a hero’s welcome on scifi sundays

January 11, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Posted in spiritual rantings | 1 Comment

Early. A sound in the distance, different to the ever present cannon-fire and musket, but familiar. She wondered if it could be morning birdsong, but upon the war-ravaged wasteland of this battlefield, she wondered if there were any birds left here.

Knocking. Staccato, almost frenzied in its intensity. What could be so important to be delivered to her personally, instead of her generals? She had been up late discussing matters of state with her advisors, possible trade alliances with neutral countries and would-be allies. She was ill-equipped to deal with some unexpected dignitary, at some ungodly hour before she had a chance to bathe and prepare for their visit.

But if such urgency was any guide, perhaps it would not matter her somewhat less than regal appearance. There was a war going on, of course.

Her servant appeared by her bedside like a puppet in a shadow-play, suddenly sliding into her vision. “Your Highness, someone stands without, seeking to speak with you directly. Shall I send him away?”

“No. It may be important. I should probably speak with him, but he should not mind my unprepared state.”

Candice, her servant released a slow smirk.”

“It is a common soldier, my Queen. Of no rank to speak of, yet he seeks to speak to you directly. Let me dispose of him with haste.”

She wondered what it all meant. Why would a common soldier wish to speak with her? Didn’t he know that his chances of seeing her were remote at his rank?

“Why does he wish to talk to me? Perhaps I can spare him a moment if the issue is relevant?”

“He refuses to speak of it, your Highness. He just keeps repeating that he wants to talk to you. Nothing more, nothing less. He is not some gentleman playing at being a soldier either, he is low born, that is plain enough. His manners are brusque and blunt.”

She was at a loss. Things like this just didn’t happen. People knew their place. In the social order of things, this soldier just didn’t exist in her world of courtly intrigue and global state-craft. It was — inconceivable.

Everything within her told her that she should leave things as they lay, to ignore this visitor and get back to her duties, as laborious as they could be. But her curiosity was not sated, it burned within her to learn why this man had done this unusual thing.

“I will meet him at the door, guarded of course. I will ask him his purpose in coming here, and I will see what is going on.” She half said this to herself, and half to Candice, but her servant reacted and quickly dressed her and applied a modicum of powder and rouge appropriately, yet hurriedly.

Soon she was striding stately towards the front door of headquarters. The door was flung open at her approach, she looking somehow still regal without her accoutrements and fanfare.

The light was dazzling from without the headquarters, shining into her eyes, making her visitor a mere silhouette. Surrounded by that shining dawn, like some angelic messenger from the higher realms.

But no, he was just a soldier. Ragged yet repaired fatigues, he’d obviously shown her some respect by keeping himself clean and tidy to meet with her, as she had extended a similar courtesy, yet in her case, it was more in keeping up appearances.

For a moment his rough features stayed frozen, as if he was shocked to actually get his audience with his Queen. But then he got to his reason for being here, direct and to the point, he said, “I am not fighting for you any more.”

Such a damning statement. To refuse to fight in your country’s army was treason. They had enough soldiers running away in panic and hiding away somewhere behind enemy lines, a dangerous and often short existence. The enemy hunted them for their former allegiances, and her forces hunted them because they had deserted her cause. In both cases, the result of capture was death.

He’d just admitted his treason, to his own Queen no less. Such openness unnerved her, and it seemed as if he had a death wish, to tell her of this treason in her house. But why? Why did he feel the need to admit his desire to desert? Knowing that a traitor’s death awaited him?

Did she know him? Irrespective of Candice’s comments, she studied his features and demeanour, searching that perhaps he was some sort of unlanded gentry, a noble son from the ashes of a once-proud family. He looked familiar, somehow, something nagged her about his face, and especially his eyes, looking directly at her. Impolite to say the least, but there was no fear of what would happen to him in those eyes, nor any fear of her.

She quailed inside to be so confronted. But it could not be seen, she was the Queen, not just some girl, barely out of maturity. Born to rule, born to command. She felt new strength enter her, as she recited her bloodline back within her mind.

This is just a man, just a soldier. Just like every other soldier under my command.

“Come in, and we will discuss your decision.” To her guards she nodded slightly, and approached the soldier, patting him down for weapons or anything suspicious. For a man with an obvious death wish, he could have some suicidal agenda of killing his Queen before being killed in turn.

The door shut behind him, he was as he seemed, unarmed. They slowly went down the long narrow hall, her guards falling in step behind him as Candice went ahead opening the doors for her.

