The smell of scorched earth and death was heavy in the air. All around her she could hear the groans of the injured and dying. The field of battle stretched out before her as far as the eye could see; an endless sea of feather grass tinged gold with the sunrise. But under all that gold was the dark crimson of blood, mixed with earth and… other things. As she walked among the dead and dying, a painful feeling gripped her heart: ‘This is my fault. I caused all of this destruction.’ She wasn’t sure how she knew it, but she did.
Men littered the ground around her, garbed in plate armor and red tunics blackened in places with gore. Swords, spears, and crimson shields emblazoned with golden outstretched wings lay abandoned next to their owners. ‘The Roman legion,’ she thought. ‘What am I doing here?’ On the horizon she could see fires burning over the large stone walls of a vast city. ‘Where am I?’ As she took a closer look around, her question was answered. Lining the road that led to the distant city where dozens of towering, crude wooden crosses. She started towards them, terrified by what she might see when she got closer. Surrounded by Roman soldiers, the crosses could only mean one thing. She wound her way through the fallen soldiers trying not to look down at the gruesome sight at her feet.
She was nearly to the road when a hand suddenly reached up from the ground and grabbed the hem of her tunic. Too startled to cry out, all she could do is look down at the young man who had a hold of her. Auburn hair stuck out from beneath his helmet, which was split nearly in two by a blow from a sword. His pale face, streaked with mud and blood, was contorted in pain. But what struck her most were his eyes; a vivid green flecked with gold, they held the look of terror all men get when they are about to die. He looked so young, so scared. ‘And so familiar,’ she thought to herself. She turned away from him almost immediately, sorrow tightening in her chest and tears burning in her eyes.
‘Sera,’ the young man pleaded. ‘Sera, how could you let this happen to me…?’
Jordan Michaelson bolted awake, drenched in sweat, heart pounding like she’d just run a marathon. The dream was slowly fading, details slipping from her memory like water through cupped hands; but the young man’s face still burned behind her eyes. Who was he? Why did she feel like she knew him when she was sure she had never seen him before? It felt like remembering a childhood friend that you haven’t seen in years; familiar yet somehow strange and new. She held her face in her hands in some futile attempt to keep the dream from disappearing.
She remembered soldiers, blood, and death; crucified bodies and men screaming. The scene had looked like the paintings she had seen in her textbooks of the first Jewish – Roman War. “I really need to stop falling asleep while studying,” she said out loud to herself. With her early Christian history exam fast approaching, that didn’t seem a likely option. She’d been up well past 2 a.m. trying to remember names and dates, pouring through notes and textbooks. Her bed was littered with papers, and she had apparently fallen asleep on her notebook based on sweat that now smeared the ink across the page. Underneath the notebook was a photo of a painting that she had been studying before she fell asleep: The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem. It looked exactly like the scene in her dream; city on fire, Roman soldiers, smoke filling the air. The only thing missing was the cross-lined road. And the strange young man, she thought. At least now she had some explanation for the nightmare that she’d had.
Her thoughts turned again to the man that she had seen. Those green eyes suddenly blazed in front of her like flashbulbs. At the same time, she felt a sudden burning under her shoulder blades like her muscles were moving and tearing. The pain was so intense she almost cried out. Then, as suddenly as it had started, it was over. It must be all the tension from finals, she thought to herself. The past week had been a whirlwind of studying and exams, and she was more than ready for it to be over. All that was left was her history final tomorrow. Well later today, she thought, because the glowing red numbers on the clock by her bed told her that it was now four thirty in the morning. Two hours of sleep. Great. Looks like it’s going to be another gallon of coffee kind of day.
There was no way she was going to be able to get back to sleep, what with the dream and the weird pain in her shoulders. She got up and crossed the bedroom to turn on the light. The room was small. Being a poor college student she wasn’t able to afford an apartment larger than a shoebox, but it was better than living in a noisy dorm. She had always been a bit of a loner. There was something about being around people that drained her. Her mother liked to say that she was sensitive to peoples’ energies and emotions. Jordan didn’t put much stock in all that new age crap, but with a hippie for a mom it was pretty par for the course. Her mom was always going on about energies and auras and chakras and things like that. Growing up, their house had basically been a patchouli-scented crystal garden.
Jordan went to the bathroom to splash some cold water on her face. She still couldn’t shake the feeling that she somehow knew the man in her dream. Tears inexplicably filled her eyes again, and she hurriedly wiped them away with the back of her hand. What is wrong with me? Exasperated and confused, she looked at herself in the mirror. The face looking back at her was still more shocking. She had always been pale, but the stress of finals coupled with the lack of sleep had made her look downright ghostly. Her ink black hair and midnight blue eyes didn’t do anything to help the issue. No one in her family really knew where her dark features came from. Her mother, father, and brothers all had the same sandy hair and pale blue eyes that spoke to their Icelandic descent. Apparently her grandmother had come over to America after World War I on the arm of a soldier who had promised her the world; but when the honeymoon phase ended, he got transferred to another base and left her behind. Luckily for Jordan, she quickly met a handsome Finnish immigrant, settled down, and started a family. Without fail, her father and all her aunts and uncles married partners who were just as blonde haired and blue eyed.
This made Jordan the literal black sheep of the family. Grandma Michaelson used to say that she must have huldufólk blood in her to have hair so dark. Huldufólk were either elves or trolls depending on the lore, but of course Jordan’s brothers liked the troll part the best. They spent much of their childhood telling her that trolls had left her on the doorstep when she was a baby. She would lay awake at night crying for fear that she was a troll, until one day her mother sat her down and assured her that no one had left her on the doorstep and that she was, in fact, her mother and father’s daughter.
Looking at her reflection now, with her sallow skin and tired eyes, it was hard to see any of her mother and father in her features. She splashed more water on her face in an attempt to clear some of the fog and confusion from her mind. She decided to start some coffee and do some last minute review of her notes before showering and heading to class. The scalding water helped to clear her head of the last remnants of concern over her dream. I’m being stupid, she thought. It was just a dream. It doesn’t mean anything except that I need to sleep for a few days straight once finals are over. She was looking forward to the summer break before the start of her first year of med school. She might have started this year, but she got sidetracked with all of the electives that were available. Along with early Christian history, she had taken mythology (Norse, Greek, Roman, Egyptian) and theology classes. That kind of stuff had always interested Jordan; taking a look into different beliefs and practices and finding commonalities. It made her wonder if there might be some small bit of truth to all of it.
After another pot of coffee, Jordan threw on jeans and a t-shirt, slipped on her favorite pair of worn out Converse, grabbed her messenger bag, and headed out to campus. It was still early, so it was a quiet and peaceful walk. There was still morning dew on the grass and a dawn mist hung low to the ground, blurring the outlines of the trees and buildings around the quad. Her phone suddenly buzzed in her bag, breaking her out of her revery. It was a text from her mother wishing her good luck on her test today. Smiling down at her phone, Jordan wasn’t paying attention to where she was going. Being this early in the morning, she wasn’t expecting anyone else to be around. She quickly figured out that she was wrong when she ran headlong into someone walking in the opposite direction.
“Oh, I’m so sor…” Jordan started to say, looking up at the person she had run into; but she stopped mid-sentence. Words had completely failed her and she had suddenly gone ice cold. Standing in front of her, appearing equally as startled, was the man from her dream.