What orders should I have given them at that moment? What orders *could* I have given, with any chance of being obeyed? They were no longer my men. They'd turned irrevocably against Heaven and turned Heaven irrevocably against them. It was madness. They'd tossed away every advantage they might have gained from their rank and service in the army, and for what? To save a child who could kill them tomorrow as easily and as happily as it had killed the Emperor's guards and courtiers. They weren't fools. They knew that. And still they thought the child worth saving. What could one say to people like that?
It was my fault things had come to this pass. I was their commander: I was responsible for them. I knew them to be dangerous but never thought them to be mad. But then, I knew Litouten to be dangerous and never thought him mad either. It galled a little, to know which madman was left in control of the field. Tenpou had courage and an almost terrifying intelligence; Kenren had courage and, one must allow, principles; Litouten had... ambition. Mad as they were, dangerous as they were, Heaven would be the less without them. But there was no question of saying that either.
They *had* been my men. Their rebellion and their treatment of me, their commander, had cancelled those ties between us. They were going now to the violence and uncertainty of Down Below. I doubted they'd survive long in their chosen place of exile, however bold or cunning they might be. But still. But still. They had left me my life. They were leaving me my honour. Tenpou- I should have known it- had been playing a double game all along; and if half had been to secure his own ends, the other half had been to protect my position. I would regret not having that ability and brain in my service any more; but regrets now were useless.
What orders could I have given them? They were already turned to walk away. Now that all possibilities were ended, what could I say to them, in light of what had been and what might have been?
I said the only thing left to me.
"Make your report."
They turned back on their heels at once. They straightened. They saluted. They resigned their commissions to me in due form: impeccable subordinates impeccably following the rules. Yes, even Kenren. For perhaps the second time in my life I was almost tempted to like him.
And then they were gone, to the unimaginable whatever that waited for them; and I was left, still bound, waiting for what remained of my army to find and release me.