P.S The story follows the style of movies that show the present and keep on switching between past and present, following a nonlinear style of showing the events.
OF HEARTS AND SWORDS
It was the 31st night. He had never counted them before, and knew this was unsettling and could be his last battle. For the first time he doubted his prowess and felt helpless for his brothers. He had ordered his garrison to call it a day and prepare for the night. This was his 7th battle, battles that saw him rise through the ranks from an unknown soldier to the captain of a battalion of which only a score were left. He had been given the marching orders to obliterate the last of the rebellions to the state when the state itself was celebrating the arrival of the new member of royal blood. There were no signs of reinforcements even after a week of the boy being sent to the capital. He could only pray that the boy’s heart had not been gouged out, for this was the way of the “Vandals”. Betrayal from the state too could not be ruled out, as the state had ordered a similar assault the last two battles and the reinforcements arrived just when the men barely held the guard. It was as if a flock of sheep were tasked to raid the wolf’s lair. Living in the mountains and the woods in complete harmony with nature, the Vandals thrived. They were one of the last rebellions to the state. Their ways were very different from a conventional army. Proficient in guerrilla warfare, they proved to be the most ferocious and impenetrable. They used the trees, the earth, the fire and the wind as their weapons. Hiding in the shadows, they struck hard and fast before falling back into night. He chose not to fog his mind for his hands were responsible for the safety of his men.
Being lonely and not being loved is a punishment. It’s a punishment from the heavens for the sins that, no matter how hard you try, you cannot come back from. But then everyone deserves a piece of heaven, even the Satan had his time.
He had saved her purity a night as cold and dreary as his heart had become after the bloodshed of the third battle. When inquired where she was hurrying under the cover of the dark moonless night that had shone her bright to the lurking beasts, she trembled “To the priest, my father is very ill”. He accompanied her and it was in the dimly lit shack did he see her face for the first time and felt a beat in his dead heart. She was not “Venus” in human flesh but she was surely an angel. Those large sparkling eyes showed him everything that he had never seen before. The long brown tresses became more precious than gold. Her face though saddened, spoke of the homely and caring essence that she had inherited from her mother. She became someone he could live for. The cold claimed her ailing father after a month. He never let himself lax a bit in his part to help her nurse her father, for she was the only one. Her siblings and her mother were claimed by the same demon years back. Life would have become miserable if she had no one by her side after the demise of her father, for the monsters would have devoured her. He chose to stay with her and she got strength in his presence. But the wolves would not keep without biting. He saved her once more when she had gone to the river to fetch water. The debauched, blinded by their desires bared their fangs once more, this time in daylight. He had followed her, for he could not lose her, he cherished her yet could not tell her, for she was so bright and he was afraid of the revival of feelings in his once dead heart and his restless nights despite the closeness. He knew he loved her but was uncertain if she felt the same. This incident changed everything. The village came to know of what he did to them and never a man dared glance at what he himself was reluctant to gaze. The other day she declared her love for him and let herself get en-wreathed in his arms. Her tender, but not fragile embrace, liberated his soul from the anxious state he was in. The sea had found its shore. Life finally seemed to have taken a beautiful turn. She blossomed for him like a flower and he finally found a purpose in life. But fate took a turn soon afterwards. He was called again. He felt torn apart, a part of his heart wanted to stay in her warmth and the rest wanted to lift the sword, taste the glory and the pride marching with his brothers. It was the only way of life he had known. She kept herself from falling apart when he told her of the call. He promised he would return for her. She gave a tearful smile and tied a necklace around his neck. Her mother had given her the necklace to protect her from the numerous ways that life finds to cut short a beloved’s life.
He did return whenever he went, but he would lose a part of his soul every time he left her. Her radiance would revive him once again. This time was the longest he spent in her shade, stretching almost a year before the ominous call of the duty. She used to ask him to take her with him, he used give a soft smile, feel the contour of her face, caress her tresses and say “You are safe here, my love”. This was the longest night of his life. They were having a baby and he would not be there to witness the miracle of life. He told her how life suddenly had a meaning when he found her that treacherous night. How a dreadful, weary and monotonous life unfolded into a warm loving and caring paradise. How the chaos and clamour of that night gave way to a lifetime of joy. He said “In the profound abyss of life I laid naked till you liberated me of the crutches I had forged for myself. I had been waiting for you all these years, I knew I had to protect you, that you would be my freedom, that you would be my light. I fell in love with an angel”. They were cuddled together and he was caressing her. She shed a tear and said “I used to see the sun, not the sunshine, I heard the birds not their song, I felt the water not the rain. You changed that. You are the sunshine, you are the rain, you brought spring and erased all the pain”. Dark clouds prevailed the skies. The birds were mourning. An ominous silence prevailed. Before letting go, he gave her an embrace that told her of his agony. Finally he kissed the unborn and said “This is not a good place for cowards. Be strong, be brave my child”. Even nature was powerless at the treachery of men. With his sword and her warmth in his heart he went away.
