Ledat’s pulse pounded in his ears and his throat as he approached General Ungar’s tent. He was trembling like a cart on cobblestones, and his hands were hot and itchy.
The summons to the General’s tent had been as sudden as it was terrifying. He had been minding his own business, doing his training exercises in his personal tent (one of the few privileges of being in officer training) when one of the General’s inscrutable adjutants had walked in, told him to go to the General’s tent, and left, without ceremony.
As Ledat climbed the rocky path to the General’s tent, his mind boiled with possible reasons he might have been summoned. Had he made some terrible mistake? Were these his last moments as an officer in training? Or as a soldier at all? The thought of returning to his home village in disgrace made Ledat nauseous with dread.
Ledat entered the General’s tent, and paused in the antechamber to try to collect his wits. It’s probably nothing, he assured himself. Just some routine adjustment to his training. Or bad news about a relative. Something harmless like that.
Thus reassured, Ledat steadied himself, put his sword in the basket beside the flap to the inner sanctum, and entered.
Inside, Ledat could, at first, see nothing because of how dimly lit the room was. But soon his eyes adjusted and he could see that the room, like its resident, was large, spare, simple, and extremely tidy.
And apparently unoccupied. Ledat looked around the room over and over without result. Then, just as his confusion was giving way to panic, he heard the soft and familiar noise of a page being turned.
And there he was, the Great General himself, sitting quietly in front of a small field fire, reading a massive book. He had clearly been there the entire time, yet somehow Ledat had not noticed him at all. How was that even possible?
“Officer Cadet Ledat r-reporting as ordered, sir.”
The barest of nods from the massive man. At nearly six feet tall, the General towered over other men, and had a body like a garrison wall. Everything about him conveyed power, authority, and a solidity that made him seem more real than other men.
For what seemed like a long time to Ledat, there was silence except for the crackling of the fire and the turning of the pages.
Finally, without turning to look at Ledat, the General said, “Cadet Ledat, do you think me a strong man? ”
“I beg your pardon, sir?”
“It is a simple question, Ledat. Do you think I am a wise man?”
Ledat’s heart was in his throat. What madness was this? “Of course, sir. Your strength is legendary among the…”
“And do you think me an intelligent man? ” asked the General.
Ledat forced himself to stop trembling. He smelled a trap but could not, for the life of him, figure out what it was. “Yes, sir. You are a shrewd tactician, as well as a learned… ”
“And do you think me a wise man?”
“No man could be wiser, sir. ”
“And do you respect me?”
“Yes sir. Completely. ”
Finally, the General turned to look down at Ledat, and spoke to him in a voice of cold iron : “Then why have you been insulting me to everyone who will listen to you?”
Ledat’s shock was total. He felt like he was going insane. Insult the General? He would never even think of it. It would be akin to blasphemy. “B-b-but sir, I would never… ”
“So you deny it? ” snapped the General.
“Well I… I don’t know… if you say… but I would never….
“My most trusted advisors say differently. They have compiled a long list of people who swear upon their oath that you have called my wisdom and judgment into doubt dozens and dozens of times. It seems you think me a fool. I have called you hear today so that you can tell me exactly why. ”
Ledat felt like the tent was turning very slowly around him. His mind was chaos. One notion seemed more promising than the rest, as so he seized upon it. “P-perhaps if the General could be more specific… ”
“More specifically, Cadet Riche Ledat, you have been witnessed numerous times saying that you did not know why you had been chosen for officer training, that you did not think you could handle it, that you didn’t think you were good enough, and that you expected to wash out at any moment. Do you deny having said these things? ”
“No sir. There would be little point of that. But I don’t see how… ”
“Do you remember the day you learned you had been chosen for officer training, Ledat?”
“Yes sir, I do. ”
“Do you remember how the letter of induction began?”
Ledat thought back. “I think it was something like…. ‘You have been personally chosen by the Great General Ungar to… ”
Ledat’s face went pale. Suddenly he understood.
“Not everyone gets that letter, Ledat. Most enlisted men never get any letter at all, and when they do, it is usually quite brief, and it is most definitely not hand delivered by one of my personal adjutants. ”
“I…. hadn’t thought of it that way, sir. ”
“Clearly not. And everything in that letter was true, Ledat. I personally chose you for officer training because I saw, and continue to see, something in you that no wise leader would ignore. You have an excellent mind, Ledat, and that alone would qualify you to be an officer. But you also have heart, and the courage of your convictions, and those are what lead a man to greatness. So there will be no more doubting yourself and your ability to succeed, Ledat. Not in word, not even in thought. Because when you doubt yourself, you doubt me. You are dismissed. ”
With that, Ledat left the tent, head spinning with confusion, but with a soft sweet song of joy growing in his heart.