Hope you enjoy this one!
We're all packed and ready to go, everything prepared, everything ready. Except our hearts. There's no
question of us going. When your Lord calls, you grab your bow, or hunting knife, or your grandfather's sword rusting in the loft, line up with the other lads, and march to war.
This is my first time going to a real battle. My father has drilled me and drilled me over the years, and I've resented him for it. Wasn't it enough that I worked the fields, fed the pigs, mucked out the donkey? The
curse of the only surviving child is to be the slave of all work. I suddenly wonder who help my mother with all
these tasks now we're leaving...
But my father had me practising with the bow when the other lads were taking their ease at midday. "Hold your arm straight!" he yelled. "You won't hit a barn door like that." Or, "Don't take all day to aim! The enemy will have shot you by now."
In the evening, before supper, he'd have me out with the wooden swords or the staves. "Protect your flank! You're always wide open on the left." Or, "Sweep low, take my feet while I'm aiming at your head. And jump when you see me go for yours."
I've always been covered in bruises from his gentle teaching. My mother dabs me all over with witch-hazel every night before I sleep.
But now, he says, I'll be a step or two ahead of the other lads. I might even be made a corporal or sergeant right away. Part of me feels a certain pride at that. The rest feels even more terrified that I'll be commanding other men to their deaths.
My father is the veteran of many campaigns. He's charmed, my mother says; always comes back, though maybe with an extra notch or two in his hide. When she says such things, he smiles a little sadly and says too few of his mates ever came back with him.
I can remember the last time he went to war. Oh, how I wished I was old enough to go too! I was so jealous of my cousins, marching off beside my uncle. They looked so tall and straight and noble, but they died in muddy field just the same. How did I miss the plain terror in their eyes? I know it's showing in mine now, as I catch the glances of some of the younger boys. Oh, you fools! Do not envy me this leaving, this marching to a war not of my making.
"Why do we have to go?" I asked my father. "Let the Lord fight his own stupid war. We're going to be killing lads and men just like us - unless they kill us first. All of us leaving our fields to go to wrack and ruin, our animals to wander or starve, our women to who knows what trouble. What's the point?"
The disappointment in his eyes cut me to the core. "I hope I haven't raised a coward under my roof," he said quietly.
I tried to speak but couldn't find the words to respond. Then he grinned and ruffled my hair. "It's all right to be afraid, you know. Fear isn't your enemy. Use it. Hold on to it. It's fear that's kept me alive, kept me coming back to your mother every time."
He had not answered my question but I let it go. This morning, the Lord's men came to gather us at dawn and we took our leave of my mother. We slung our packs, fastened our swords around our waists - I have my father's old one, he has one he brought back as a trophy from the last war - and joined the lines.
As we set out, the maidens and women strew flowers before our feet and cheer us on our way. Seeing the pride and admiration in their eyes almost makes it seem worthwhile, at least until I leave the village. Younger boys, and some girls, march alongside us for a short way, then turn and go reluctantly back to their chores, chores suddenly increased by our leaving.
Oh, how I wish I was going with them.