Light (a tale from Barurh)
“Mother, tell me a story,” the little girl cried.
“It’s late. You should be sleeping.”
“But Mother... I can’t sleep if you don’t tell me a story,” she whined.
“Fine, then. Promise you’ll go straight to sleep?”
“Promise!” The excited little girl leaned towards her mother as she listened to her mother’s gentle voice.
“A long time ago, there was a little shepherd (note from reteller: “shepherd” in this case is one who tends for smaller domesticated animals). He was kind to everyone and helped out whenever he could. He was very poor, but he still did what he can to help people out. Then one day he met a mage...”
A tap on the door.
“Who is it?” the mother asked.
Suddenly, the door crashed onto the floor. Several soldiers slowly walked in, and the floor creaked from the weight of their boots. Some were holding a pike. Some were armed with crossbows. Their faces seem menacing to the girl, and their tall shadows seemed to cover the room in darkness. A silence seemed to spread across the room as the soldiers stared at the girl and her mother. She shivered and began to sob.
One of the soldiers took out a scroll. “From the orders of our Lord,” he read, “One adult in each household, either a man or a woman, shall be drafted for war.”
“Wait, war? Drafted? I am a single mother, soldier. Who’s going to care for my daughter while I’m away?” the mother pleaded.
“There are no exceptions to this edict. We are in dangerous and testing times, I’m afraid. Do you dare to defy the will of the Lord? Stand up and follow us. Your kingdom needs you.”
“Please, my daughter has no relative other than me,” the mother begged, “Won’t you allow an exception for the sake of a poor single mother?”
“Sorry, but there are no exceptions.” A soldier grabbed her by the wrist. “We promise the kingdom will care for your daughter. Now stand up and fight for your Lord and kingdom!”
With a great effort, the mother reached out and gently touched the girl’s forehead. “Stay safe for me, alright? Now go to sleep, Mother will finish the story when she gets back,” she spoke, tears in her eyes. The girl, still shaking, nodded. As her eyes slowly closed, she saw her mother being escorted out of her room, the soldier’s footsteps slowly becoming quieter as they walked away.
She woke up. What a weird dream. Frightening too, she thought. The light shone through the window, brightening up the room, yet she felt like she’s in a dark cave, devoid of any light. She quickly shrugged it away. Just a dream, it’s just a dream.
It was a beautiful day. Although the Elyfesta was shining especially bright, there was a slight breeze, and the morning dew made the ground damp and cool. Birds chimed and squeaked in the distance, and there was the occasional shrill cry from a howler.
A deep blow of a horn sounded. It was time for the army to set out on their expedition. Excited, she ran to the town square where many people were already gathered. The usually quiet square was filled with people, and the combination of a thousand voices made the town seem quite busy and prosperous. There were parents, wives, siblings, children, all giving their farewells to the soldiers that now gathered in the square in columns.
She shoved her way past the smelly bodies that were the townspeople to see the glory of the grand army for herself. She was in awe at the tall and intimidating soldiers that stood before her. Their helmets were sleek, crafted from one single piece of metal, with their names carved into the side of it. Their face was barely shown as they wore a scarf that covered their nose and mouth, and their visors stopped any light from reaching directly into their eyes. Their breastplate was made from many shiny metal plates, which reflected the light and made it seem as if it were the soldiers that were radiating the light off their armor. Their boots, recently made from the local workshop, had no dirt or grime on them. Their sharp pikes and oval shields gleamed, with the emblem of the kingdom etched on the shield’s surface. It was a sight to behold, and for her and the townspeople, it was the symbol of pride for the town and the kingdom. I wish I could be a soldier, she thought.
“Steady... march!” The commander shouted on his black steed as the soldiers stomped their feet on the ground in unison. In the sounds of great cheering from the crowd, the soldiers slowly marched in formation towards the battlefield. Children threw flowers at the soldiers, bakers gave a whole three days’ worth of bread to each soldier, old masons bashed their hammers on their anvils... the entire town was cheering.
Eventually, though, as the soldiers went over the small hill in the distance, the town went back to normal, and she, like the others, returned to her home. “Mother, sister,” she cried out, “I’m back.”
“Well, did you have fun there?” Her mother asked.
“The soldiers were quite magnificent, Mother,” she answered, “They made us townspeople look small in their armor. Now that I think about it, why didn’t any of our family serve in the army?”
“Your father is still serving in the army. He left to serve soon after your sister was born.”
“Really? Then why hasn’t he come back yet?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps he will return soon.”
A pause. “Mother, can I serve in the army as well?”
“I want to serve the kingdom as Father had done. I want to give my best to the kingdom, and what better way than to join the army?”
