THE BATTLE OF MEROPIS
Nicholas Danksworth looked out of the window. The sky was a clear, bright azure. Sighing, he turned around and switched off his alarm.
Getting up, he went into the bathroom and stared into his reflection in the mirror. A hollow face with greying hair stared back. He had bright green eyes, which held the wisdom of eighty years.
He got dressed and sat in verandah of his house, reading the Aramoor Herald and drinking his coffee. A knock on his door startled him out of his reverie. Wondering who it could be this early, he opened the door, and saw Josephine Blossom.
Josephine was a fifteen year old girl, who lived across the street. She would come to visit him every Sunday. He had been so preoccupied with thoughts about the war, he had completely forgotten what day it was. In Josephine’s hand was a basket.
“I baked cookies yesterday. I decided to give you some to taste.”, she said in answer to his questioning glance, thrusting the basket of freshly baked goods into his hands. He smiled his thanks.
“What were you thinking about before I came? Every year I notice that you seem to be thinking deeply on this particular day. You are a man of few words in general, uncle, but you rarely speak on this day. Why is that?”, Josephine inquired.
Danksworth sighed. He turned and sat on an armchair, motioning for her to follow. She did as he asked, and sat opposite to him. In his slow, hoarse voice, he said , “Each year, on this day, I think about what we could have done differently and prevented the war.” Josephine looked puzzled. ”What war are you talking about uncle?”
He looked at her with raised eyebrows. ”You really don’t know?”
Josephine shook her head, looking slightly abashed.
Danksworth leaned forward. ”Would you like to know what happened?”
Josephine nodded enthusiastically, her eyes shining with interest.
Danksworth settled back in his chair. ”Well, make yourself comfortable. It’s a long, long story……..”
“It was a day like any other. The sun shone brightly, birds chirped in their nests, flowers swayed in the breeze. A group of six men had gathered. They were going on a hike near the waterfalls. Their happy chatter carried them all the way to the lake, where they stopped to take a break.
“Bottles of drinks were taken out, packets of chips laid on the blanket. The group ate till they could eat no more. When they were full, they prepared to throw the garbage in the lake.
“One man said, ‘Don’t throw it in the lake, dude. We are polluting the water and harming the life in it.’
‘Don’t worry man. The lake keeps flowing. It isn’t stopping us, is it? What loss is there in it for us? It doesn’t harm us in any way. Besides, what’s the lake going to do? Attack us?’
“They all cackled, threw the leftovers in the lake and continued with their hike.
“It wasn’t until a week later that the disappearances started. All of the men who went on the hike disappeared, and their bodies turned up in a dumpster near the waterfalls. The town was terrified. The fear was so thick, you could cut it with a knife. But there were no more disappearances. Everyone soon began to relax. They thought the nightmare was over. But it had only started.
“After a few weeks, a group of kid went on a field trip to the Windy Brook. They didn’t came back. The next day, when the cops went searching for them, they found the children unconscious, next to the bodies of the teachers and supervisors
“When the scouts failed to return, a group of the most trained and experienced fighters was sent. And you wouldn’t believe what they found this time.
“At midnight, the water rippled, gleamed, shone, and out came creature that nobody had ever seen.
“They were vaguely humanoid, about the same height as an average human, with mottled blue skin, and eyes too big for their face. They stepped out of the water, and didn’t seem to notice the cops spread around.
“For a moment, nobody reacted. And then, as if on instinct, all the fighters jumped out and attacked those creature.
“But the water dwellers were just as fast. With lightning speed, they dived into the water. Except for one. He was surrounded by the policemen, and couldn’t find an opening to flee.
“He snarled, baring his teeth, even though he knew it would be no use. He must have been terrified, but he didn’t show it.
“However, the same couldn’t be said for the policemen, whose faces’ were clearly displaying fear, amazement, and shock. Almost mechanically, they handcuffed his bony wrists, and shoved him in the car.
“The creature fought the whole way. But the strangest thing about it was that even though he only howled and couldn’t speak any actual words, his voice echoed in their head, the verses resonating in their mind. He refused to answer any of their question, but nearly deafened them with his howls. The car soon pulled over in front of the police station and the creature was dragged in.
