Naga listened. He could hear the low voices of soldiers in the neighbouring trenches, the whisper of the breeze in his wolf-skin cloak, and faintly, far off, the song of a bird. Was it a nightingale? He wished he knew. He would have liked to tell his wife, when she came home from Africa, “We heard a nightingale singing, right out there on the front line!” But he had been too busy all his life with war to study such things as birds. If the peace held, he thought suddenly, he would learn all about them; birds, and trees, and flowers. He would walk with Oenone in the green meadows, and they would point out the birds and blossoms to one another, and he would be able to tell her what each was called.
“There!” he said, and his mechanical armour broke the stillness with a hiss and a clank as it swung him down off the fire-step. He clapped Colonel Yu on the shoulder with a steel hand like a Stalker’s gauntlet. “There! That’s what we have been fighting for, Yu Wei Shan. We didn’t go to war because we want to smash cities, but because we want to be able to hear the birds sing again. And if fifteen years of war won’t do it, we will have to try talking to the barbarians instead.” He waved his arm, indicating the wastelands that lay beyond the wire; the immense shell-craters and concrete city-traps, the wrecked suburbs foundering in weeds, the million bones. “We were supposed to be making the world green again,” he said, “and all we have been doing is turning it into mud.”