Click here for pdf version: Exercise in dying
The battlefield was like a patchwork quilt; bodies were strewn across the once grassy field in a myriad of colours with red and brown the dominant tone. Compared to the ringing of swords and shouts of men only an hour ago, it was eerily quiet now. Among the fallen bodies of men, most dead and some of them dying, walked a lone man. His black cloak was caught by the little breeze and twisted forlornly. He stooped several times, exposing a face here and turning a body there. Each time he got up quickly and continued his search, only pausing to close a death man’s eyes or drape a crumpled cloak like a shroud.
He stopped short as he recognised the body of one of his officers. The man’s face did not change visibly; his dark, unreadable eyes watched the prone body silently. When the officer stirred, the man stooped down, entering the injured man’s line of sight. Eyes that had been closed, shot open when the man spoke gently: “Sergeant Langley, Nicholas Langley?”
The officer focused on the speaker with difficulty but when he managed it, his mouth twisted into a half smile. “Is that you, my Lord? Can it be?” The croaked reply made the man swallow hard.
“It is me, Sergeant. Now lay still so I can assess your wounds.” The wounded man’s eyes were riveted on his Lord’s face, elation mingled with pain. The man lay his hand on the Sergeant’s chest, concentrated and felt a little more of his power draining away as he examined the man’s injuries. He felt the flow of blood in the man’s abdomen, sensed the destruction of the man’s organs. He would not last.
The Sergeant coughed and a trickle of blood ran from his mouth. In a painful whisper he said: “And I had thought all was lost. We thought you were lost, my Lord Dominic.” Dominic managed a smile and replied. “I am not lost, Sergeant. I will ease your pain if you wish. You have done well, soldier.” Nicholas gave a thin but grateful smile. “That would be most kind, my Lord.” With his eyes on the dying man, Dominic moved his hand over the man’s chest, stopping short at his heart. “Rest in peace, soldier.” He intoned softly, watching the eyes of the man glaze over and the tension leave his face as another trickle of his own power drained away.
Dominic continued his grim progress among the death and the dying, spending precious energy on shortening dying men’s final minutes. When he encountered the bloodied remains of Haran, his personal bodyguard, his courage finally failed him and he sank to his knees with his hands covering his face, trying to block out the scene, to block out all conscious thought. Desperately he clung to that little flame inside himself, burning fretfully. He knew if he lost that, he would not be able to hold on to his sanity. Slowly he clawed his way back to reality, forcing himself to face the battlefield and look upon Haran. He traced the well-known features of the man’s face with his eyes, trying to see beyond the smears of blood and the great gash that left part of his skull exposed to the air. With clenched teeth and narrowed eyes, Dominic covered the disfigured face of Haran with the remains of his cloak. “Rest in peace, Haran.” His voice broke.
He spent another hour wandering around, no longer stooping but still stubbornly scanning the fallen with his eyes, trying to hold the madness and despair at bay. Then his eyes fell on what he had been looking for without wishing to find it. Trampled in the muddy ground lay his black banner, only a few strides away from the charred remains of several, no longer identifiable men. On the other side lay the body of his brother, his face surprisingly unmarked by the battle. The waxen, pale face of Corrin, general of Lord Dominic’s army, trusted brother and wise advisor, looked at peace. Staring into the face of his brother, Dominic lost control. The scream that rose in his chest never made it into the air. Fanning the flame inside him, he deliberately drew the last of his remaining powers, raising his hands towards the sky. The red-hot flash that followed lighted the battlefield in one last shining red glow before the coming dusk shrouded it in grey.
About ‘Exercise in Dying’
This piece was written to try my hand at killing off a protagonist. It has touches of fantasy but the horrors of a battlefield are universal. Written in 2004, which was an excellent writing year.
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