Written by Benjamin George
Peace is a resource that neither gods nor kings can afford. For when our invaders came, speaking a foul language, preaching false gods and destroying in their wake - no gold, that we have taken, could keep them at bay.
From the seas and from the land, an army of power like nothing our people had ever seen, came determined to vanquish our souls. The only payment that they would take was the blood in our hearts to stain their swords.
But we, the people of a democratic world, would not have the lands of our mothers taken by those that come for it. We answered their calls of battle. In red, we came to defend our soil. And days later, still we stand in formation. Our armor makes us tough. Our spears make us deadly. And our shields make us strong. We stand as one - the last wall between the light and the dark, thankful for our blessings. And in the light of our last morning on this mortal earth; we bask in the glory that our gods have given us.
‘Alec’, I look to my right. ‘This is our end, my friend.’ Aleksander, shielded and armed as I, speaks to me from under his helmet. He looks at me in a way I have seen him look a thousand times - a pride to die for the land we love.
As boys we fashioned swords and shields from sticks, reeds and wicker. We would watch the soldiers fight and copy their actions. Question the teachers and learn the moves that would defend ourselves. “One day we will wear red. One day we will fight”, we would say at dusk.
And now, years into our futures, our dreams have become our reality. Together we stand, draped in red, standing on a beach, ready for our end.
A large man, larger than life, came from our number and now stood at our front. Identical in every way, bar his name. The name of a king.
‘Men of this earth. Our army is in retreat and makes for our city. Many of our numbers have gone, but there are no cowards among them. They are lions. Lions with the task of defending our people in this battle or the next.
‘We - are the descendants of Demigods and the true people of this world. We stand, the final wall, on the verge of victory, against the evil and the wicked, that stand before us. We will have their end in this war or the next.
I - am the king of this land, the leader of our world. I am but one of the people, but I stand at the front - leading this legion. And I will lead you further, across the River Styx if death comes for us this day. I will have my glory in this world or the next.
‘They-’ He pointed behind him and at the enemy. ‘-are the jackals that come to take our scraps. The filth that believes that we will not die for what is ours. They are wrong.’
The king’s words rung through the legion like a horn. Each man felt the base in the words and the meaning in the tone.
Aleksander looked over to me again and smiled. I met his smile with my own. A warm feeling of innate properties came over me. Cleansing me and washing me. Making me feel whole. The words of my leader and the smile of my friend, could be no better company in the last hours of earthy light.
‘Men of this earth…’ The king paused. ‘... go and get me my victory.’
The entire legion burst out into cheers and chants. Another wave of warmth swept through me as I cheered with the others. I heard the voices of many men from my village as well as others that I did not know.
The sun, now high in the sky, burned down on the beach that we stood on. A vague black shape came into view at the far end of the beach. It was the enemy. In man-to-man combat, they were no match for us. But their number was mighty and this black force seemed to never cease in size, no many how many we slayed. No fewer than we had seen before came on this morning and we were greatly outnumbered. If we die this day, it is because we were all taken at once.
As the shape came closer, the individual fighters in their ranks came into focus. They were a force, ten thousand strong, and coming as one single body similar to how we stood. Black clothed, armed and masked, they were daunting and terrible to behold.
I shook off my final nerves as my legion began to walk forward to meet them. I could see my right and left feet walking identical steps to man to my left, and Aleksander to my right.
‘Arrows!’ One man shouted. All heads looked up and saw a swarm of arrows, flying like a thousand birds towards us, from the left.
‘Shields!’ The king shouted. And all men raised their shields in the direction that the arrows were coming. They thundered down, striking the shields but barely piecing the bronze outer layer. ‘Fools! Do they not know that their arrows cannot break our shields.’ The king said again.
It was true. Our number had deflected many arrow attacks in the build-up to this assault. Never had the poorly crafted arrows made a difference to the battle outcomes and no soldier had been killed by one to date. Many of the soldiers laughed as an arsenal of arrows landed by their feet.
However, no man in my company had thought of where the arrows had come from. The enemy was before us, as a black shape on the beach, and not to our left. Instead, rocky and treacherous mountains stood, with a tangle of passes and ravines. There was one way through that we knew of. But the King had had it covered for weeks. The invaders had not found a way over as of yet. So who’s arrows were those?
Before I could share my thoughts, a troupe of archers came from the mountain edges and showed their foreign faces. They were the enemy too. Somehow, they had learnt of our passage through the mountains to gain a second front to fight this battle from.
‘We have been betrayed.’ One man shouted, as he too saw the arches appear. A twang of fear eclipsed my heart as the enemy came to from my front and over me from the left. Others replied to the man who spoke but the king dismissed them quickly. The forces of black in our front now loomed and began to run.
‘We cover our army’s escape. We go forward to those who seek to take. We go to the jackals. We go to death!’ The king shouted.
More arrows came, more heads moved, more shouts sounded - as the sound of blade on flesh, metal on shield and shouts and screamed filled the air. An outnumbered legion against a black force that never ceased in number, saw blood flow into the sea, bodies collect on the sand, Aleksander and I slain - and the fall of the wall between lions and jackals.