The thick, soft velvet of the Officers’ Court is like an island unto itself in the thick, musky dust of the Spice Markets. The orange particles of who-knows-what which swim in the crowded alleys bow to its fabric like so many courtiers, innately recognizing the authority which stems from military might blended with nobility. The hands which call the broad sleeves home, infrequently shaded by their cloth and then cast into light by the afternoon sun, flicker adeptly over the materials on display in the Markets: spices yes, but also rarer cloth than even the officer’s coat, delicate foods and flesh. They are strong and skilled, somehow warm in their prehensile strength, the hands of one who is both a warrior and an orator, who uses hands to cut the life from bodies but who also uses them to undercut the rhythm of one’s words. The hands lead upwards to muscular arms, broad shoulders and a gait which broadcasts, effortlessly, complete ownership and command of the situation and the people within the situation.
The hidden/seen contours of the arms, buried as they are underneath all that cloth but also so powerful as to defy obscurity, lead the eye up to the collar where three golden chevrons lie, dotted with silver stars. These tell a story which takes place far from the Spice Markets and the City which houses them. The chevron’s fine, definitive lines speak of a career spent in exile, training for a goal which the trainers feared. They speak, in their golden punctuation marks and sure, firm weave, of one who had identified the silent beat of such a life from the first day. Eyes coldly surveying the fateful scene replayed across a dozen dozen bases, camps and drafting points, that one’s mind had instantly deciphered it all, the discrete relationships of power and oppression which made the body called “military” run. It rightfully discerned the threat in the veteran’s gaze, and it swiftly broke apart the fears, motivations and emotions of one’s fellow draftees and cataloged them for future use.
It did all this without even noticing it, the forward parts of it which understood things awash in the terror of separation and change. Of all of this and much more sang the golden chevrons, expanding their tune to encompass not only that one but also countless others who had worked alongside them. Their melody extolled ranks, platoons, units, regiments, divisions, whole systems of knowledge and reality designed to make things the same, to erase differences and make sure that unity and the military ontalogy prevailed. They sang of other necks, other shoulders, other strong, impossibly thick arms which led to hands so gentle as to almost make you forget their danger as they sorted through dried fruit at the Spice Markets, with the afternoon sun making particles of the air and the streets ringing with the shouts of the hawkers. They made sure, the chevrons did, that you did not forget that the one which stood before you now, back slightly turned to your gaze as if always on defense, even from spectators, that one was not unique. They were privileged but not singular; many others bore their chevrons, their careers, their memories, their understandings. Their catalogs. And all those mental catalogs were slightly different but quite the same, said the chevrons.
The silver stars sang a bittersweet counterpoint to all of this. They, more scarce in their existence, told discrete stories for the onlooker who spoke their language, the language of heraldry, communal memory and the intricate relationships which existed between them. To such a savvy onlooker, they told of personal sacrifices, missions undertaken and goals achieved which were personal and non-obvious, each one placed on one’s shoulders willingly, without command. They spoke of the City’s Walls, blue-green usually in their metallic somnolence, deep red with the blood of invaders who had crashed upon their ligaments, flesh made from men and women like the one who stands before you. The silver stars chant of the mechanic ease with which those same arms which brought you to gaze upon such astral decoys then rose and fell upon the building blocks of a new bridge, one which would connect the City and a far away, long lost settlement. They whisper, mumble and babble about all such things to the onlooker with the language to listen.
The eyes which do such skillful gazing are, however, beginning to show some hesitation, a slight flicker to their so-far hungry exploration. They know that now, with the deep channels of the arms explored, the broad plains of the shoulders excavated, the towering monument of the neck explained, only one destination remains for their hunger to feast upon. In that realization, that selfsame hunger collapses on itself, avidly attempting to battle the ocular momentum it had, just before, fed constantly with the need for knowledge, trapped forever in the ritual of sight. It knows, this hunger and the onlooker which serves as merely the host to its base intentions, that the only place left to go is the face and it is afraid of what it would find there. Far beyond the songs of chevrons, well past the storytelling of embroidered stars, it knows it will find pain, fear, defeat, horror and resignation, as it has found every time in the faces of the City’s “citizens”, if that moniker even fits any of them anymore.
This shock of disappointment, this death of hope is what it had come here originally to avoid, why it had drifted so avidly to this one, this seemingly unbreakable bastion of the City, made flesh by years of order, years of obeying order (and orders). It hoped, and its host hopes, convincing itself that it and not the hunger was the progenitor of this observance, to finally find conviction in this broken place and now it fears that disappointment awaits it once again. And so it does, but not in the sense which it had imagined, not in the sense which, born from failure as it was, it could ever have imagined. The eyes finally have their way, as they always will, momentum cresting over the moment and a slight wind turning the officer’s cheek ever so slightly in their direction, the afternoon light flinging golden unmasking on the face’s features. And in it blazes that same conviction which the hunger had convinced itself that it sought, that it had chased, through the onlooker, for so many years, bright and mighty and self absorbed. Through their eyes, the officer speaks all there is to know about the songs of chevrons, the chasms of secure arms, the mesas of bulwark shoulders. Their cry glory and honor and the faultless assurance that all is right and so long as the City stands nothing can really be wrong.
And the hunger screams and shrivels and burns in the light of such conviction, consumed by victory.