Thursday, 5 August 2010

My father’s path

I am my father’s son. In my manner, my looks, my path through life. Every step I have taken is in his footsteps. He beckons to me from further ahead the road we both walk. I do not begrudge this; I am my father’s son. But my father is dying now; shall I become my own man at last?

This day began the same way as every day in the last month. Waking cold and hungry, my sleeping roll damp from the dew. No time for breakfast, no time for anything but donning my armour and weapons and rolling up my bedding. It will still be damp if I un-roll it tonight. We will eat on the march as we have done for the last few days; every meal on the march, each night spent cold and dark, no fires, being woken to take watch. They caught us once in the dark and we suffered for it. We cannot let them catch us again. Short cold nights; long cold days. Sleep and march. Our captain will allow us to do nothing but. To slow is to die. To turn and fight is to die. To make for the Great Wood is to bring death to our homes. So we woke this morning to continue running. If our captain started the day with a plan then he did not share it and it has surely gone terribly wrong. My father said nothing of his opinions on this or any other morning. He did not complain so I did not complain. If I have opinions now may I venture them to the captain? Must I remain silent as my father?

Though he is not silent now. His screams reach me. Is that my name he is calling?

They are tenacious our enemies. They tracked us from the moment we entered their territory. They herded us and sprung their trap. Their only mistake was to underestimate the strength of a Sithi. By the grace of Ugedi they made that mistake and we escaped. They have not made that mistake again. Their numbers are now overwhelming, their assaults brutal, they hound us at a relentless pace. When they come again I will not be able to stop them. Will I die here like my father? Do I still tread the same road as him?

We made a wrong decision at noon. We turned north not south. The injuries of our friends cloud our thoughts and we make wrong decisions. Our own injuries slow and distract us. We cannot survive our wrong decisions. When we knew we had made a mistake, that we must turn back, we knew we would meet them face to face again. We knew it would cost us. It was our scout’s fault but no-one blamed him. No-one had seen him sleep since the ambush. He is dead now. Our tired scout. He lies forty paces ahead of me on his back. Three great shafts point up from his body. He failed us again and gave no warning before he fell. The priests of Jkohl say you cannot blame the dead; only atone for their mistakes. I do not believe we will atone. Only pay. When we saw his body, his failure, we knew we had been ambushed again. Knowing made little difference. The captain gave his orders, we followed them in silence. My father made no sound so I made no sound.

He will be making sounds now. Thrashing. But I cannot hear that over the screams.

They came in a wave and we stopped them with our backs to the tree line. Claws scrabbled at our shields, jaws bit on arms and legs, thick hide stopped all but our heaviest blows. Our long swords were less than useless. Unable to injure them, a danger to ourselves in the close quarters. We knew that before the fight. We too can learn from mistakes. Most of us had drawn shorter, stabbing weapons. Brutal work. Four of ours were down. A dozen of them. Too many and not enough. We fell back into the trees, dragging our wounded, breaking our line round the boles. It made no difference to their attack. Their ways are based not on tactics but on animal cunning. They stopped attacking allowing us a moment to recoup. We followed a trench in the forest floor that led to a clearing. Baradan must have guided my arm during the fighting for I was untouched but had killed many of the beasts. I think before they called off their attack and since then they have begun to fear me. I doubt this fear will hold them back much longer. I was the last to reach the glade, the last to hear my father’s screams. I nearly screamed myself but did not. The first time I have not followed where he led.

A rake of claws across his stomach. His armour was in ribbons. So much blood on his legs, his hands, pooling beneath him. Not red blood anymore but black. His liver was torn. Jkohl had grasped my father’s hand and was pulling him towards his halls. Dying while I was living. Bleeding while I was whole. Lying in the dirt while I stood. Was my father proud of me then? As I stepped away from his path? I will ask him soon I think. In the halls of the dead. I made to go to him but my captain stepped between us.
“Elohath” he said.
“Sereg?”
“You must hold them back for us. You must give the priestess time.”
“Time?”
“There is an old ritual Elohath, using old magic. It can get us home but it requires a lot of power. More than we can normally call upon.” He paused, considering his next words. Amren always considered his words. “There is a lot of power in a life. Power that can be used when a life ends.”
I understood his meaning. The others were only injured. My father was dying.
“Where should I stand my Sereg?”
“At the entrance to the trench , where we entered the glade. Hold there Elohath. You are touched by Baradan this day; I know this to be true. You will hold until we are ready.”

And so I stand here. At the mouth of the trench as I was ordered to. There are bodies all around me. Those beasts who attacked me and those who tried to get past. Not one has reached the glade. I stand and fight while my father bleeds. My father is calling, crying, for me. But I do not move.
His screaming stops.
He is dead. I am alive.
The trees are growing pale, ghostly. The ritual is working.
I am surrounded by the dream road. Embraced by it. It is familiar to me. My father’s embrace.
It is the final path he will forge. A path home. And now I will follow it.

1 comment:

  1. Nice! Or not really depending on your perspective.

    ReplyDelete