Twenty-seven temples of truth
I weighed the English army in my mind, and could not honestly assure myself of them. The men were often gallant fighters, but their generals often gave away in stupidity what they had gained in ignorance. — T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom
April 6th, 1917
Diary of Major Horace S. Browntrout
I write this from the officers’ cabin aboard the RMS Persistence. We are just departing from the Suez, making the trip to Southampton, where Stanley and I will be granted two days’ leave before being issued new orders. It will be just enough time to return home to Wooly Acres and savor one of Effie’s mutton pies — and her company — for the first time since Christmas, 1916. I am told that my precious four-year-old daughter, Charlotte, is no longer a toddler. She barely had any hair (or spoke any words) when last we met. Now her long auburn tresses fall to her shoulders and I am told she is quite chatty, though I do not know if either “Daddy” or “Uncle Saysquack” are in her vocabulary. Effie has been trying to acclimate her to the idea of Stanley by giving her one of the iconic “Teddy Saysquack” dolls, popularized of course, when my famous rival chose to exercise mercy on a hunting trip by sparing the life of a Saysquack that was chained to a tree by the neck. I fear that this will not be enough for her to get to know us, but if we are not complete strangers, I shall rest easy.
As for my other child, we have far too many words between us. The abyss between us grows with every word written or spoken. He has ideas of honor, glory and patriotism that are ready-made for him and instilled by the army. He not only attempts to negate my efforts to spare his life by removing him from the front, he deeply resents me for it. He cannot understand that, while I am not a pacifist, I see no point to this war, let alone justice in it, and I would do anything in my power to save the lives of those closest to me, and to minimize their suffering, and indeed the suffering of all things. I do not know whether our friendship can be salvaged, but I will always look out for him.
Our surroundings make us feel like where we just came from was a bad dream. There is fresh tea, clean sheets to rest upon, crisp, fresh-starched khaki drill to wear — it all seems so unreal. When we left, Auda’s men were cursing Stanley and accusing him of giving them the “evil eye.” We watched in horror as the unicorn’s body melted away into the sand. I kept my deformed bayonet as a souvenir and reminder of its power.
Before we left Lawrence said he had gifts for us — baubles, he called them. Stanley was awarded a DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) and I was awarded an MC (Military Cross) for our actions in the fight against the second unicorn attack. I was also, it seems, promoted to Major.
After presenting us with these items with a mock salute and eye roll, Lawrence said, “and now, the real gift.” He handed me a book he’d written just for us — called Twenty-Seven Temples of Truth. He opened the book and showed Stanley where entire chapters had been written in pictograms so that it would be easier for him to understand. The rest was written in Oxford English — for my benefit. It was, he explained, a treatise on tactics for guerilla warfare, not just in Europe, but applicable in any situation. He told us he hoped that it would one day be hailed as a classic, read and taught in schools alongside Homer and Shakespeare. That’s why, he explained, he was giving us our copies bound in red calfskin leather embossed with gold letters.
After Stanley, Lawrence and I toasted each other with a small flask of brandy I had, Lawrence took me aside and put his hand on my shoulder in a fatherly way (which was awkward, both because I am much older and much taller than he is). He said, “You two are quite the pair! You are built of stern stuff.” Then he smiled sadly. “I’ve got to tell you old chap, I don’t think your chances are very good. You have the deck stacked against you and the wind blows in the wrong direction.” I asked him to elaborate, and said I thought we’d proved him wrong today. He shook his head and went on. “It will take more than just grit and determination to fight a guerilla war behind enemy lines in Germany and Austria. The local people are under the thumb of the reigning authorities, the military has strict control and worst of all, the Einhornwaffe — the Unicorn Brigade — are hailed as heroes. You will be seen as interlopers, as a conquering army.”
I told Lawrence as politely as I could that frankly he was wrong. Here in the Hejaz we were fighting the unicorns like bare-knuckled boxers; our array of weapons and tactics were meager to the point of nonexistent. We were reduced to hurling sticks of dynamite at them. Whoever was going to wage the war against the unicorns — and we had no idea that it was to be us — they would have all the tools, the technology and the might of the British Empire at their backs, which including terrible new weapons that not even the most wily and destructive animal could hope to contest. Not even one that bled acid. Of that, there could be no doubt. Our side had tanks, howitzers, mountain guns, twelve-pounders, aero planes. It was possible we would find a way to neutralize the threat without even having to get close to it with infantry.
Lawrence shook his head sadly. “Then you have learned nothing at all here,” he said. “If more bombs were the answer, we’d have won the war by now. The warcorn can outmaneuver a bomb, can take shelter and hide, only to pop out again, just as men do. You will need to do better than that if you want to win.”
Though I hate to admit it, he was right.
Be afraid at all times. The fear you that instill in your enemy must be ten times greater in your own hearts, if you wish to survive. Not animal fear, not panic, but the realization that death lurks everywhere. Expect death, and you will stay one step ahead of it, or better yet two or three or four steps. — T.E. Lawrence, Twenty Seven Temples of Truth
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