the court marshal

The night was calm. Our camp was comfortable and the stars were out. We could hear the rumble of the motor-cycle for some time after it passed from sight. We made preparations for the return journey at sunrise. Adrian was furious at Grosvenor for taking the steamboat and abandoning the troops. Rightfully so, because the steamboat was the extraction plan. Banking on this, extra horses were not supplied to us. Men who lost their horses had to be left behind. There wasn’t any other choice. We remaining soldiers began the desperate journey to Saint-Louis. It was a long scorching journey, but our provisions held out. In a few days, we arrived back with no further incident.

Upon our return, Adrian Edgard and the Foreign Legion Division were a laughingstock of Saint-Louis. Grosvenor was back much earlier than us. He built public sentiment against Adrian’s command. The people lost all respect for the forces of the empire. It fit the printer’s interests to spin tales to smear the administration. Adrian was painted as an incompetent fool who wasted the lives of fighting men. Our reception from the city was cold, to say the least. People watched us file through the street. Some folks in the back of the crowds threw rotten vegetables at us.

Adrian was a broken man. Orders were given for a military hearing assessing his ability to command. He would just stare at the floor, and dispiritedly shake his head. His world seemed crushed. His experiences were an inescapable nightmare to him. It seemed to vividly consume him and he would speak. “If my Grandfather was in my place, he would have known what to do!” and sank into his chair, dejected. That was the most we could get out of him for a couple days.

He seemed to calm down after that. Back in the office, Adrian confided, “I don’t care what the people think about me. The legacy of my family is what I’m worried about. I have nothing to show for my efforts, nothing to pass on. Curse that Durant! His foresight has bested our forces twice. Curse Grosvenor! He robbed us of our escape! Worst of all is the knowledge that I did everything I could. I simply was not good enough. Nothing more we can do. Durant is long gone by now and the trail is cold. What should I care if they try to remove me from my post? I staked the family honor on getting that motor-cycle!” Besides that, Adrian was quiet until the hearing.

The examination was held in a stately building, downtown. I was taking minutes. Seated in a plush chair surrounding a circular mahogany table, I noted the persons in the room. The majority were Foreign Legion officers reporting directly to Adrian. A few journalists sat down. Adrian’s eyes flashed when Grosvenor settled in an armchair nearby. There were some formalities and testimonies for and against Adrian Edgard. Grosvenor began his testimony, “When I laid eyes on that motor-cycle I knew there was no chance in catching it. Adrian Edgard’s orders were incompetent.”

At this, Adrian sprang from his seat and smashed Grosvenor’s face with his fist. Grosvenor crumpled to the floor, hoarsely calling, “You cannot do that! You are nothing! I am the Imperial Emissary! Foreign Legion troops! What are you doing? Stop standing there and arrest this man!” None of the troops stirred. Adrian stood proud and proclaimed, “Will you listen to the man who abandoned you in the Sahara? Do you believe we can capture this motor-cycle? Follow me and we will find a way to do it!”

Later in the week, there was another intelligence briefing, but this time I was the one with the information. Since Timothy Adams and Ron Gerald were the ones planning to buy the motor-cycle, we searched for clues about the two Americans. The last reported sighting of them was my own. The misgivings about Adrian resurfaced. He would sit in the office, staring unblinkingly at the wall.

the court marshal

a chase in the sahara

Order was not restored until the reserve troops arrived with Grosvenor. In the confusion, Durant had escaped. The Sufi were nowhere to be found. Adrian approached Grosvenor, “We underestimated them!” Grosvenor looked self-satisfied. “So, you admit your incompetence in leadership? I have a plan to reclaim the motor-cycle. I’ll consider telling it to you. That is, if you have been humbled since your little outburst at our first meeting.”

Adrian clenched his fists. “Men died under my command. It is true. And that’s why I will not let their sacrifice be in vain, and we will bring Durant to justice. I admit whatever you want. Now! Tell me about this plan!” Grosvenor smirked. “My agents have tracked Lucien Durant to a small galley heading for the mainland. One of them managed to stow away on board. Upon landing, the agent will fire a flare. A steamboat containing mounted Foreign Legion soldiers will lie in wait, and capture Durant and the motor-cycle there.”

With that, it was full steam ahead, mainland. Waited in tense anticipation on horseback, watching for the flare that would signal the beginning of the operation. Just like clockwork. Flare appeared at the precise time as planned. Our ship put on steam towards the mark. The gangplanks were lowered on shore and the marines disembarked. Durant and his lackeys had entered a gated villa along the coast and sealed the entrance. Adrian approached on horseback the gates and challenged, “Durant, there is no escape. There are no civilians to interfere. You’re surrounded. Give yourself up!” A strange laughter came from behind the gates. Hired guns began firing on the Foreign Legion forces, who returned in kind. A rumbling sound ignited in the background. In the midst of the skirmish, a soldier yelled,

“There it is!”

Durant rocketed out of a side exit of the villa on the motor-cycle. It howled and sputtered like a wild animal. He was a black shade on the gleaming magenta machine that blasted off towards the desert. A vast cloud of sand blasted behind it. The Foreign Legion fired a volley of hot lead that was swallowed up by the sandstorm. The horses trembled in fear. Some fled, dismounting their riders. Adrian immediately commanded, “After him!” Adrian, the troops and I took off in pursuit of Durant.  Grosvenor cowardly returned to the steamboat. Durant led us into the Sahara, holding a steady distance, just out of range. Adrian pushed the abilities of the horses and their riders to the limit. Still, he was unable to close the distance whatsoever. The chase and the day wore on in the hot desolate sunlight.

By sunset, it was clear that the chase was futile. Adrian gave in to the reality of the situation. The horses were exhausted. Even if they could catch Durant, they would perish in the desert on the return journey. Adrian was forced to stop for the night, moody about the ignominious return to Saint-Louis. As we set up camp, I glimpsed Durant riding through the Sahara. Setting sun reflected off his motor-cycle in rare brilliant flashes of pink that made their way through the billows of sand and dust. That cloud slowly disappeared into the dusky horizon.

 

a chase in the sahara