“The look on the face of the Sheriff was indescribable. His jaw went slack, and he kept blinking as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He opened and closed his jaw as though he didn’t know what to say. Finally, he just waved a hand towards the cells. When the creature was safely behind bars, the Sheriff looked at them gravely and said, ‘Explain.’
“And so they did. With every moment, the Sheriff’s eyebrows rose with shock till they were about to disappear in his hair. When the story was finally told, he paced round and round the room. His men looked on, till one of them finally decided to ask, 'Sir, what do you think that is? And why has it attacked the people of Aramoor?’ the Sheriff looked at him and said, 'Ah commander, I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. Only he does,’ he added, pointing at the creature. ‘He doesn’t do anything except howl, sir, we tried asking him question about his people on the way', one of the constables supplied helpfully. ‘Perhaps. But I have to try anything and everything possible before I come to a conclusion.’, the Sheriff said, motioning for everyone, to leave.
When he was seated in front of the creature, he asked, ‘Who are you?’
His voice echoed, ‘I am one of the water dwellers that live in this town.’
The Sheriff had expected as much. Now that he was under the light, he could see the slime glistening on his reptilian skin. The Sheriff wouldn’t have admitted it, but something about the creature deeply unsettled him. He decided to ask the next question.
‘Why do you live underwater if you can thrive just as well on the ground?’
He laughed. ’You are clearly not as smart as you look. Because of our appearance, we would be separated, neglected, hunted. We cannot live above ground.’
‘And why did you attack the people of Aramoor without any reason?’
‘Without a reason? We do not attack gratuitously! You earthlings have been polluting our land for decades! There used to be thousands of us, but now our numbers are reduced to a few hundreds! Our domain is getting smaller and dirtier! We attacked the people who polluted our land, but we did not harm the fledglings. We were protecting our land. Surely you of all people can realize that? Till now, we have kept silent and stayed hidden. But not anymore. Let me go, and do not speak a word of this to anyone.’
The authority in his voice almost made the Sheriff do as the creature asked. He looked at him with grim eyes. ‘I am afraid that won’t be possible. I have sworn to protect the town and its residents, and I cannot let you go.’
‘If you do not let me go, my people will attack. The individuals of Meropis are fierce and fearless. There shall be a terrible war, and you shall lose.’
The Sheriff pondered this for a moment. Then, making up his mind, he walked out and locked the cell. His eyes held sorrow, for he knew that the water dwellers had done what he himself would have done to protect his land.
“The water dweller stayed still and silent. He knew that his brethren would come searching for him. The next day, there were press reporters, journalists and news readers right outside the station. Word had leaked about an extraordinary creature kept in a hidden underground bunker, and spread like wildfire. The cops had a fine day handling them, and it was so hard to keep everyone out, that they almost forgot about the water dweller. Almost.
“It was nearly midnight when the rest of the water dwellers struck. They came so stealthily, it was like they had appeared out of thin air. They had planned to sneak in, open the cell and help their friend escape. What they had not planned for was the tight security around the station.
“The cops jumped out at them from every direction. There was gunfire, shouts, yells. But the water dwellers were extremely swift. They fled the scene, most of them unharmed. However, the water dweller who had been captured, Arroyo, was found dead. He was one of the most important leaders in Meropis, the society of the water dwellers. Whereas earlier the water dwellers had not even thought about killing the town residents, the death of Arroyo sent them into a frenzy of rage and needless to say, there indeed was a war.
“The next two weeks were bathed in bloodshed. Every day, there came news of more and more deaths. People lost their friends, brothers and fathers. True to Arroyo’s word, the Meropians were all fierce and brave. They all were skilled in knife throwing, and their eyesight was so accurate, they could shoot from half a kilometer away. They wore armor as thick as a rhino’s hide, almost impossible to cut through. Sometimes, it would look as if the water dwellers would win, and other times, the people of Aramoor. Both sides suffered heavy losses. The Army of Aramoor was pushed back by the water dwellers.
