The greatest honour, soldiers, is to die on the battlefield!
I never thought on my last day, the words of my first in service would reverberate across my mind; it seemed too cruel an irony to ever actually happen, yet here it was.
Look next to you, men, and see the faces of your comrades! These are the men you would trust to stand beside you – the men you would trust with your lives!
I looked about myself and pain clawed a new hole into my heart. Painfully, I dragged myself off the blood-wetted grass and onto a fallen steed which lay still. The sight about me was the very picture of grief with my comrades littered all about and covering the ground – motionless, face-first in the mud, covered in blood, armour rent and steel shattered, faces disfigured and helmets pierced. Groaning, I let my head down and wept without reserve. Our foes too were worn down and many slain yet still they had great numbers and stood in rank and file at the bottom of the hill, unaware of the one living person among the countless dead.
On my first day, my wife stood atop the village walls with my son, watching with tearful eyes as I marched and, overwhelmed with grief, brought out her violin and struck up an eerie melody – one of hope and justice but coloured throughout with the grief of loss. My throat had caught as the faint sound of it and at once I looked back but no one else seemed to hear – the tune played only for me.
Now, just as then, a familiar melody played but it came not from the wind but from my heart, where the ghost of her love lingered still. My pain abated slightly into a dull, thick throb and I wearily pulled myself to my feet, still weak at the knees but managed to stand. A whinny came from far behind and turning around, I saw a beautiful mare galloping towards me, bloodied and battered but a purpose in its stride and a look in its eyes that I could feel in my heart; I wouldn’t die here, like a weak-willed being struck ill, and neither would this regal horse. As I watched, the mare’s hooves thudded against the ground and somehow avoided the bodies of the men who fought and died for our cause.
Surging with renewed vigor brought on by a sense of purpose, I hoisted a standard from a fallen bearer, allowing the horse to gallop on by me as I clamped a foot in a stirrup, holding onto the bridle for extra purchase as I used it’s forward moment to seat myself atop its moving form.
Alarmed cries and pointed fingers – archers hastily readying their bows and fitting their arrows upon the strings while spearmen rushed for their arms and pikes readied forward as I slowed to a stop at the edge of the hill, the beginning of the descent.
For the freedom of our people, upon our honour, we shall fight to the last man! Sons of the Free Country – I bid you charge!
Raising my sword high, the stallion beneath me reared and for the last time – this last charge – I called forth, “To the last man!”
Time seemed to slow as the horse took to a full gallop and charged downhill. Arrows whizzed through the sky and the pike men grew closer. The only sensations were that of myself going up and down in rhythm with my steed, sword grasped firmly and eyes wet with tears of grief and anger. I am alone yet the force of ten thousand men seemed to charge behind me. Everything seemed in third person, even when I raised my sword as the distance shortened. The world darkened and an eerie melody sounded through the darkness.
“You’ve returned to me.” a woman’s voice whispered solemnly.