He was cornered, no sign of help from the state and only a score of his army left. He had to choose between death by his own sword or being ripped apart into pieces by the fangs of a beast. He had but this night. He could turn around but then he would die by the sword of his state, for returning would mean defeat and defeat meant disgrace of the royalty and for a king who has not seen the truth of life, who achieved greatness because it was passed to him, who has not suffered, who has no compassion or empathy, who lives in the false glitter of riches, riches snatched from the poor, it’s intolerable, it’s death. He chose death by the beast.
What is it that gives us the strength to leave love behind, to sacrifice everything ? Is it the scars that never heal or is it the shame of the sins that burns the strings of love pulling us to our beloved or is it love itself that tells us we are not good enough, that there is a monster inside of us that refuses to be tamed. I do not know.
He decided to stay and let his men escape. He gathered the men and told them that there was no honour in fighting for a state that was indifferent to their needs, their safety and their pain. The men were definitely taken aback, but they never doubted him. He told them that they will have to dig a tunnel to the west. Of course the opening of the tunnel had to be made inconspicuous, that’s why he would have to stay behind. They had to dig the tunnel from the pit where they relieved themselves. The filth of the pit was transferred on ground, the men dug as hard as they could for they will be just below the Vandals when they come for them tomorrow morning. He closed the opening with planks of wood from wooden crates and barrels. “Crixus” requested him that he wanted to stay behind and help him, and when he didn’t agree he said “I would rather die beside you than be greeted by the nothingness of life”. This was enough for the captain for he had been there. They then put back the filth on the covered mouth and lined it with soil. A job meticulously done to give a first-hand impression of what they wanted the Vandals to know but didn’t want them to explore further. He had told them how they were to keep the supplies for as long as possible and how the digging had to be carried out 24 hours a day in shifts. He also gave them olive oil and salt to provide soot-less light. The digging had to be continued till they were sure that they were sufficiently far from the tribe and after that he had told them explicitly that they should not try to go back to their homes, instead they should keep on moving west to the mountains and live with the people there. He told them to infiltrate only after the dust had settled to extricate their families and his, to the mountains.
What is it that gives us the courage to embrace death with open arms? Is it the loneliness that we fear more or is it the realization that we got a chance to love and be loved?
With eyes wide open they stood with swords and spears in their hands waiting for the Vandals. Their wishes were granted soon as they saw a dark wave, a wave of metal and men. Metal that would soon pierce their hearts and men that would feast on them. They stood cornered, cornered by the walls they had erected themselves brick by brick, oblivious that they would be the ones trapped on the wrong side.
He saw light. He saw “Aurelia” holding their child. His daughter, her eyes like her mother. A silent, serene little goddess with the essence of her mother and strength and courage of her father. He was proud, very proud. He saw them sitting under the shade of the giant sequoia, his head resting on her lap. The sun shining through the gaps amongst the leaves emerged around the contours of her face and gave her an angelic appearance. She was sent to rescue him. He saw the three of them playing by the river. The enchanted earth beamed with joy wherever they tread. The wind spread their fragrance far and beyond. The buds blossomed by their touch. The dew drops danced to their rhythm. He was in paradise.
Crixus saw Sura. He saw a young himself, gazing from behind a tree at her sitting on the banks of the river. He saw himself looking at her in the church. He saw their eyes catching each other and noticed the stopping of time, stilling of his heart, that ecstasy and the fear that came with it which was too pressing to bear. He stood transfixed, unable to think or thank. He saw the good times they had. Then everything turned red. Sura lay in a pool of blood. He saw himself standing there paralyzed, oblivious to the world around them, not knowing what to do. He saw himself running from the truth. He regretted how life took her away from him. He saw his pain turning into anger and him into a soldier. He resented himself for trying to forget her. He resented himself for running away. He resented himself for not avenging her death. He condemned himself for living beyond his time.
Were they killed by the Vandals or experienced transcendence? Did they ascend to heaven or descend to hell, I do not know. But I can tell you that they will not be forgotten.