23/03/2011 § Leave a comment
I wake up, heart pounding, mind racing, soaked in sweat. My hair clings to the back of my neck, and I start shaking. I look over at her breathing slowly, gently, so content and calm. I had that dream again.
In it, as always, I proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with the men of Ussex, ready to do battle, to fight, to win. We march out, tall and strong, fearsome in the sun. Our enemies charge and we stand our ground, fiercely defending what is ours.
But this is no flight of fancy. I see myself being bludgeoned and cut. I see friends and neighbors being cut down. I see the gray heads of our elders being struck with swords. I see young boys cowering in fear, afraid to stand and fight. I see death; I smell fear, and I want none of it.
And so I wake with that feeling in the pit of my stomach, the one that just won’t go away. It makes me feel sick and helpless, as if something bad will happen, something beyond my control, my prevention.
She wakes up too and sees my distress through the sleep in her eyes. She places her hand on my shoulder to comfort me. You’ve had that dream again, she asks. I nod, still feeling shaky. She looks so beautiful in the near-darkness, covered only by the blanket, her dark tresses flowing around her neck.
I want to tell her everything and nothing, to tell her the dread I feel, the glory that I know awaits me on the field of battle. I can’t confide in her, though. Not about this. A man should never fear to defend what is his, I tell myself, putting my blasphemous thoughts in the back of my head.
I don’t know why I feel this way, why I feel dread. It isn’t rational, I think. But what if the gods want me to die? What if this is my fate? Like countless nights before, these questions weigh on my mind and make sleep impossible. And so I roll over, welcoming her into my arms. Soon she is sleeping again, quiet and contented. I watch her breathe, her chest rising and falling, so beautiful.
And so I watch her, wishing I could sleep.
I climb out of bed at sunrise, exhausted by a night of dreaming and restless contemplation. Todays is drills, and so I dress silently, the knot in my stomach growing and tightening in contemplation of the coming battle.
War is inevitable, we’re told. Part of our life. So we must train for fighting. It is an honor, we’re told, to serve Ussex, to defend our land, our family, our honor. It is only right to defend what is rightfully ours.
And so we train.
He comes at me, brandishing his sword, ready to attack. My head is on high alert. I sense his next move, slashing his sword up, and so I swing my sword to the right, ready to defend against his advance. Our swords clash loudly, and our comrades begin to yell louder, egging us on.
Neither of us is being aggressive, prompting them to jeer, to call us cowards. They hurl the word like a rock, hoping to strike us, to hurt us. Klaegan gives in to the taunts before I do, and charges in with a roar. In the back of my head I hear my comrades cheer loudly, ready to see blood.
Klaegan charges, bearing down, ready to swing. He’s so focused on drawing blood that he doesn’t realize he’s no longer holding his shield tightly. He draws close now, and begins his attack. I sidestep, let him fly past me, and then swing at the backside of his shield knocking it out of his hands. He’s startled, surprised, which gives me all the time I need to turn around and prepare my attack.
I step into him while he brings his sword down. I raise my shield to block his blow. His sword hits my shield with a loud clang, and I turn into him, using my shield to pin his arm against his chest. I then bring my sword against his neck, and tell him to yield. He says yes.
I’ve won and now my comrades surround me, raising my hands up and slapping me on the chest. I feel sick and weak.
We march now, keeping in a tight formation. It’s an arduous trek, exacerbated by the sun beating down on our tired bodies. Discipline is necessary, our leader reminds us. And so we submit.
We submit to weariness, to thirst, to discipline, to soreness, to pain, to victory. There is no doubt in our collective mind that we will win, if challenged. We are strong, tough, trained, and disciplined. Fate is on our side.
As we march, the tired step count gives way to the dreams of the bored. In my mind, I see her now, her beautiful dark long hair swirling around her neck. I see her beautiful smile, her face aglow in warmth.
I know now what I want. I want to be with her. I want to run away with her, far away from this maddening war, from this foolish fighting. Is land worth death? Is freedom?
And so we must run away. I go home to her, tell her of my plan.
Pack, I tell her. Pack food and clothes and aloe and spice. I will pack a tent for shelter, and weapons for the hunt. I’ll carry the burden, I tell her.
She asks what’s wrong with me. Nothing, I tell her. Nothing’s wrong at all. I know what I want now: I want you. I don’t want war, I don’t care about our rights. I want you and me alone, forever, with nothing to worry about anymore.
She smiles hesitantly. She’ll go along, I can see that. But she has doubts. She won’t say anything to me, but she’ll do what I say. That’s all I need.
Something’s wrong now. It’s been months since we left, since we deserted out friends. At least we are still alive. Our comrades in Ussex aren’t so lucky. And we have each other. Or do we?
She seems distant now. I think our betrayal is hurting her. And my cowardice. She doesn’t want me to hold her anymore. She doesn’t want to talk. And her smile has disappeared.
I should have stayed behind. I should have fought. She loved me because she thought I had honor and courage. Now she knows I have neither. What a fool I’ve been.
Their laughter jeers me back to reality. Klaegan has stumbled, breaking formation, breaking me out of my reverie. The men jeer at him again, as he now prepares for the lashing that is to come.
As the men laugh, I go silent. I resign myself to my fate, just as Klaegan does. I must fight, for fate demands it. Lucasta demands it. I just want to see her one more time.
I see the tears in her eyes as she says goodbye. It’s time to fight now. The messenger rode moments ago, calling all the men to ready themselves for battle. I dress for war, putting on my sandals, helmet, and breastplate. I grab my sword and shield.
I kiss Lucasta goodbye, finally prepared to meet my fate.
We march out to the pitch now, ready for battle. We don’t talk; there’s no need. We’re all thinking the same thing. We’re all focused on the same thing. Mortality stares each of us in the face, and we try our best to blink, not even acknowledging its presence.
Like in the dream, we stand shoulder to shoulder now. We stand proud and tall, ready to fight, ready to win.
Ready to die.