My Soul Grew Stronger
As I rode my grey stallion over the sweeping valleys surrounding my kingdom, I came across the morning sun. The penetrating rays shone over the misty lowlands, filling both the skies and the heavens with what seemed like everlasting light. This transcendent aurora beneath me had only just begun its solemn, yet necessary journey, as had I. The crisp chill gently scratched my cheeks, and my long, auburn hair billowed in the wind. In the distance, the outline of a bird could be seen, soaring high up against the clouds, looking for some unsuspecting prey to swoop down upon. I knew that there would be many victims today.
The reds and blues of the enemy were visible on the horizon; a thousand men were ready for battle. I looked back and saw my own army: a mismatch of the young and old, healthy and tired, scraped together in the vain hope of victory. Up until this point I was brave, I understood what I had to do as queen, and rose up to my position in this war. Yet now, I felt tired. The armour was heavy against my weary limbs, my sword too large to raise and my horse unable to carry me through the bloodshed. I collapsed against his tangled mane in anguish, feeling too weak and scared to continue.
I heard the faint sound of a horse’s hooves approaching, before I realised that my chieftain was sitting next to me, with a look of worry upon his face. Without making a sound, he reached out, and gently rested his fingers upon my arm. I looked down in shock; it was most unusual, considered deranged even, for someone to talk to, let alone touch, royalty unannounced. Yet, just by looking at his expression, I understood what he was saying. As though I had been gifted by the gods above us, a feeling of strength surged through me. I felt fearless. My soul grew stronger, hesitating then no more. As he returned to his place in the battalion, not a single word having been said, I straightened my back, narrowed my eyes on the sea of arms in front of me, and lead my men into the dark abyss of the unknown.
The thunder of a thousand men running at each other, anticipating collision, rumbled in my ears as I flew down the hill. I watched as the enemy and I approached one another and each individual became clearer to see. One man, stout in shape but strongly built, lead his soldiers with a determined grin, from which a raging howl was emitted. I thought to myself, he probably lived quite a nice life. Maybe he had a family worriedly waiting for his return at home; small children who would never know their father. I did not falter once. The last I saw were the whites of his maddened eyes, before I placed my sword neatly in the centre of his chest.
For three hours we battled on, claiming back our land, inch by inch. Hundreds were dead, but all knew that the sacrifices made that day would be done for the rest of the people, and would not be in vain. The enemy slowly began to retreat, knowing that defeat would soon be upon them. Though we grew tired in our bodies, never did we become faint in our hearts. At last, victory was ours, and we rejoiced. Though looking around, I began to see the deformed and mutilated bodies, contorted into positions of agony before the life had fled from them. Fathers, brothers and uncles filled the grassland, their crimson blood saturating the moist ground. An eerie sadness gripped my stomach, and, fearing that I would become emotional, turned to go.
As I rode back in the direction I had come, I saw my chieftain once again, relieved that he had survived. A broad smile broke out across his face, before I felt something strike my back. Snap. My spine shattered, as the tip of an arrow pierced my skin and entered the flesh. Though it had flown through the air with great force, I just sat there, bewildered as to what had just happened. Surely someone had not dared kill me now? I turned to face my executioner, and saw, lying on the ground, a wounded soldier whom I had presumed dead. We locked eyes, before his became cloudy and his head limply dropped back to the ground. I sat in my saddle for a few seconds longer, before sliding from my seat and falling to the earth myself.
The hope of life quickly began to diminish, and I knew that I was to accept what was about to happen. I stared up into the dark, cloudy sky, and allowed my body to relax. My chieftain once again was at my side, filling my vision, clasping my hands in his. He was trying to say something to me, but I could not hear him. I concentrated on looking at the movements of his mute mouth, and smiled to myself. For the first time, I was not afraid. I embraced the numbness in my body, allowing the ground to hold me. As the light began to fade from my eyes, I thought of home, and knew that my people would be safe. The last thing I felt were the small droplets of rain hitting my face, before I slipped away from my world, and was gone forever.
more by JESSICA BLUNDEN
photograph by Ales Krivec