Otrim looked up at his commander [Ardus], then across the valley floor and blinked blood from his eye. Like afterbirth on a peasant woman's floor broken bodies splattered the battlefield. A slight breeze carried the dank odor of dirt and death.
Ardus mocks Otrim for his reluctance to kill a wounded Korreti, wondering after such a long day of killing at Otrim's "sudden bout of remorse."
"Not remorse, Commander. Mercy. Defense, by the word's meaning, is defensible. Offense is an offense to God."
"You confuse wordplay with swordplay, Otrim. Your ethical quibble would allow the enemy to rejoin the battle."
Ardus grabs Otrim's sword and beheads the wounded Korreti. A scuffle ensues as Otrim regains his weapon. Ardus and Otrim face off with drawn swords and soldiers gather to watch, but the fight goes no further as the two apparently come to their senses and lower their weapons. Ardus makes a joke: "'Good to see some mettle, right men?'", but whispers a threat to Otrim as they part.
Paeter, Otrim's sublieutenant, encourages Otrim to challenge Ardus for command and put an end to the campaign, noting that most of the men would welcome a change from Ardus. Otrim, however, values honor and the Master's teachings above all else and eschews any plans to usurp Ardus's command. Otrim decides instead to propose a bold plan to defeat the Korreti and end the campaign. At the meeting of Ardus and his lieutenants, Ardus endorses Otrim's plan as if it were his own. The army splits in two, with Otrim's regiment in the half under Ardus direct command, and marches off to what Ardus predicts will be a swift end to the campaign. Otrim's instincts tell him that something is not right. When Ardus directs Otrim's regiment to lead the way through a narrow mountain pass, Otrim's suspicions are realized and the conflict between Ardus and Otrim comes to a head.
Perry creates a compelling narrative that moves along at a steady pace. He also prefaces each chapter with Idessan proverbs and songs that add a sense of depth to the fantasy world. We see the action through the eyes of Otrim, who presents an example of virtuous behavior. We don't learn much about Ardus. It's not clear what motivates his hatred of Otrim other than jealousy. We also don't get a strong sense of place. Perry gives few details about the landscape. Are we in forests or plains or deserts? At first I read the story as taking place in the deserts of the Middle East, thinking in terms of Alexander the Great's conquests. However, Otrim's references to the "Master," who sounds a lot like Jesus, and chasing infidels through mountains, reminded me of the battles between the French and Moors that are found in such works as The Song of Roland. Some more details on the story's context would help. A Lesson in War falls in the tradition of the chansons de geste (songs of heroic deeds). Consider the definition from Wikipedia:
Composed in Old French and apparently intended for oral performance by jongleurs, the chansons de geste narrate legendary incidents (sometimes based on real events) in the history of France during the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries, the age of Charles Martel, Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, with emphasis on their conflicts with the Moors and Saracens, and also disputes between kings and their vassals. From the Chanson de geste entry on Wikipedia.
If you take out the historical France and substitute Perry's Idessa, that definition describes the action and conflicts in A Lesson in War. I have a sense that Perry has more chansons about Otrim. This story could easily fit into the middle of a novel. I'm looking forward to reading those other stories to fill in the details about Idessa and Otrim's character.
To learn more about Lyndon Perry and his writing, check out his blog at blogginoutloud.blogspot.com.