The Orphans of Winter: Act 1, Scene 2

A bugle sounds, and the soldiers stand at attention, while Captain Moureaux stands next to Colonel Morin, who is reading from a sheet of paper 

Col. Morin: Brave soldiers of the Empire! Your Emperor wishes to convey to you his sentiments of deepest pride for the valor you showed in the Battle of the Berezina. It is upon your courage and gallantry alone that the foundations of our Empire can rest soundly. You can all take pride in the glory you have brought upon yourselves. Now, your Emperor knows that you face privations, he knows that you have suffered upon this long march, and he feels your pain. He walks alongside you; he shares in your hardships; he weeps for every comrade that falls. He draws deep inspiration from your abnegation, from your willingness, nay, enthusiasm, to accept pain in order to preserve the Empire, and all the good that it has done, and will yet do, for Europe and the World. The Emperor also wishes to convey to you, brave soldiers, happy news from your homes. In Paris and in Madrid, in Milan and in Munich, great numbers of citizens, inspired by your feats of arms, have spontaneously assembled and proclaimed to the authorities their complete gratitude and admiration for the sacrifice which you are making here, in their defense against a barbaric foe. The eyes of all civilization are upon you, and they anxiously await the laurels of victory that will crown your efforts. Vive L’Empereur! 

All except Carlo: Vive L’Empereur! 

Col. Morin exits

Capt. Moureaux: Alright men, we’ve heard from our Emperor, and may God protect him. Now let’s get a move on towards the Niemen! Forward march! 

The soldiers begin marching in a circle, while Captain Moureaux walks up to Carlo and pulls him aside 

Capt. Moureaux: I know you have little love for the Emperor, and neither do I. But at least go through the motions and do what’s expected of you, if not for your own sake then for that of your comrades. Colonel Morin is already hounding me almost daily about the dangers of “defeatism,” and if he notices you with your mouth shut during the next chorus of “Vive L’Empereurs,” he’ll like as not have you all condemned to penal battalions. So, for my conscience and your health, please just shout it out next time. 

Carlo: (pausing for a moment) Yes, Monsieur. 

Capt. Moureaux: Very good. Now, the Colonel has another of his lectures prepared for me, something about prisoners this time, I think. Try to just focus on your duties now, and don’t give me any more cause for worry.  

Carlo: (nodding) Ciao, capitaine.

Captain Moureaux nods back, and then exits. Carlo joins the marching soldiers. 

Mateo: What was that about, Carlo? 

Carlo: Duty. 

Giuseppe: Capitaine noticed he never joins us in the “vives” and tried to talk some sense into him, no doubt. 

Pietro: Oh, I’ve had enough of you too squabbling. I’m tired, I’m hungry, and I haven’t the energy to listen to whatever you’re quarreling about today. Why don’t we talk about something cheerful for a change? 

Simón: Yes, like Poland! We’re close to the frontier now. 

Giuseppe: Yes! When we get to Warsaw, first thing I’ll do is find a chicken and cook the whole thing! I haven’t had any good meat in ages. 

Simón: I’ll join you in that meal Giuseppe! 

Pietro: Oh, and what I wouldn’t give for some risotto to go with it! 

Mateo: It all sounds so wonderful friends! Just a few weeks more and this will all be over.

Simón: Yes, just a bit longer and we’ll all be feasting in Warsaw. I don’t think I’ve eaten so well since the rationing started back in Spain. 

Giuseppe: Nor I, since it started in Italy. But war means privation, like the Colonel said when he was reading the Emperor’s words. And, like the Emperor said, we are fighting for our civilization, and sometimes that means going to bed with an empty stomach. No doubt the Emperor will reward us for it though. 

Carlo: What composes civilization in your view, Giuseppe? 

Giuseppe: Well, people do, I suppose. 

Carlo: But, if the people go to bed with empty stomachs, it must be a poor sort of civilization then, if it can’t even provide for the welfare of its constituents. 

Giuseppe: No, no you’ve got it all wrong. Civilization doesn’t just grant rights or provide for the general welfare; it also imposes duties. And one of those duties is that sometimes the people have to sacrifice their well-being for the greater good of the civilization. 

Carlo: We’ve sacrificed a great deal, that’s certainly true. But I can’t really think of any good that’s come out of it, at least not for us. Nor for our families back in Italy and Spain, who have empty bellies just like we do. Now, what state do you imagine the Emperor’s belly is in? 

Pietro: Enough now with your infernal questions, Carlo. 

Simón: But, Carlo, didn’t you hear what the Emperor wrote in his address? Our compatriots are all grateful to us for protecting them from the Russians. Without us, they’d all just be the serfs of some Boyar. And wouldn’t that be an evil worse than an empty belly? 

Giuseppe: Finally, some good sense. 

Carlo: True, the rule of the Boyars would no doubt be cruel. But I haven’t met any boyars yet here, only serfs, and they all have empty bellies just like we do. The way I see it then, there are really two civilizations, that of those with food in their bellies and – 

Mateo: That of those who have no food? 

Giuseppe: (looking off into the distance) Ah, there’s the Colonel and the Captain again. You two Jacobins better stop all your talking before they hang you from one of those Liberty Trees that you’re so fond of. (pauses and squints, keeping his eyes focused on the same point) But what’s this now, who have they got with them? 

Pietro: (also looking into the distance) Prisoners, I think! 

They all stop marching and look into the distance

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