn't the word I would use," Aberion muttered. "I should be out there, fighting alongside them."
     "The risk--"
     "Is nothing." He took a deep breath. "Still, at least this once I will watch. Show me how we wage war, Pyrrhus."
     The Regent smiled. "Very well." Picking up a radio, he flicked it on. "This is Lord Regent Pyrrhus, speaking on behalf of Crown Prince Aberion. Commence the attack!"
     Immediately, five thousand men began to march towards the enemy positions. Flares shot up in the predawn light, illuminating the battlefield. Shots began to ring out from the enemy trenches, but they were too far out.
     "Group B, follow!"
     Another five thousand began to march. As the first group began to close in and sustain casualties, they charged. Aberion picked up a set of binoculars and watched as men were cut down trying to reach the defenses.
     "Groups C and D, attack!"
     Men were cut down by machine guns, tripped up by barbed wire, or blown to pieces by land mines before Aberion's eyes. And a few, a lucky few, made it far enough to be slain on the earthen ramparts of Bask's defenses.
     "All other groups, join the attack!"
     "This isn't working," Aberion muttered.
     "Give it time," Pyrrhus replied.
     "Our men are dying."
     "This is war, lad. Men die all the time."
     "Not like this. This is purposeless. When men die in my name, let them die for something. Let them die knowing that their leaders share in their hardships and toil." Aberion stomped over and grabbed a motorcycle from a courier.
     "What are you doing?" Pyrrhus demanded, dumbstruck. "Think of your safety! Of your father! Of your brother!"
     "I am," Aberion growled. "I'm going to fight."
     Strapping his warhammer to his back, Aberion fired up the bike and zoomed off towards the battlefield, the Lord Regent's spluttering objections lost in the rush of the wind. Even now his soldiers were closing with the enemy and waging bloody battle, engaging in close combat for the city's outer defenses.
     Aberion rode past medical teams as they searched the battlefield for wounded and dead, past those who could limp away, past the rearmost elements of his army. He had left his helmet behind and his hair, which he had always kept long, whipped about behind him in the wind.
     He passed into the midst of his army, with his soldiers parting before him, pointing and whispering amongst themselves of how their leader rode to battle. He reached the embattled trenches and ramparts and there he dismounted and unslung his warhammer. Hefting it in his right hand, he grinned and cracked his neck as the roar of the wind died down.
     "Alright, who's ready for battle?"
     He ran forward and found a pocket of resistance, where a phalanx of knights with swords and shields stood against his own soldiers. Roaring a battlecry, Aberion raised his hammer and charged.
     In the east, the sun rose. The dawn broke. Sunlight flashed across the horizon and into the defenders' eyes. It caught on Aberion's upraised hammer and turned it into a miniature star, a beacon of light in the battle for his men to see. It was a magical moment, and the world held its breath.
     The defenders faltered. The hammer fell. The line broke. Aberion savored his first kill of the day. The soldiers fighting with him cheered. Spinning, Aberion raised his hammer to the sky. "The Dawn guides us, brothers! Onwards! To battle! To victory!"
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Offline Benionin

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Re: A Father to His Men
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2017, 05:08:16 PM »
     Aberion stomped towards the city center, towards the governor's palace and Pyrrhus's summons. His escort through the recaptured city was nervous, for his anger was apparent.
     Slamming open the door, he marched into the main audience chamber, his footfalls heavy and tracking the battle's dust into the room. From a chair at the head of the room, Pyrrhus looked up, then back down at a sheaf of papers. He still wasn't wearing his armor.
     "Terms of surrender," he said idly. "Formal. Definite. A work of diplomatic art, if I say so myself. I expect your apology to be as well written as these."
     "Apology?" Aberion demanded.
     "Of course. You behaved extremely inappropriately today, my Lord. Disobeying orders for your own safety to run off and join a battle, risking your life." He shook his head and clucked his tongue. "Hardly becoming the crown prince of the Kingdom of Aubade."