“I’ve wondered who’s the woman for whom we all commit such wonton murder.”

His carelessly thrown comment stopped her, stopped the whole assemblage in its tracks. She tried not to show how hard the comment had struck her. He did not understand the war, the reasons behind it. The big picture. She wasn’t responsible for anyone dying, war was war. Soldiers died on both sides, it was acceptable.

People died.

She deigned not to respond to this blunt statement, carrying onto her sitting rooms to receive her strange visitor.

They sat down within the sitting room, with the fierce and bright red tapestries draping the walls against the grey, utilitarian walls.

She was composed, but within her sanctum, he somehow lost some of his power, his strength that he showed in the hall. His eyes searched right and left, not staying upon her for more than a heartbeat as his vision searched for something he could not find within the fiery-hued tapestries, confusing him as the flame confuses a beast.

This was her territory now, and he was starting to realize the folly of his visit perhaps? With a word, nay, not even that, a gesture, he would die.

He found his voice again. “I cannot do this any more. I am sick of killing, and for what purpose, I do not know. I am told to kill these people whom I have never met, never held a grudge, and I do not wish to be here. I feel I lose something of myself with every life I take, with every life I see passing.”

He looked directly at her now, and she could see the pain in his eyes, he was a strong man, a brave man, but he was filled with such sorrow … no more did she see the arrogance and impertinence within him that he showed at the doorstep.

His resolve firmed in his eyes again, again masking his emotions. Hard and cold, he looked at her again, and spoke again, just as hard and cold: “I am leaving tomorrow and you can do what you will. No more will I be a killer. If you want to have people killed, you can do it yourself. Not make others to bloody their hands on your behalf!”

“Why have you even come here? What you speak of is desertion, and you know the penalty. You come to me, admit that you will refuse your duty to your country, and that you will leave tomorrow. Surely you know that I cannot allow this to happen?”

“It doesn’t matter any more.” His eyes changed again, and there was a brooding loss reflected now within. “I don’t care anymore, I just want it to stop. I look down and I see that blood on my hands. Only first I am asking you why. That is why I came. I wanted to know why before I left. Why do we kill? What purpose is there in it? Thousands are dead, and I am no general, but I see no point in it. I just see people dying. Too many people.”

“I see you now, and you are so very young. You do not look like that when we had parades, before the fighting was so fierce. You seemed so much older back then, all far away. I expected some bitter crone with no love of life, feeling the touch of death upon her to be so cruel with human lives. Not a young woman as yourself.”

“I know I am not some ancient veteran in this war, but I’ve seen too much. Right there, up close, and I’ve lived through it. But I’ve seen more battles lost than I have battles won. I’ve been a survivor, and it’s been painful. To know that you were the only one of your friends to survive, your fellows, people just like you, and to know that they are dead and you are alive. It makes me feel guilty sometimes, since what right do I have to cheat Death while it claims them?”

He gulped, and his body shook slightly. “You don’t know what it’s like to have to loot the friend you had for food and gunpowder, knowing just a few minutes ago he was alive. One minute you are talking with him, the next minute he?s just some thing that you steal from to keep yourself alive. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to do that … and that shames me. That now I cannot even remember the dead, people I knew and talked with that are now feeding the crows.”

She was still the Queen. There was more at stake here than this soldier knew. War was Hell, but she knew that it was needed, even if he could not. But some small part of her cried to hear of the casualties in her war, not just the dead, but the horrors that had been inflicted upon this soldier. Were they all like this?

But she never once took the crown from her head. She had to be strong. Sacrifices had to be made for the greater good. There was more at stake here than human life.

His demeanour shifted, looking at her, her eyes as implacable as cold diamond. “Do you even know what it’s like to witness someone dying in front of you? Have you ever even SEEN any of your dead soldiers, doomed by some military planning mistake? Do you realize how many have died for you, for this stupid war you’ve started? I’ve got this intuition, says it’s all for your fun. If we were defending our country from some invaders, I would be proud to die for my country. We are here, strangers in a strange land, waging war, invading another country, and for what point? They defend themselves as we would defend ourselves.”

He shook his head, as if he was clearing some bewildering thought from his mind. “Will you tell me why?” he asked her, impassioned and angry.

She fixed him with an arrogant eye, her Queen faade unbreakable, strong. “You won’t understand, and you may as well not try. This is beyond your comprehension. You are just a soldier, and you do not see the big picture. If you did, you would understand why these men need to die.”

