There was little time to think or be complacent over the next few days. The failure to reach the unreasonable demands of General Hayashi had caused unrest amongst both soldiers and captives and the pressure had intensified.
The added strain and bad temper would do nothing too hasten them. In fact it seemed to do the opposite.
The more welts and blooded sores the slower they moved and those who avoided the violent outbursts tensed, their muscles refusing to hurry.
Soon the pain became numbness, words falling on deaf ears.
The added stress on the soldiers' themselves heightened their temper, strain evident in the dark eyes and tensed features.
Their hands shook even when wielding the weapons.
Yet, to their disbelief the construction came together, cemented with blood and sweat. Had they worked longer? Considering the situation and the crippling fatigue it would seem so. Having no access to clocks none would ever know.
"It won't be good enough," Pierce muttered, holding his finger tightly to stem the blood where the nail had been torn "even if he reconstructed the Great Wall of China it wouldn't be damn well good enough."
"It will have to suffice," Jonathan shrugged, trying to relieve the pain in his back "with the material and conditions you can't expect perfection. It should give defence against rising waters in the monsoon season and that was the purpose."
"For about five minutes." Pierce snorted belligerently and sat down heavily, avoiding leaning against the brickwork. "I used to build when I was at home and I can tell you with the watering down of the cement it won't hold."
Judging by the soldiers' expressions as they examined the work briskly they seemed to think the same but there was nothing they would say. Nothing except several harsh words on disorder and imaginary ill behaviour.
Jonathan looked at the 'finished' product, wondering what tasks were lined up now. From the hearsay about the camps boredom could be the most tedious. At the start there had been little to do except for general upkeep and repairs.
Conditions had slipped since then and were far harder and Jonathan doubted simple tedium would be their fate.
Looking around them at the ramshackle buildings, constructed in haste and not entirely functional, there was likely an entire list of unwanted chores to complete.
Hunger drove off most thoughts and his body only allowed his mind to focus on the prospect of the meagre sustenance. Even the acquired taste of watery radish soup was enough to spark an ache in his stomach.
If it wasn't for the others around him he could have laughed aloud at the memory of how fickle his tastes used to be, even spurning the crisply cooked bacon his mother had grilled of a morning, saying the rind was chewy.
Now even the most repulsive foods were met with eagerness, anything to fill that griping pain in his guts.
He smiled when Francis spoke of inventing another game.
"Make sure it doesn't involve gambling again, I have an inkling we wouldn't be so lucky a second time."
Francis laughed, the sting all the warning either of them needed.
Any thought of idle entertainment was soon quashed from their minds at the final rollcall of the day and replaced with indignation and anger as Ryuzaki orated the General's latest orders.
"My instructions are that six of you are to be sent to another location," he said placidly, looking over the assembled men, his eyes landing on the weaker few who struggled to stand "you are to leave first thing tomorrow; I am simply giving advance notice."
He gave the names as though reading a script, reciting them with no thought or emotion. Perhaps it was understandable, he was, simply put, a pawn protecting its king and had little say in the orders that came to him.
The rancour in the group emanated powerfully. The six named were the weakest they had, their bodies slowly giving up and reliant on the sporadic medical care that was given. All of them knew they wouldn't last, the muscle wasted and organs weak, but hastening their demise in such a manner was cruelty for cruelties sake.
Instinctively Jonathan placed a hand on the nearest mans' shoulder, seeing his legs shaking violently. The gesture steadied him but the sway continued, ready the keel over at any moment but endeavouring to wait until their guards had gone. Showing weakness led to humiliation.
"You have nothing for the rest of the day. Do not become idle though," he looked across at the wall with derision "it is not acceptable work that will last and I have no doubt you will be back to do a better job."
Jonathan's gaze remained on Ryuzaki, watching the flit downward of his eyes before he tossed his head and turned to leave, his feet crunching irritably on the dried ground.
He could think like Pierce, his thoughts clear in his eyes, that it was nothing more than callous disregard for a life, albeit one that was not long for the world.
Jonathan thought differently. There was brightness to the cyan eyes that betrayed emotion, emotion he could not afford to be seen.
He helped the frailer male over to the shade, watching the soldiers depart with a considered hum. It was a painful revelation to feel that even one might not be as heinous as all those he had encountered but it was a relief also. If only one could be trusted to have an air of compassion it was a blessing.
Even if it felt a betrayal to his own comrades.
He mused over locating the captain later but hesitated. The explanation of their own punishment had been a warranted query and related to himself. Ryuzaki had no obligation to answer except perhaps morally.
This did not apply to this situation of which he wasn't included.
Pierce was muttering under his breath, threats of what he'd love to do if the puddles became as deep as the last monsoon season. How simple it would be to make things look like accidents!
