by Pat Draco

The atmosphere before a battle, how can it be described? There is silence, a strong suffocating silence that encloses you and all day you feel its eerie presence. Not much is said during the day, you hear grinding of stone on metal as soldiers and smiths sharpen weapons, powerful hoof beats pounding on earth as the horses grow impatient of being unmoved. There is rarely any laughter or talk, and when a soldier tries to lighten the mood if laughter follows it sounds like they are forcing leaden clumps out of their throats. Just so forced and empty.

As I walk around I notice that each and every man and womans face is the same. They all have the same stern and quiet countenance. Every now and again one will put on a happy faade and crack a joke, but it is never long before they settle back into the same apprehensive visage like everyone else and is lost in deep thought. God knows what goes through a persons head before battle, but I know what goes through mine.

I think about the enemy. I realise that I am about to kill men and woman like me. Most of them will have a partner and their own children. Each of them is part of a community, and if they cease to live that community will diminish by a little. Like me they serve a king and fight because they are forced to and if they dont their families will suffer. Among them are extreme loyalists and mercenaries but I know that most of them are fighting to put food on their families tables. Their vassals cause does not mean anything to them, all rulers are the same most of them would believe and their fuel in battle will be based on love and obligation.

I spend the whole day trying to rationalize the killing I am about to do, I think of anything possible to justify my soon to be actions. I paint them out to be monsters, child murderers and killers of the elderly. I try to force myself to believe all the gruesome stories that were told by my vassal, but for me believing are quite hard. I patrolled in the very areas that the mass murders took place and noticed that none of that had ever happened. I was told by my commanding officer to keep silent on penalty of death and that it was good for troop morale and that our enemies are truly capable of such madness.

A beat from the drum alerts the troops that the kings right hand is about to approach. All the troops quickly make themselves look presentable and stand firm. Commander Philmck steps onto a dais and looks over the thousands of troops ensemble before him. His speech is very poetic and aggressive. He is trying to get the warriors angry and blood lusty, I can tell his words have affected many but not me. I am very close to the dais and can see his expressions clearly. His face is gaunt and pale and his expression does not match his words. His faced is strained and stoic, if the many soldiers cheering could see his face I dont think they would be as exuberant. Maybe he has lost faith in this war. Maybe he realises how pointless this killing is. Maybe he might change the kings mind on the matter. The troops favour him more, it might work. He finishes his speech and raises he sword. It catches the sunlight and shines brightly. The troops yell in admiration and bloodlust. They are ready. He commands us to form ranks and fight valiantly for the king. Once again his visage betrays his words.

It takes us a few minutes to form up and then in a mass of surging bodies we charge. I fight with the infantry. My comrades around me charge with abandon, yelling at the top of their lungs and screaming for blood. As always the power of words amazes me. I unsheathe my blades as the opposition is in sight. There are no yells from me, no cry for blood or praise to my king, no joy on my face at the prospect of wetting my blade. Only sadness and regret exist. Sad that I will kill people with lives no different than me, sad that they are not evil and do not deserve this, even before my blade fells my first victim I regret it all.

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