     Aberion slammed his fist onto the table, prompting Pyrrhus to look back up. "I will not apologize for fighting alongside my men. How can they respect me, Pyrrhus, if I don't share in their hardships? If I don't do myself everything I ask of them? If I'm not willing to risk my life for them, just as they're willing to risk their life for me?"
     He shrugged. "It matters not."
     Aberion shook his head. "It does. Those people out there dying for my kingdom need to know that I respect their sacrifices. That I'm willing to do the same. You should have seen it. When I arrived on the scene, they were revitalized. They fought with renewed vigor. We broke the defenders in no time at all, especially once they knew I was fighting. So many surrendered, Pyrrhus, once they knew I was there, leading the charge. Where I belong."
     "Nevertheless, for your own safety I expect you to limit such impulses. Within a year you'll be king, but until then I am regent and we cannot afford to lose you in addition to your father."
     "Maybe so, but we can afford to lose you."
     Pyrrhus looked up. "What was that?"
     Aberion leveled his warhammer at the Lord Regent. "You're fired, Pyrrhus. You're an ineffective old fool willing to throw away men without care for their lives. We lost thousands today. If we had attacked yesterday, we would have lost thousands more, if not the battle. You're relieved."
     "You can't do that."
     "What's more," Aberion went on, his voice rising as he fought his anger, "you swept into the city while the battle still raged and negotiated the surrender while I saw to the wounded. You negotiated a surrender to yourself, rather than to me. The ruler. You ignored your soldiers and sought your own personal glory, glory you had not earned in battle. You are a coward and a fool, and you are lucky that I do not kill you now."
     "You can't--"
     "Do not tell me what I can and cannot do, Pyrrhus," Aberion replied, his voice dangerous. "Now get out of my sight."

     Numos Desert. Thomas II had fought long and hard to conquer its burning sands, and its hardy fire-worshipping warriors had become his greatest soldiers upon their incorporation into his army. Retaking the rebellious province, Aberion knew, would not be easy.
     Organizing the supplies for the expedition had been a nightmare in of itself. Contractors charged exorbitant prices and had to be bargained down, routes for resupply had to be drawn up, divisions had to be organized, a garrison had to be left in the newly reconquered east...
     It was a headache.
     "I'm not cut out for this," Aberion grumbled. "He may have been slime, but Pyrrhus could work through red tape like no one else I've met. Certainly none of his would-be replacements."
     And yet the work had been done, the campaign planned, and now the army was underway. Restored to its former strength by further recruitment and the incorporation of the former rebels, Aberion's army was ready to conquer the people of Numos and crush their armies back into subservience, just as his father had some ten years before.
     If they could only find them.
     The rebels would launch surprise attacks in the dead of night, raining flaming missiles down upon the army column and disappearing before his soldiers could retaliate. More and more guards were posted, to no avail.
     Deeper they delved into the sands of Numos.
     A decisive battle was what they needed, Aberion knew. A way to crush the Numosi and force a surrender. But the rebels would not fight, only give ground and harry. Still, soon enough there would not be much more ground to give. Aberion ordered his armies to split into five columns, which spread out and covered even more ground.
     Three weeks spent in the burning sands, three weeks of frustration and sweat and heat and absolutely no sign of the enemy other than the burning missiles at night. Three weeks of waiting and marching and being whittled down--losses that were insignificant to the army as a whole, but irked Aberion. Unnecessary losses. Men had died without even seeing the enemy, without a chance to fight.
     Without a chance for glory.
     Those three weeks had come to an end.
     Aberion nodded grimly at the city in the distance. It lay low on the horizon, hugging the sands around the oasis. The Numosi capital had been hard to find--turns out that most maps were inaccurate, perhaps sabotaged by Numosi nationalists before their rebellion. But it did not matter. His army was here. And now the Numosi would have to fight.
     The sun was setting in the west, and Aberion had posted extra sentries all around his camp. There would be no raids that night--and if the Numosi dared to attack, they would pay for it. No, the Hammer of Aubade went to sleep knowing that after tomorrow, it would be all over.
     It was the same plan as the last time, and a simple one at that. Attack from the east at dawn, use the light of the sun as an advantage, hit hard, hit fast, force a surrender. Reincorporate the fire-worshippers into his army.