Briefly her mind flashed with visions of dead soldiers, scavenged by humans and carrion eaters alike, abandoned in overrun trenches, unburied and forgotten, and not knowing why they fought. Why they had to die.

Not as unbreakable a faade as she thought. Her lips began to quiver, her eyes kept their imperiousness, but she started to shake, imagining the dead spirits of the soldiers just asking her “Why?” as this soldier did now. A question which she could give no answer.

He looked at her, and within his eyes, some of his anger and hate had receded. There was a sympathy, a pity for her and the weight of her crown. He saw that she was a young woman, of whatever birth, forced into a terrible position.

He saw her nakedness, he saw before him a sinful creature, a weak kneed slip of a woman, not courageous to stop war and suffering and death, he saw a coward

God in Heaven. That was the point. The point of this long, bloody war. After the King and Queen had died to the foul disease that had torn a swathe through the country, she was abruptly left with an entire country to run, just barely out of girlhood. She had to deal with responsibility of the crown and the grief of losing her parents all at once.

Her advisors said that the country was in a dangerous position. That foreign eyes would see her as weak and vulnerable, and the country in turn as ripe for occupation. So, she had struck first against the country that had the greatest threat, bringing the war to them before they could strike. Her savage assault had been bloody and victorious in the beginning, but now it had become a siege, waiting out and small skirmishes lowering both sides’ numbers with gradual attrition.

He would not understand this. He only saw the small problems, the lower levels. Not the two countries facing off like dogs in a street, seeking to cow the other into submission. War was Hell, and soldiers died in it. She knew what she was doing, even if he could not understand.

She raised her defences again, closed. She could not be seen as weak, to this simple soldier or her enemies. If she was vulnerable, not only would she die, but so would her country. She had to remain strong.

He wasn’t fooled. Damn him . She’d shown him the cracks, and something between them had changed. She felt that she had lost the upper hand for good. But, curiously he did not lord his victory, or gloat how he had seen his enemy humbled.

“My Queen …” he said it with respect, almost with reverence. She thought he could not see her with the same eyes as the angry young man that had entered just a short time ago. In showing her weakness he no longer felt the need to be strong either.

“My Queen, . I am just a simple soldier. But I see the pain your position brings you, the seriousness which you take things. I can see that you suffer.”

He gulped once, his eyes bright. “I came in expecting someone very different. I came in expecting someone that would not care. I came in,” he smiled wryly, yet somehow bittersweet, “expecting a fight. And it started as such, I guess. But now, I cannot feel that you are my enemy. I thought you were inhuman, callous. But I won’t march again on your battlefield. I may respect your humanity, but I do not understand why you do what you do. I cannot be party to it. I am leaving and taking my division with me.”

As he had plainly spoken his feelings of her, she felt her own thoughts come up and betray her. She could not help but respect this man, his belief and his empathy. She shuddered inside to feel what this empathic man would have felt and thought each time someone had died from his own hand. To feel the blood splash upon his clothes, to see a man die, watch his death throes slow and painful and to feel that connection. He was no soldier, even if he wore the uniform, even if he had been conscripted into service, her service. He did not wish to leave because he was a coward, he had shown courage coming and speaking of his treasonous desires to her, in full earshot of her staff. He didn’t even see the men he had to kill as his enemies, that’s how he could walk away with no regrets. No bad blood.

“If you were not a soldier, what would you be? What do you want out of your life?” she asked, meek and curious, her walls breaking down, unable to keep up the act as she spoke to him, as he could not keep up his own, almost in tears.

“I want to live as an honest man. I want to follow some trade perhaps back home. I don’t mind working for someone else, I was a good worker back home, hard worker, I didn’t complain, I just did it as long as I was treated right. I didn’t want much. ‘To get all I deserve and to give all I can.’ was our family’s unofficial motto, you could say. We put all of ourselves in our work and people respected it. I guess, my soldier days are not quite that. I haven’t been able to put my heart into this work. I just keep on imagining that the other fellow is just like me. They look different a bit, but we are all of the same sort of age.” He held his head in his hands. “I don’t want much out of life. If you promised me the world to kill another man, I don’t think it would be a fair trade. I don’t want much.” He repeated.

He slipped into some sort of reverie, somehow forgetting he was in the presence of his Queen. “I always miss that I never got to get to fall in love. A lot of the other men have women waiting for them back home.” He smiled self-consciously. “I’ve never really had the knack I suppose. I’m sometimes a little shy, and I do not know what a woman wants from a man. I try, but maybe I’m not doing it right.” The faint trace of a blush suffused his cheeks, she could see now that they were not far apart in age, his eyes had seen too much, but he was still a young man, just out of boyhood.

