The remnants of the Imperial Regiment marched down the gentle slope toward the narrow strip of beach bordering the sea.
"Regiment halt!" the General called out, for all his officers and noncoms had been slain so that there was no one else of a fitting rank to transmit his orders.
The General stood on a small, humped knoll, his sword held diagonally across his chest, and surveyed his men. They were almost totally exhausted, yet stood at rigid attention facing the sea. They were woefully overtaxed from a long, brutal battle, then a forced march of fifty miles or more without a rest break.
It would soon be over for them but, mercifully, they were too fatigued to care.
The General, his armor battered and his uniform in tatters, stood ramrod straight, and pointed his sword out toward the sea.
"We suffered grievous defeat but fought a hero's fight before retreating in the face of overwhelming odds. I am proud of you all, though woefully disappointed in all of us for not winning the battle. You know why we are here. It is the King's Decree that no Commander bring home his troops in defeat. That is why I marched you here, to the World's End shore, and the closest waters deep enough for our final purpose."
Raising his sword above his head, the General gave another command:
"Bugler, sound the order to charge!"
Though the bugler was wounded and exhausted, his bugle call was loud and clear. The General strode from the knoll and made his way toward the water's edge.
Again the General motioned with his sword, and broke into a double-time march until his heavy, scarred boots were splashing in the surf. Behind him, his soldiers managed a final outcry of warlust as they surged forward after their Commander. Very soon the whole lot of them, weighed down by their weapons and armor, floundered and sank beneath the gentle waves.
The sounds and movements of the soldiers reached the super-sensitive ears of a family of hungry sea serpents barely a mile distant. These titans of the ocean undulated toward shore, and the drowned corpses of the Imperial Regiment were ravenously devoured.
When word of his Regiment's defeat reached the King, he flew into a rage and ordered all members of the soldiers' families be put to the sword.
The next day the King dispatched another Imperial Regiment to destroy the enemy, pointedly reminding the new General of the penalty for defeat.
Meanwhile, the family of sea serpents continued to linger near the shore in hopes of receiving another bountiful feast, while many miles to the east the new General began the long march to do battle with the thus far undefeated enemy.
Like the defeated General before him, the new Commander marched briskly with a confident gleam in his eye and the firm resolve that defeat was not an option.