"The Sheriff ran into the battle, holding out a rifle. Over the past few days he had noted how the water dwellers fought. Their strength was in their aim. Take away their knives and bows, they didn’t have anything more. If only he could deprive them of their artilleries, they would have a chance of winning.
“His eyes skimmed the battlefield, and landed on one particular Meropian. He looked just the same as any other creature, but on his head lay a wreath of leaves. He stayed at the back of the fight; defending himself, not attacking. The Sheriff was correct in assuming he was the king. He sprinted towards the king, other cops running in his wake, protecting him.
“The king looked at him, his eyes going wide. The first bullet to his head should have slaughtered him, but the king was quick. He managed to deflect the bullet with the hilt of his knife. He groped behind him, and threw the knives so rapidly they were a blur as they raced through the wind. Had the Sheriff been any slower, he would have died. But the deaths of his people had awoken a fire in him, and full of adrenaline, he charged; ducking, rolling and jumping.
“But good luck can only last so long. Things started to go wrong before his very eyes. One of the king’s knives sliced his left leg, and he collapsed. He raised his eyes to meet the king’s. The king looked smug, as if he knew that his victory would be certain, and the efforts of the Sheriff meant less than nothing. This angered the Sheriff. Never had he felt such rage. He rose, and the king’s smirk faltered. He must have seen the fury in the Sheriff’s eyes, for he took a step back. He scrabbled behind him for more knives or a bow, but came up with empty hands. The Sheriff moved forward, step by step, each more agonizing than the last. He had somehow lost his rifle. The remaining soldiers of both army stopped to see this combat.
“The Sheriff swung his hand, his clenched fist making contact with the reptilian skin. The king lost his balance, but countered with punches of his own. His eye dropped down to the gaping wound in the Sheriff’s thigh, just above his knee. Mustering all the strength he had, he kicked the Sheriff; right on the injury.
“The Sheriff screamed, a cry of anguish ripping from his throat. The pain was so intense, the world went white behind his eyes. He heard the voices of the Meropians echoing in his mind, ‘Victory to king Aenon! Long live king Aenon!’ He momentarily blacked out.
“When he could think again, his hand fumbled, searching for anything that could be used as a weapon. He felt his hand touch the grip of a gun. He opened his eyes and saw Aenon crouching. The smirk was back on his face. ‘Your best efforts have not been enough. Your men have died, and now, I end you!’, he said, raising a gun and pointing it at his chest.
“The sharp crack of the bullet echoed around.
“Aenon’s body fell backwards. A loud cheer went up through the ranks of Aramoor. Cops cut down the last of the water dwellers.
“It was over.
“If Meropis had more combatants, their victory would have been certain. But their lesser population was the cause of their destruction. All the Meropians had died fighting till their last breath. The city of Meropis dissolved with their souls.
“The town should have been happy. They had saved their town from invaders, after all. They had won. Shouldn’t victory feel good? But they all knew better. In some corner of their mind, they knew that they were to blame for the war, and for the deaths of their people. They had dishonored the domain of the water dwellers, and the Meropians had simply tried to preserve their land. But they couldn’t change the past. What matters now is the present, and we all must do everything in our power to preserve water, and keep the water bodies clean.”
Danksworth finished his tale, and looked over at Josephine, who had both hands over her mouth, her eyes wide. “What do you think Josephine?”, Danksworth asked.
She lowered her hands. ”That was scary. The fighters must have been so courageous and strong. But if u don’t mind me asking, how do you know so much about the battle?”
Danksworth sighed, and said, “I was the Sheriff during that time. That’s why I think so much about the war. Could I have done anything to stop the bloodshed? I suppose not.” Then he smiled and asked, “What have you decided now Josephine?”
Josephine couldn’t seem to find the words. She just dipped her head.
Danksworth inferred. “As I said earlier, what matters is the present, and if we consider our actions now, we won’t regret it in the future. The people of Meropis gave their lives to preserve and protect water, and died defending their cause. I hope the people have learned their lessons, and that we won’t have to fight a war again.”
She nodded. No more words needed to be said. They both had understood.