Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 4

The blade drops from my own fingers, thuds onto the ground. I look at it, with the vague knowledge that it wasn't mine anyway. Weariness spreads like a stain through my body, across my shoulders, over my brow. The smell of slaughter begins to overwhelm me.

No one's going to bury them.

Rocky hills behind me, a trackless plain in front of me and the murdered dead as far as I can see. Swords and lances, guns -- weird thick things of metal-ribbed wood that look vaguely phallic, obscene, as perhaps guns should be -- trampled bloody pennants bearing a device like a wheel. A hand, raised above the ground, frozen there. Two men fallen as if caught in an embrace. The smell.

I doubt there's a spade anywhere here.

Birds, huge birds like angels come to harvest, begin to circle above the plain. Their cries, shrill, hoarse, whistling across the windless plain. And the smell. It becomes too much. I turn, double over, retch, my fist pressed into my stomach, expect the vomit to come. But it passes.

The man I just killed, the last of them, I kneel and look at him. He's a boy. Nineteen, maybe, twenty. Raw-boned. I wonder what his name was, imagine him not long ago laughing and singing with his comrades, if he had a sweetheart, sisters, brothers, parents, if any of them are here too.

Why didn't you run? 

I had thought for a moment I might at least bury him. But I have no spade. I crouch, and with the first two fingers of my hand close his eyes. I have never done this before; I have done this before, many times.

The sky is blue now, the haze above clearing. I straighten, feeling the fatigue in my knees. My shirt is torn, blood-sodden. I shrug it off my back. A thought takes me and I lay it as a shroud over the young man's face. This is not how things are done here. It feels right.

They sent an army to face me, just me, and me bare-handed, this I know, as surely as I know that it was I who killed every last one of them. A brief flash of the fight, undisciplined, no dance to it, no intelligence. Just slaughter, the way the fox slaughters the chickens without any regard for its need or hunger. The fox doesn't know pity. I snarled, my face a predator's mask.

Necks snapped, stomachs torn open, faces burnt away, the weapons of the dead the tools of their comrades' demise and discarded just as quickly as the snuffing out of a life.

Lives ended beyond the lives here; children orphaned, lovers widowed, parents left without issue. A history that extends, revenge wished, curses rained upon my head by all who loved the dead who came to kill a man.

I turn my back on the carnage, and walk towards the first of the hills that rises like a dome in front of the now-clear afternoon sun.

[Collected Writings Index

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