The Journey Home
Snowflakes descended upon the fallen soldiers as if trying to cover the brutality that had occurred. Try as it might, however, the snowfall was unable to disguise the battle’s aftermath. Too much blood had been spilled for the ground to be cleansed. The worst part of it all, was that I had done nothing to stop it.
I had hid in the underbrush, hoping to escape the gaze of the enemy. So far I had, but that did not relieve the pain. I watched my fellow warriors give all that they had against a force much larger than their own. They had rallied together, stood together, and fallen together, taking as many foes with them as they could. They had shown more bravery than I deemed humanly possible, and I am ashamed to say that I had no part in this valor. I had sat and watched from the safety of the trees, holding my sword but having no desire to use it.
My subconscious reminded me that I had lived through the battle and they had not, but that served only to increase my despair. I wish I had died in that fight. To say that I brandished my blade in order to protect my people would have been the ultimate honor.
I wished I had never joined this war, but I had no choice. When the fifth division of the tyrannical Moor army had been sent to subdue our village, every man who could possibly fight was drafted. We knew we stood little chance against the power of the Moors, but we could not let them march over us without resistance. Gone were the days of peace and prosperity, and in their place stood the days of war and uprising. Our village, the village of Sanctity, was one of the last pockets of opposition standing between the Moor army and complete victory.
I scanned the area for signs of the enemy, but found none. I listened for footsteps, but heard only my panicked breath and fluttering heartbeat. As I felt my nerves tense and my body shake, I could still hear the screams of those I had called friends. My first attempt to rise from my hiding place resulted in nothing but my arms giving out. With much effort, I managed the strength, and entered what had been the battlefield.
Instinctively, I drew my sword and surveyed the damage. It was too much for my heart to take and too dreadful for my eyes to believe. Could this be real? The barbaric nature of the aftermath left me doubting, but I knew this was the truth of war. It was always worse than you expected it to be, always harder to win than you dreamed.
Kneeling beside a soldier, I noted his round green shield and was assured that he had been one of my companions. I carefully removed his helmet and found him to be none other than our commander. My soul grew heavy as I remembered what he had once said to me, “It is up to us to make sure that our home is safe. We cannot afford to lose, lest our families be in grave danger. I am confident that we shall be victorious.”
The commander had always been there to pick me up when I fell down. No matter the circumstance, he would lift my spirits and teach me what I needed to know. What little I knew about the sword had been taught to me by him. He would have done anything for Sanctity, and fought to his final breath with his loved ones at heart. I could not stop myself from thinking of his family. The commander had a wife and a young daughter. Their family would never be the same. They could never be whole again.
I could not let the fate that had befallen our warriors rest on those back at our village. There must be some way. I knew there had to be some chance for me to not only warn our village, but to honor the sacrifices shown here as well. I found in myself a calling to make right my sins. From misery came a drive to overcome, and this drive predominated my thinking. Finally, I thought of a way to uphold the lives of those who had died.
Shedding a regretful tear over each knight I approached, I knelt beside them and found on them the item which they treasured most. I took this, not to steal what they cherished, but to give it as a token of their valor to their families. From the commander I obtained a journal, fashioned in leather. He had written in the journal every day, sparing no detail of how our unit fared. In the journal he had always written the truth, for that was the admirable thing to do. It was a pure ideal to which the commander held without fail.
As the snowfall lightened to make way for the coming dawn, I found one man’s favorite dagger and another’s lucky arrow. For each item and its owner, I held a solemn memory. There had been twenty of us in our unit. A few had been trained warriors, but the rest were common villagers, clinging to the small hope of victory. We had been given the task of ambushing an enemy camp, but had instead been secretly attacked. Our group had stood their own for quite some time, until a second unit had come to the first’s aid.
Against my own desire, I relived the battle in my head. Every clash of the sword and strike of the spear made me cringe. The light of the full moon had shown upon the fighting, allowing me to witness the full horror that is war. It happened faster than I had been prepared for, and was over as suddenly as it had begun. I wanted to look away, but found my eyes fixed upon the nightmare.
Remembering this terror made me wish to simply abandon my allies and flee to Sanctity without looking back. I did not allow myself to do this, however, because my guilt multiplied for each knight who would never rise again.
So, with head lowered, I prayed for God to accept each man into His kingdom. These tokens I now carried belonged with each soldier’s loved ones and nowhere else. I felt unworthy to handle such important objects, but there was no one to do it but me. Eventually, there were so many items that my sack was almost full.I soon found myself at the last man of our division. His fair skin and honest complexion were apparent despite the wounds he had received. I reached toward his chest plate, and suddenly felt a hand grab my arm. Instantaneously, I shot my hand back and jumped away from him.