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A Costly Lesson



By: Ray Zhao


The autumn leaves rustled as a slight breeze passed. I leaned against an old pine with every muscle in my body tensed. I had already waited for a day, but I still hadn’t seen any enemy advance. I asked a subordinate, Gilbert, if he had everything in place. Because I received an answer in the affirmative, I relaxed slightly. I asked him about the enemy troop estimates. He replied, “5,000! Since we have 10,000, it shouldn’t be a big deal!” I nodded and continued surveying the battlements. They were mightily majestic. The high stone walls towered over a thirty-foot-wide moat that was ten feet deep. The walls had already been surveyed twice, and no crack had been found. I was confident that the city would not fall if any enemies attacked.

My intelligence system discovered that the enemy was weak and tired. Better yet, they didn’t have the tools for a long siege. It would only be a matter of time before they were pushed back – if they even came. My spirits lifted, and that spread to others as well. Soon, I was off to bed.


Gilbert woke me earlier than usual at 5:30.

“Sir, the enemy has arrived.” All grogginess left me in an instant, and I jumped up.

The Siege of the Great City of Feldham was beginning. It was the city that was nested in the great Leyetefeae Mountain. The mountain range could only be traversed by traveling through Feldham. If Feldham fell, the enemy could directly attack my homeland’s capital. I knew I was overseeing history, but I couldn’t care less.


The ragged band of blue troops that arrived fired arrows that bounced off our stone walls and dug some defensive positions, but that was all they did before they settled down to rest. I almost burst out laughing at the absurdity of the enemy. If they were going to attempt a siege, use siege tools! If they were going to attack, then use weapons and attack! The only thing they seemed to be doing was stopping us from exiting the city.


19 DAYS LATER

It was sunny, and I was walking around when I noticed that pools of water were gathering here and there. It was slightly worrying, but when I asked Gilbert, he shrugged it off.

“Water? You think it doesn’t fall from the sky, isn’t dumped out of buildings?” he asked incredulously, glancing at the small pools that were gathering. “No need to worry about it!”

I thought this was a good enough response, and I stopped worrying. I decided that it was nothing and I went to bed.


The next day, with the rising of the mist that hanged over the city, everything became clear to me. Ahh, what a fool I was! The enemy was flooding our city, and the only way for us to survive was to retreat. But that would mean… I shuddered. Giving up the city was an impossible thought. Ahh, what a fool I was! I had lulled myself into a sense of safety when the enemy was closing in! If only I hadn’t underestimated the enemy! If only!

My brain, my heart, and my stomach felt as if they had all been twisted together, turned upside down, and whacked a few times. I vomited and then fainted.


After I came, I went directly to Gilbert. He was standing there as desperate people bailed the city. Men, women, children, soldiers, and civilians all participated. I asked him how to stop the flooding. He replied that a particular area had to be blocked off entirely, but the water level was too high for anyone to do that. Therefore, he had started a line to bail the city. More than 5,000 were already participating, forming ten lines. I joined one and began to haul buckets tediously. It was tiring work, but I had done harder things before, and this needed the vigor.

It was a miracle that the water level didn’t rise fast. My enthusiasm spread quickly. Soon, the number of people participating tripled. Soon, the water level had fallen several feet, and Gilbert personally went to help fix up the leakage. However, he wasn’t successful on the first try. For another 5 hours, I passed on buckets like a robot. The people in the bail lines never tired. They knew their own lives were in danger if they didn’t bail the city fast enough. New people were joining every second as the young and old rested. Soon, I realized that the water level was falling rapidly. Gilbert ran up to me.


“We’ve finished fixing the leak!” He said with so much vigor that I laughed. He joined the bailing line, and after another hour, with the entire city population working hard, the water in the city was bailed out.


That night, despite having done so much work, I couldn’t fall asleep. Next time, I need to remember to overestimate rather than underestimate. The enemy is strong, and they have many ways to attack you. Do not be proud, arrogant, or careless. If you do, you will lose. Eventually, though, I fell asleep.

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