The Orphans of Winter: Act 1, Scene 3

Captain Moureaux and Colonel Morin enter, along with three dejected looking men, shivering in torn clothing.  

Colonel Morin: Soldiers! I bring you these unhappy wretches, cowards taken prisoner amidst our triumph at the Berezina! The Emperor entrusts them into your care, knowing he can count upon you to guard them well. Keep them towards the rear, and don’t let them fall behind. Feel free to shoot them if they cause any trouble or can’t keep up! Vive L’Empereur! 

All: (Carlo only mouths the words) Vive L’Empereur! 

Colonel Morin exits 

Captain Moureaux: Alright men, you heard the Colonel. Send them to the rear. Carlo, Mateo, why don’t you stay with them! 

Carlo and Mateo: Yes, Capitaine 

All exit except Carlo, Mateo, and the prisoners 

Mateo: They seem a sad bunch. 

Carlo: Yes, all they have for clothes are these rags.

Mateo: And I thought we were bad off… 

Carlo: And look at them, they can’t weigh more than a hundred pounds. 

 Mateo: So, these are the Boyars and Cossacks who we bested at Borodino? 

Carlo: (bitterly) Gives one a whole new perspective on glory, doesn’t it? 

Mateo: It’s like you said about empty bellies…

Mateo pauses, takes off his pack, and begins to rummage around in it. After a moment, he pulls out a small piece of bread, and rips it into four pieces. He proffers the bread to the prisoners, who, after a moment’s hesitation, each take a piece. They begin to eat, quickly and noisily devouring the bread, while Mateo munches slowly on the remaining piece. 

Mateo: (with his mouth full) Well, we can’t free them, but at least we can make their bellies a bit less empty. 

Carlo: But couldn’t we free them? We could just let them go, there isn’t anyone to stop us. 

Mateo: Well yes, I suppose we could, but it would go against orders, and they’d probably shoot us. 

Carlo: But look at these men! They won’t last another week on the march like this. If we don’t let them go, they’ll die. To keep them here as prisoners would be murder! 

Mateo: Well, if we let them go, they’ll like as not starve or freeze all the same and the only difference is that we’ll be dead too. Five is more than three, no matter how you count. At least now we can watch over them, try to help them, give them some food when we can. We can make things a bit less bad for them. 

Carlo: (After pausing for a moment) Your compassion is inspiring, but you know as well as I the state of things. No matter how much we try to help these men, at some point on this long march away from their homes, they will fall behind. And then, whether by cold, hunger, or French bullets, they will die. At least in freedom there would be some hope for them, some chance, however infinitesimal, that they would stumble upon a village that might offer them hearth and home. Here, in this army, they can only die. So, I reject your calculus of suffering. All I can know is that here, right now, I can choose either to free these men and give them hope or to kill them. And I will not kill them. But I will not kill you either, so leave this to me. 

Carlo turns toward the prisoners, and Mateo, after a moment’s hesitation, stays where he is. 

Carlo: (pointing off stage) Go! 

The prisoners look confused 

Carlo: Go damn you! 

The prisoners do nothing 

Carlo: (now shouting) Go! 

The prisoners still do nothing 

Capt. Moureaux: (shouting from off stage) Carlo, Mateo! Get a move on already! 

Colonel Morin enters, but remains in the corner, unseen by anyone. Carlo looks dejected and turns away from the prisoners, looking towards the sound of the Captain’s voice.  

Carlo: (in an almost broken-sounding voice) Well, I suppose that’s it then. 

He beckons half-heartedly towards the prisoners, and they and Mateo begin to follow him as he walks towards the Captain. Suddenly, one of them falls. Carlo looks at the fallen man, then at Mateo, and back to the fallen man. 

Carlo: I suppose compassion is all we have left now, Mateo. 

He moves towards the prisoner, and picks him up, supporting him with his shoulder. 

Carlo: Easy there now, it’ll be alright. 

Suddenly, Morin strides out from the corner, and pushes Carlo away from the prisoner, causing him to fall to the ground. Looking down on the fallen man with contempt, he draws his pistol, and fires a shot into his head. 

Col. Morin: (in a voice fiery with rage) I told you not to let them slow us down! 

Morin exits, leaving Carlo, Mateo, and the remaining prisoners in stunned silence. After a few moments elapse, the rest exit.

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