     "Heh," he thought, "having a national cult might be useful. Unite the populace--unite the soldiers. When this is over..."
     The next morning, the army was up and mustered before the sun, before the dawn. Aberion stood at the head of the troops, looking out over the vast force. His five columns had converged on the city, and now over twenty five thousand soldiers awaited his word.
     From here on out, I will lead every charge myself, he vowed, seeing how their eyes lit up as he surveyed them. How he gave them confidence and hope.
     "Today is just another day in our glorious nation's history," he said, the radio spreading his speech to each soldiers' ears. "Another battle, another fight, another fray. Another chance to die, perhaps, but to do so in glory! Fighting with a weapon in your hands and a warcry on your lips--that's the best way to go, I say. The best way to be remembered. Today, we bring our erstwhile brothers back to heel. It is said that the Numosi worship the sun. Well, we strike with the dawn. The sun is our weapon! It will lead us into the fight and shine upon your mighty deeds."
     Stretching out his arm, hammer in hand, Aberion pointed behind his soldiers to the east. "Look now! The sun rises! Follow the dawn to victory!"
     The charge of twenty five thousand soldiers thundered in the dawning light, each warrior chasing the sun's rays forward as they ran. The sands were damp with dew, still cold from the chill of night, and flew up in clumps with each step.
     Opposite them, the Numosi troops prepared to fight in their own way. Aberion heard shouts--chants?--and bonfires roared to life. A line of warriors charged with flaming swords, howling war cries and completely disregarding the light of the sun in their eyes. Flaming missiles soared overhead and screamed into the ranks of Aberion's army.
     To his right, there was an explosion of flame, with an inferno engulfing perhaps a hundred troops in an instant. The sands underfoot began to heat, and Aberion was beginning to regret not planning his attack more thoroughly than simply "attack."
     And then the lines collided. Warriors with flaming swords screamed as they crashed into Aberion's army, blade ringing on blade, guns barking, men roaring and dying. It was bloody carnage, in spite of the far superior number of Aberion's force.
     Aberion swung his hammer in powerful arcs, each swing laying a warrior low. To his left he saw a flaming sword cut through one of his own soldier's blades and armor, burning into the man's flesh as he screamed. Roaring, Aberion turned and felled the Numosi who had struck down his soldier.
     "Those weapons will cut through ours head-on," a bearded soldier shouted. "Parry, dodge, but by all that you hold dear don't block them!" The soldiers around Aberion, taking note of the suggestion, took heart and began to stand their ground where before they had fallen back or fallen dead. "Aim to disarm, strike after they've swung. Their swords are slightly unwieldy and weighted towards the end."
     Aberion turned towards the bearded soldier as his men began to overrun the Numosi line. "That was a good call, soldier. What is your name?"
     The soldier smiled. "Bromich, my Lord."
     "Excellent." Turning back towards the enemy, Aberion committed the soldier's name to memory and charged, his hammer ringing out with every blow and shining in the light of the sun. A foe sought to block him with their burning blade, but his hammer shattered the metal and withstood the magical fire. Flames streaked around its head as he continued to fight, resplendent in the dawn light, glorious in battle.
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Offline Benionin

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Re: A Father to His Men
« Reply #2 on: March 27, 2017, 05:14:10 PM »
     Once in the city, Aberion ordered that Bromich be brought to him--if the bearded man still lived. He did indeed. "Bromich," Aberion explained once the man arrived, "I despised Lord Commander Pyrrhus. He was vain, he wasted lives, and he patronized me. Thought that he could control me." He sighed. "For all of his faults, however, he was an able administrator. The man lived and breathed paperwork. I..." he smiled, "not so much."
     "Surely one of the Lord Commander's assistants would be a suitable replacement," Bromich began.
     "No, they're all the same sort of fool that he is. None of them care for the men. None of them remember what it is like on the front lines. What I need, Bromich, is a Field Commander. Someone who can administer and can lead the soldiers in battle.