She sighed deep within her soul, he wanted such simple things, his world was simple. Little goals, and little trouble achieving them. While she wore the weight of nations upon her shoulders, and yet, she could still not achieve what he sought either. And she’d only managed to stop him from achieving it in turn. Not deliberately, of course. But she had, he’d never known any woman back home. No one to return to, triumphant and glorious, no hero’s welcome to reward him as he set foot on those far off shores.

She envied his simple dreams, and she wished that she could have her world miraculously change so that she could have them, some easy life with honest toil, with a wonderful man that would make her heart rise and fly with joy. But it was not to be. She was alone, and destined to marry some ally country to cement their partnership. Her advisors gave her advice, but she could not talk to them about anything beyond rulership and the war. It would not be seemly. Candice gave her the responses which she had coached to say by her teachers from her finishing school, not from her heart.

He sighed. “Why can’t my life be simple like that, like I wanted it to be? Why can’t your life be the same? Wouldn’t it be easier to stop all this and just be happy? That’s all I’ve ever wanted, and I’m sure that this war has made no one happy. Not even you.” Pointed observation.

“Your Highness, your ways are very strange.”

Not my ways, she thought, just what I am forced to do. She had as much control over her life as he did. Maybe even less, since he was determined to leave this situation he did not believe in. There was no one to take her place, an only child, and her country would suffer if she abdicated now in the middle of a war.

At that moment, she wanted to toss her crown, throw it away far from her, to hear it shatter and smash upon some unseen stone. It was too much to bear, she wondered how many other young men had thought this way, wanting a simple life, and she had stolen their destinies to die in a far off land, unmourned and unnoticed. The casualties of war. She couldn’t think of them just as numbers on a report, they were living, breathing and real. She’d met one now, and seen his depth, his essence, as simple as it was.

But what could she do? Stop this war, even though her enemy would continue it in retaliation? It was too late. Too many had died. The only thing she could do was to win, to show to herself that it hadn’t been a waste of those men. That the killing had a purpose. That the death had a purpose. That the war was not in vain. Even if it claimed thousands more.

She breathed heavily. The crown was so heavy on her brow. But she had to keep it upon her, to make everything worthwhile. There was no choosing, it was her fate. No choice at all for her to make. Inexorable. There could be no changes.

“What do you think so sadly about, my Queen?” His voice broke her musings.

“I was just … thinking, how complicated things are. That simple life you describe seems so wonderful, I wish it was mine also …”

“Why cannot it be? Why can you not just set aside the war and marry someone that you love, and rule your kingdom with a fair and just hand?”

“There are no choices I fear. But I will do something to help me understand your words. I will talk to the other soldiers when you have gone.” The lie caught in her throat, but it came out smoothly nonetheless, just an ever so slight pause. “If you can escort me to your fellows now, with my guard and servants? You have opened my eyes to the common soldier. Before you go ?”

“Of course, my Queen. Nothing more would give me pleasure. Maybe something can be done, that we can all go home.” His eyes sought out her face, but she could not meet his gaze. “Even yourself, and perhaps you can have that simple life that I seek also.”

Her heart leapt uncontrollably, but she forced it down. She was still Queen, she never took the crown off, it was with her even as she slept. “I will be back soon, I will only be a moment inside.”

She left him out there, on the doorstep of the headquarters. She looked to her guard, the regal composure once again, and made a short, sharp gesture. The shot rang out, and the door shook with a thump. She didn’t want the door to be opened, to see his heart’s blood staining the door and stoop, to see his shocked expression on his frozen-dead face.

He would not be looted, not have the crows eat his flesh. He would be buried with honours. It was the least she owed him. Forgive me.

She retired alone to the crimson tapestried room again, sitting down slowly, as if she would break like glass. He was just a soldier. Just one man. Thousands have already died, what is one more? The war must be won, no matter the cost. There is more at stake here than human life. She rocked slowly backwards and forwards as she sat, telling herself that over and over until his words stopped echoing within her mind.

The young soldier’s battalion watched the guards gun down their Commander, they in turn one by one committed suicide with his name upon their lips at their last breath.

The Royal Guard informed the young princess that hundreds of her loyal soldiers had just committed suicide.

“It’s time for tea”

 

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  1. You actually make it appear really easy along with your
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