Jonathan forced himself to smile even though he found no amusement in the words. He had seen his own men drown in a mire of mud, the same troop he had been the sole survivor of. No span of time would ever be enough to eradicate the sounds of thick fluid filling their lungs, watching the final spasms he could not prevent.
…blood and froth flowed from dying orifices. His green eyes watched in agonised helplessness as he sheltered beneath the trees, rain falling and pelting from the leaves like an avalanche of humid tears.
No. Stop thinking of it.
Lying on his bed later he stared at his brief writing, trivial and not much to show except for a rather worthless existence. He remembered his family lauding over the exploits in diaries from the first Great War. Looking at his it was hard to see what would be so fascinating about them in the future.
He let the book slip back into its hiding place down the side. Content enough to be relegated to the forgotten but surviving numbers after the conflicts ended.
'If it ever ends,' he thought pessimistically 'at the moment all I see is darkness.'
Ignoring the others he hoisted himself up to slip outside, the curfew not in place yet he still had some leeway.
The night was far cooler, a pleasant breeze rustling the trees stood on sentry duty beyond the razor wire.
Birds trilled softly, singing little lullabies in their tucked away nests, a home so different from the one that lay so close.
The moons silvery light shone down, crafting ghostly shadows and a spotlight for the fireflies to dance in.
A small, almost peaceful smile, twitched Jonathan's lips. Even the soldiers on patrol nearby, their footfalls audible, could not shatter the loveliness.
It seemed strange such a thin barrier felt like Goliath's fort, only more unbearable. Being able to see such life and freedom and not being able to reach it was torture in itself.
Reaching down he plucked a stick from the earth, twirling it idly in his hand like a baton. His thoughts drifted to how the enemies wielded their weapons, causing him to pause.
He swung it slowly, trying to imitate the movement. His hand shook and his arm felt rigid, certainly lacking to poise and grace that he had seen.
"Your grip is wrong."
Jonathan turned abruptly, dropping the twig in his haste, to see Ryuzaki half hidden in the shadows, subtle moonlight illuminating the knowing eyes.
"Yes. I thought as much." Jonathan nudged the stick with his foot "but I'm used to a gun, swords don't have much prevalence in my unit."
"No. I have noticed also that you English seem to rely on force rather than skill," Ryuzaki said bluntly "that is no flaw but it isn't pleasing in my view."
Jonathan sniffed; mildly offended by the assumption but when comparing fighting styles it was easy to see why the man would have thought that. He would admittedly admire the grace and elegance of the swordsmanship, the movement like a waltz and beautiful to watch. Not to mention deadly.
That did not mean he would state that his own starkly different measures were flawed.
"The sword is supposed to feel like an extension of the limb," Ryuzaki continued as he moved to pass him "perhaps a part of the spirit. But I digress, you had best get back inside before curfew comes, I am tired of the added work that comes with issuing punishment for your offences."
"At least you have something to do," Jonathan retorted snippily, kicking the fallen twig into the fence "whilst building your damned walls and God knows what else is tedious, it's actually worse just sitting around baking in the sun or putting up with boredom."
Ryuzaki glared at him and Jonathan braced himself for a surely inevitable blow. But none came.
"Again I sincerely suggest watching your attitude," he said, lacing his words with the sharpness any strike would have had "and you would be surprised how much time I actually spend sitting staring at the wall. The inanity of the forms is infuriating."
His eyes moved to the wall standing shoddily in the shade.
"And you will have something to do, that wall will not pass for adequate. It needs sealing, it is supposed to aide in the monsoon season. It won't hold back a mild trickle."
"I believe we told you that, or if we didn't it was made bloody clear."
"You make all too much 'bloody clear', as you put it," Ryuzaki said sardonically "and I tire of it. I act out my orders, I rarely make them!"
The frustration resonated with Jonathan and he dared a sympathetic smile. Whilst wise beyond his years, forced to grow before his time, Ryuzaki was still young and in a position he had very little control over despite his higher ranking.
He held his hands up. "No offence meant, but maybe it'll relieve the boredom. Don't think it will stop the complaining though."
"I have always believed that even if man was given Takamagahara they would find something to complain about."
Jonathan sighed, studying the man for a moment. The way the fading light accentuating his fine features and gave a glow to his skin was breath taking. A thought that caused some discomfort and swiftly he looked away.
"I suppose in some ways you are as such a prisoner as we are."
"Wherever you are, however free you believe you are, you are always somewhat of a captive, Matthews," Ryuzaki said solemnly "that is simply life."
Giving a stiff nod of his head he slowly ambled away, not prepared to engage in anymore idle conversation. It had already been too genial and whilst he enjoyed conversing it was unseemly to do so with one who was deemed an enemy.
Jonathan watched as the refined figure vanished before his head turned slowly to the work from earlier. Several bricks had already tumbled, denting the ground and breaking others in their fall.
"We will never surrender," he muttered under his breath "alright for those in power to say."