Command and Pressure
“To freedom!” Lena clinked her glass with Corthos, laughing heartily. They had succeeded, in spite of what they had been given, in getting a girl freed from Castle Kintargo. By all rights, the first success in the Upper Court – The first of many, she hoped – should be a reason to celebrate. But Corthos remained in a mood that was both distant and a bit cross, despite her best efforts. She could tell he was happy to have won the case – he had been ecstatic initially – but as the night had gone on, he had seemed to withdraw into his own mind bit by bit. Although she supposed that was what Corthos had been doing a lot of as of late. A thin, thin line between genius and torment, right? She downed her glass, starting to talk to him again about the case when he just stood up. He turned and smiled faintly at her, speaking softly. “Lena. It was a great day. A victory for myself, for you, and for justice. But I have other business to attend to at the moment. I’ll come tilt another glass with you soon, but I have to talk to someone.” She nodded at him as he walked off, wishing for just a moment that she could get into his head. Though if she did, she had a feeling she might regret it.
Corthos walked out the back doorway of the Tooth and Nail, watching closely. He knew that Octavio always used the back doorway. He knew the man’s patterns by now – and like any military man, he was a creature of habit. Tonight, Corthos waited until he saw a hunched old beggar come down the alleyway, standing a little taller as he neared the doorway. He reached out to grab him by the arm, the ‘beggar’ suddenly looking at him with stern and serious eyes. “Octavio. Sir. May we talk?” Octavio laughed initially, then stood to lean himself against the wall as he greeted Corthos. “Certainly, Mondragon. I was getting tired of walking with a hunch anyhow.” Corthos nodded, grinning. “I could have given you the advice. Never do anything in a disguise you wouldn’t feel comfortable with four hours later.” The two men chuckled together before Corthos continued. “Octavio…you’ve led men into battle. You’ve fought alongside them. I’ve read about it, I’ve studied it my whole life, I’ve been raised on strategy and ideas….and yet.” He glanced back at the doorway, a silent indicator of a collective ‘they’ that he couldn’t name. “They look at me to lead them in this. To take my supposed tactical genius that I’ve always bragged about, and to lead them into battle against a foe that seems insurmountable. And, if I may be so blunt, from one military man to another – I am terrified.” He looked at Octavio, a sad and humble expression on his face.
“When does it get easier, Octavio? When do I stop feeling this terror, this encroaching dread? When do I stop dreaming of failing them? When does a plan start to become good enough, where I can look at it without seeing losses that I can’t bear to lose? I find myself terrified, shaken with fear, but they look to me like I am this supposed genius – like I will be an excellent commander, because I was a Tanessen. I am not strong enough to lead them. Perhaps….perhaps you should lead them.” Octavio paused, the normally stoic look on his face shifting slightly to one of empathy, both incredibly tired and understanding. He put his arm over Cortho’s shoulders, talking to him in a firm tone. “Being afraid does not make you any less of a leader, Mondragon. All of us have been terrified. I felt that same creeping dread even when the Order was in the Citadel. But I suppose that fear is a small price that we have to pay to do something that has meaning. It takes a leader to step past the fear that they have and push forward. A leader is not a man without fear – if anything, we carry a burden larger than the people we lead, because we fear for ourselves and them equally. It doesn’t get easier. You wouldn’t want it to. When it becomes easy, when you stop worrying for your troops, that is when you make the mistakes that your fear keeps you alerted to.” He turned, putting a hand over each of Corthos’ shoulders to look him in the eyes.
“I cannot lead these people, Corthos. You know them better than I do. You’ve fought together, you’ve bled together, you’ve watched for each other since the beginning. I will help you and support you, I will empathize in a way that the others cannot, but I cannot lead them for you. They are your people.” Corthos looked back at him and nodded, speaking softly. “Octavio…I am not good enough to lead these people. I am not wise enough, not smart enough, not clever enough. I worry too much, I concern myself with every detail. I fear that I will walk them into a massacre.” Octavio nodded back, his voice quiet yet determined. “I know. I feared it every day. I still do. But my troops were caught, and they still believed in me. If I had not worried over each detail, if I had not known my troops so closely, they would have been massacred. Your people know what they walk into, Corthos. They could have left you – you gave them the option. But they chose to stay. They know the risks, and they accept them, and they still look to you. Your fear for them, your concern, that is what will make certain that you are careful with them. Leadership is not born out of military experience, it is born out a selfless desire to take care of the people who have trusted you. Mondragon, if these people did not have faith in you, they would have shown it. They stayed because they believe in your ability. Now, if that doesn’t make you a bit nervous, then you’re a fucking loony – but the fear shows that you care for each of them. And that is where leadership comes from – a spot where you can care for each person in your command and put their own safety above your own. Tell me, in all of your fears, do you feel concern over your own death?”
Corthos shook his head slightly. “Never. I feel it, I see it on the edges of my vision, but I don’t fear it with any of the urgency that I do theirs.” Octavio clapped him on the shoulder. “That is leadership. You are willing to die for these people, and protect them regardless of cost. Fear is just a way of you realizing what hinges on your decisions, and it is a good way to keep yourself grounded. I will serve alongside you, as a lieutenant and a friend, but I will not lead these people. That is your cross to bear, and that is your purpose. These people are willing to die alongside you to change the world. That should be terrifying. But this is not about us, or our fears. This is about something greater than any of us. For what it is worth, I think you are a fine leader.” He grinned. “Otherwise, I would have told you as much by now.” He stepped back, looking at Corthos as he processed everything. He had been through this role before – he understood the tough decisions that Corthos was having to make in a way that the others never would. After a long moment, he spoke again. “Ale?” Corthos nodded, starting to head for the door before stopping and speaking to Octavio.
“Thank you. I don’t know why you believe in me, but if you do – and they do – then some part of me must be able to do this. I will shake, and I will fear, and I will study – but I refuse to break. Expect me to ask questions, to request insight. Are you willing to assist me?” Octavio nodded. “Whatever you need, Commander. For now, though…ale.” “Aye.” Corthos pushed the door open, leading them back inside.