     "Everything I ask of them, I do myself. Every trial, every campaign, every charge. I will fight and bleed alongside my soldiers." Aberion smiled again. "However, there needs to be someone who is able to direct and strategize as the battle unfolds. I am a good warrior. I know how to kill. What I am less good at, is directing a battle."
     "I see," the other man said carefully.
     "Bromich, I will lead the men. I will lead the charge myself--I intend to lead every charge myself. I will be their inspiration, their fearless leader, their comrade. But if I am to do so, I cannot worry about paperwork, logistics, or battlefield tactics. I need someone to do that for me while I concentrate on leading the men. Do you understand?"
     "I believe I do."
     "What I saw today, that was good. You studied the enemy, analyzed them, and instructed others how to defeat them. I would have you do so for my entire army, Bromich. I would make you my Field Commander, that I might focus on being the hammer that strikes the killing blow."
     "I would be honored, my Lord."
     "More importantly, I wish to distance myself from my father's kingdom. My empire is to be vast, and all members must feel welcome. Anyone, through personal valor, will be able to advance through the ranks. By their merit they shall be rewarded. This is regardless of where they come from, Bromich. Being simply the Kingdom of Aubade will not do. It is not universal enough for my vision: a world under sway of a single empire, united in striving for glory. Pushing the horizon each new day.
     "Even more so, I want to ensure that the people of Numos Desert never rebel against me again. I want them to become so incorporated into my empire that they never even realize they were conquered. My father tolerated their flame cult. I would harness it.
     "Fire is the crucible that shapes metal and forges men. Fire illuminates, and fire destroys. Fire purifies. Likewise, the sun is a symbol of hope and illumination, and has been our source of victory in these past two battles. There are those who would simply have me rebuild the kingdom of my father, but I will not stop there. I would forge something new. A Flame Dawn."

     Pallydium. The shining coastal city was a target like no other, a wealthy and powerful port just waiting to be gobbled up by some other power. Many kingdoms had broken themselves upon its walls. Before his death, Thomas II had aspired to seize its shining halls for himself and had settled into a long siege.
     But with the death of the king, the army had rebelled and dispersed. Bands of armed men roamed the countryside, plundering and skirmishing with locals--and each other. Bored, distracted soldiers rallied around strong men.
     Ireul was one such strong leader, and his band of soldiers-turned-bandits was well over fifty strong--one of the largest individual contingents, or so he heard. They had made camp along the coast, within sight of the city walls. From there they had launched raids and claimed overflowing chests of loot.
     He lounged in his tent, sipping from a golden goblet his men had seized from a museum. An empty dish was sitting at his side, with barely a crumb on it. One of his soldiers entered.
     "Sir, the men are hungry."
     "How goes the fishing?" he asked.
     "We're soldiers, not fishermen," the man growled. "We should be plundering, not scraping around for fish."
     Ireul's stomach echoed the soldier's growl. "We've already raided the local villages and taken everything they have. Eventually we'll have to learn how to subsist on our own."
     "If there's nothing else to take here, then I say we leave."
     Ireul rose to his feet. "Is that so? And how long have you been in charge, Derek?"
     "Why should we starve here?"
     "Pallydium, Derek, that's why. Once that city cracks we'll have more riches than even you can dream of."
     "Pallydium didn't crack for Thomas, it's not gonna crack for you," Derek countered. "Plenty of other bands have moved on. I say we do the same. There's good pickings to the east, and work too. This new Flame Dawn is offering food and glory to any who sign up."
     "I'm in charge here, Derek, not you," Ireul snarled. "And I say we continue waiting Pallydium out. Unless you want to fight?" There was a pause, and the man hesitated. "So you do want to fight me for leadership, Derek. Very well. I suppose it's only a matter of time before you muster up the courage. Or stab me in the back."
     The soldier drew his sword. "I'll wager you've gone soft, sitting around on the riches we've plundered."
     Ireul laughed. "Then come and collect your bets." Drawing his sword, he beckoned Derek forward with his left hand. Taking a deep breath, the other man charged, roaring.
     Ireul blocked his blow and ran him through, then discarded the body. "Hmm... second one in as many days. Maybe I should be doing something differently."