“My dear,” the mother softly spoke, “Being in the army isn’t as glorious as you would imagine it to be, and only males are eligible to even volunteer in the first place. Now come, I made some food for you while you were out in the square.”
It was well into the night, but she could still not sleep. What’s wrong with a female joining the army? Wouldn’t it be better if they hadn’t had such restrictions? she thought. An image of her dream flashed across her mind. She shivered, but then shrugged. I’ll go there, where the army is going. Then I will see whether Mother was right or not. Besides, I might even bump into Father! She grit her teeth. Yes, I’ll go. At first light tomorrow, I’ll go.
She squinted. The Elyfesta shone brightly above her head. She had journeyed for two days already, and although she still had enough food for another three days, she was becoming tired after each day. She had followed the path of the army over the hill by using a trail of crushed or flattened grass, but she still hasn’t caught sight of them. Until now. On another little hill, she saw in the distance some smoke and what seemed to be tents. However, it was rather far away, and she judged it would take another half-day or even a whole day of walking. At least I found it. I should move more quickly now.
She quickly descended the hill and walked back to the path. Although the trampled grass still seemed to be about the same, she sensed that there was something strange. Perhaps the army was in a hurry to get to their camp?
As she continued her walk, she heard, or at least she thought she heard, distinct sounds of screaming. It felt odd, especially as the other sound she could hear was the quiet rustling of the grass all around her. Gradually, the noises became louder, until it was a severe nuisance and she thought she was going mad. She saw the camp, becoming larger with every step she took. It seemed to be swaying and covered by the heavy mist that now formed around, almost like a mirage. Wait. There seemed to be flickering lights, and hues of red, orange, and yellow can be seen, appearing and vanishing within an instant. However, she thought she also saw a faint glow of purple.
She finally arrived. She expected the conversations of a large group, or at least the rattling and stomping of the boots going to battle. But she heard nothing. All was silent in the tent, save for the cold and roaring winds that now beat against her. The fog was now extremely heavy, and she felt droplets form on her arms, her legs, her neck. The cold quickly set in. She felt herself shivering, her limbs slowly numbed by the winds. It was like winter when the air would stab and the breath would freeze. But there was this distant warmth, she felt, a little bit of comfort in the increasingly painful winds.
It’s the lights, the torches that defiantly stood tall and bright, piercing through the strength and might of the fog and wind. She began to walk toward a cluster of them. Her feet were now numb, but she dragged them along the freezing ground. The lights seemed to be close, but with every step she took, they seemed to be even further away. The warmth was still there, but it was growing fainter.
She tripped. As her face slammed onto the ground, she felt a shock course through her. As she put her hands on the ground to help her back up, she touched something soft. Warm too. As her sight slowly recovered, she gave out a small scream. Her hand was deep inside the torso of a dead body, its still-warm flesh mixed with fragments of bones. The body had been decapitated, and she thought she smelled something like overcooked meat. It was now even colder, and she desperately tried to receive any warmth that came from the body, but it had already turned cold, and the flesh stuck to her hand.
With great difficulty, she managed to get her hand away from the body, but blood, frozen blood, was now all over her. The lights were still far away, but the warmth had somehow increased. Exhausted, she once again began to trudge towards the lights.
However, her legs finally gave way, and she once again collapsed onto the ground. She crawled for a while, but suddenly, she stopped. In front of her was a small mountain of corpses, yet the dim lights still somehow managed to penetrate through them. The warmth was fading again, and in despair, she reached inside the pile in the hopes for just some warmth. Although the bodies were almost frozen, she still smelled a light stench that came from them. She felt the corpses brush against her, but there was no warmth, but only increasing coldness.
Using the last of her strength, she climbed the corpse pile until she reached the peak. There, she saw the camp, now darkened by the coming of night. The light was now ever more distant, and as she helplessly watched, it slowly disappeared, and with it, the last shred of its warmth. As she slowly lost consciousness, all she thought was the light. Family, friends, not even home, but just the pure obsession of the light. Where is it? The light, the light, I must get to the light...
“Mother, can you finish your story?”
"Sure, my little girl," the mother's voice now lowered to a whisper, "When the little shepherd met the mage, he was given powers so strong that he couldn't control it. Whenever he tried to help someone, he would always frighten them. He became very sad and wanted to find the mage again. The mage had said to follow the light of the Elyfesta, so he followed it for days and days. The little shepherd traveled for so long he even forgot his own name and where he came from."
"So did he find the mage, Mother?"
"I don't know. Now, my little girl, do you think he found the mage?"
"I think so, Mother."
"Then let that be the end of our little story. Sleep well tonight, my little girl."
"Yes, Mother." As her eyes closed, a bright light shone towards her face.