I sat around the campfire staring into the flames. Purposely trying to ignore what was just over the hill. Rubbing my hands together warming them near the flames. I thought back to marching down the palace road looking at everyone who had lined the streets. I didn’t understand their fascination with watching the walking dead march by.
Women who normally wouldn’t pay a low-ranking officer in the King’s guard a look were now handing me handkerchiefs and other objects of favor when we marched by. All that junk was now dirty or lost. But I did the polite thing and accepted their gifts with a smile. I was an officer in the King’s guard we were expected to act with honour. Even though I was surrounded by men who had killed, murdered, raped, god knows what else in the name of the king. Then again if it was in the name of the King it seemed the most brutal of crimes were acts of war and nothing else. The battleground was a free for all where all that mattered is you walked away.
My feet still ached from the march down to the battleground. I can remember telling myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other and repeat. Eventually you lose track of time and forget how long you had been walking. I don’t remember passing farms or coming up on travelers on the road. It was just an empty blur of color. Other travelers probably knew we were coming and did their best to avoid the roads. I brought my hands up to my face and blew on them then held them back over the flames. At that moment I felt a hand grab my shoulder and squeeze.
“Holy shit, can you believe we are here?”
I looked up at my friend Patrick. He was a big fellow, his armor made him look bigger. “Yup, here we are.”
“What? You’re not scared, are you?”
Truth of the matter is I was terrified. How could you not be scared? Just over the hill is an army with men sitting around campfires with weapons waiting to crack your skull open. I avoided the question. “We are trained for this.”
“Fucking right brother!” Patrick said loud enough for most men around us to hear. “Well eat up, I hear the Captain is moving us out at daybreak.”
I nodded. I knew sleep would elude me tonight. Looking around the fire I sensed I was not the only one who’d be lying awake tonight.
The night moved on painfully slow. When I did retreat to my tent, I laid there for a long time staring up at the white cotton roof to my tent. I spent my night lost in daydreams about being back at home.
I had managed to drift off to sleep, a howl deep in the woods woke me and slipped up the lip of the tent to see if the sun was coming up yet. It was still pitch black. This repeated a few times through the night. This made the night seem to last an eternity and when I did wake to see the dark sky had brightened, I wished that the eternity of darkness would return.
A horn fractured the early morning silence. The sharp sound startled me. It was the sign to get up, gear up, and to group up at the staging point.
To war I went.
I yawned, the air was cool and crisp. I heard one man say not far from where I was that this was a good morning to go to war. I couldn’t disagree more. It would be life or death we’d be marching towards. That was the only real question that matter.
Many of the men had passed out where they sat by the fire after drinking too much. Some fallen awkwardly off the log and lay on the ground, others managed to make it to their bed rolls they laid out. They too yawned and groaned as they got to their feet. Some men were dunking their heads into horse troughs to help wake them up. Others just kept drinking. Going to war hung over or with your senses dulled was not a good idea. That was the first thing I was told back at the academy. But for some maybe their demons needed to be silence before the blood shed started.
I was one of the last to reach the staging point. I saw Patrick standing at the front. The captain had already started to bark his orders and the plan for the attack. I couldn’t hear a damn word that was being said. Probably didn’t matter, I couldn’t see much strategy to running out into a country field with sword in hand. The only strategy I had was to stay alive. I didn’t give two shits what the captain was saying.
The banner men turned and followed the captain as he made his way up the hill, we all follow, and a line soon developed that stretched across the entire hill. Before us was a field, bodies already littered it and the stench coming from it was gag inducing. There on the other side of this country field of death stood the enemy. We stared at them and they stared back at us. Probably thinking the same god damn thing, I was thinking. Why am I here?
A horn blew and men started to run, men on the other side ran at us. Bringing up the rear seemed to be a good idea to me. I let the rows in front of me get a good head start before I moved. Running down the downslope of the hill, I wondered what this field use to be? A beloved field of a farmer? A quiet pasture? Maybe it was nothing. But that was not its fate, blood would be spilt, men would die, and this once quiet peaceful country field would be turned into a devil’s reaping with plenty of souls to condemn.
I pulled my sword from its sheath, looked at the gleaming edge and prepared for my fate. Will it be life? Will it be death? I took a breath and prepared to walk down whatever path fate chose.