     Another man walked into the tent, someone Ireul didn't recognize. Not that he knew all of his men anyway, and he got new recruits all the time, so it didn't matter. The man was bigger than Ireul and carried a massive warhammer.
     "What do you want?"
     "Pallydium," the man said simply. "And your troops."
     Ireul scoffed. "You won't take it with fifty men," he pointed out.
     "Maybe with fifty thousand," the man replied. "But I need every sorry son of Aubade back in line to reclose the siege that you idiots discarded. Besides, the more men I have and the more we prepare, the fewer will die." He grinned. "There's plenty of glory to go around anyway."
     "Who are you?" Ireul asked, still holding his bloody blade and eyeing the man. Can I take him in a fight?
     "Aberion, soldier. Son of Thomas II, leader of the Flame Dawn. And I need every skilled warrior I can find." He looked disdainfully at the corpse. "Having trouble controlling your men?"
     "They'll fall in line," Ireul replied.
     "They already have," Aberion said. "Now, will you?"

     The walls of Pallydium shone in the morning sun. Fifty thousand soldiers in the crimson and gold armor of the new Flame Dawn empire surrounded the port. Armed with weapons purchased from Genesis Industries, trained in the finest military education known to Talich, under the command of Bromich, and lead by Aberion, these troops were destined to prevail.
     Even so, the city had held out, not even bothering to negotiate terms of surrender. It was hoped that another force would attack the Flame Dawn in some far corner of its empire, perhaps another rebellion in the east--something, anything to distract the conquerors at their gates. But nothing had dared to challenge Aberion's might since he had reconquered his father's far-flung kingdom.
     Banners fluttered in the wind, displaying the new insignia: the black hawk of Aubade imposed on a crimson circle, symbolizing the rising sun. Flames surrounded the hawk like an aura of destruction--the destruction of the Flame Dawn's enemies.
     The sun was rising, reflecting off of the polished walls of the city. Aberion, standing at the head of the army, grinned. "Bromich," he said, "when will the angle of light allow us to attack?"
     The radio in his helmet buzzed. "Thirty minutes, sir."
     From his father's ashes, Aberion had built a new and stronger empire, one that could grow and expand indefinitely. One where the conquered became the conquerors of the next people, and the next, and the next, until the whole world would fall under his sway. Where cultural divides would fall away before the strength of arms and the united quest to carry the human potential as far as it could go.
     He had surrounded himself with like-minded men, capable warriors and leaders he could trust. Bromich, Ireul, Nix, Sacullas, and more. As more men and women proved themselves worthy, they too would rise into his circle of trust. All who showed their merit would be rewarded for it.
     Smiling to himself, Aberion raised his hammer high and began to address all of his soldiers in their far-flung positions. Bromich had planned the attack, had planned it meticulously and well. The Hammer of the Dawn hadn't bothered himself with the details, as he knew that Bromich could handle it. He only concerned himself with the part that he had to play.
     "Soldiers of the Flame Dawn!"He roared, and he was met with a deafening reply. "Welcome to Pallydium! For centuries this city has stood, unconquered, arrogant. Wealthy. Their high walls have repulsed army after army. But high walls cannot stop the Dawn! High walls cannot keep out the sun! My father's ambition was to take the city, but I assure you this: we will take Pallydium, and we will not stop there. I will leave my father behind as we bring the light of the new dawn to the whole world.
     "For too long these people have hidden behind their walls, confident that their fortifications will be sufficient for their defense. For too long they have grown lazy, and decadent, and rich at others' expense. They have no discipline! They have no honor! They have no glory!
     "We will take the fight to them, and prove that they are weak! We will surmount those shining walls and show those cowering fools what it means to fight, what the crucible of war makes of men and women. We will show them your greatness, greatness achieved through trial and combat, through endurance and courage. We will show them the light of the Dawn!
     "Onward! Onward to glory! Onward to victory! The light shows us the way. As the sun envelopes the whole world in its light, so shall we! Onward to Pallydium!"
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Re: A Father to His Men
« Reply #3 on: March 27, 2017, 05:30:56 PM »

Where there's a will, there's a way.