Alive Amidst Corpses
The field had been barren for years. It had been burned by the sun for years. The rains had forsaken the land for many years now. Not many plants grew in the land and what grass remained was somewhere between being dried and dead. There were a few wells and most of them were dry. There were a few villages around but none were noteworthy. The land was home to death and the forsaken for many years now.
The field that had precious little life for so long now had bodies everywhere. The cursed field now had dead bodies of soldiers who had been fighting a battle. The battle had been short and brutal and it had ended two days ago. The bodies of the important ones had been taken away but the other bodies were ignored. The whole place stank of dried blood and two day old dead bodies. The vultures were flying towards the field.
A group of women and little boys had come at daybreak with buckets and baskets looking for scrap metal and anything that they could make money out of. With their land doing them no favours, they were hoping to make a few coins with what they could scavenge in the battlefield.
“Look for swords, shields and anything shiny,” said one of the women to her son whose head was barely above her waist. Her husband had fought a battle like this years ago. He had not returned from that battle. She was afraid to leave her son alone at home. She pulled him close and said, “Do not be scared. If you get scared, close your eyes and call for me. Stay close to me at all times. If something is heavy, call me immediately. Don’t be too loud or the other people here will hear you”. She added the last part in a whisper. There were around a dozen women and two dozen children in the field.
The woman had pleaded her husband not to fight that battle. He was a farmer but their land did them no favours. They had two goats and a small piece of land. They had not been able to grow anything in more than six months. There was barely enough water for them to drink. They could not cultivate anything. Wars were dangerous but the pay was good. Soldiers who were regulars were small in number. Kings hired peasants to fight in their armies. Their pay was good but they were paid in parts. The first was a small token sum when they enrolled. It was a taste of what was to come. Her husband had given her two silver pieces and he was promised a minimum of eight more. With that, they could even move out of this cursed land. The catch was that they were paid the rest of the coins only if they won and made it out alive. She never saw the rest of the coins. She lost her husband and their situation became worse.
Wars were risky for peasants who fought as soldiers. If they fought for the winning side, they got what they were promised and a small portion of the treasure if the victor was in a giving mood. Many peasants who were lucky were set for life after one or two wars. They could live off the bounty alone for the rest of their lives. Most people purchased farms and lived their lives in peace. On the other hand, they were paid close to nothing if they fought on the losing side. The victors either killed their enemy or forced them to pay huge tributes. Those who fought for the losing side were lucky to be alive. Most people fought so that they were fed during the duration of the war and could send a little money to their families.
Two silver pieces were worth a lot. Many families could survive with that for more than two months. It had been two days since the war had ended. It was a long process to get paid but it was worth the time. The woman hoped to make some money so that she could buy her children something nice. Her oldest child, a daughter, was at home taking care of her third child, a boy. She was not old enough to know how to take care of a baby but was desperate. She needed the money.
The little boy walked through the field. There were far too many dead bodies than he was warned about. There were hundreds of them. They were not like people sleeping like he was told. There was blood and the bodies were gruesome. The boy kept closing his eyes every two steps. He kept wanting to call his mother but he also wanted to put on a brave face. The other boys had got most of the valuable objects before him. He looked around to see if anyone else was close by but there was nobody. The others were moving fast but he remembered what his mother had told him. It was not about how much he took from the field. It only mattered what he took.
He took a deep breath and stared at a place where there were a pile of bodies. He peered as he went closer. There was a sword handle visible as he saw a sword pierced in a body. The hilt was shiny and had a green jewel. It looked exactly like his mother described it. This was one of the kinds of things that mattered. He smiled as he went closer. His mother was going to reward him. She would probably even make him a roasted chicken for this. He pushed away the body trying hard not to puke and saw that the sword was still held in a dead man’s hands. He tried to loosen the hand but the grip was too tight. He pulled hard when something he did not expect happened. The bodies moved and he felt the sword move away. As he watched, one man stood up pushing the bodies around him.
The boy began to scream as the man stood up to his full height. He was tall, muscular and completely covered in blood. He had multiple cuts and a deep gash in his face. He advanced towards the boy who was screaming. The others rushed towards him.
“Just make him stop shouting,” he said weakly and dropped to his knees. The others looked at him like they had seen a ghost. “Anyone got some water?” he asked as he sat on the ground. He looked pained. “Some water, please and for the love of god, make him stop screaming,” he said in agony.