It was a year after the first clash of swords between the two kingdoms, still, the fires raged on. The war was tearing everything apart. I couldn’t fathom the reason behind all the mindless killing, raping, and looting. Because at the heart of it that’s what war really is – madness.
Transporting refugees out of the kingdom was a task I volunteered for. It was no different from living off the streets as an orphan – which was my life before the war broke out – hiding from danger and trying to survive. Sometimes I tried to remember if there ever was a time when I had truly experienced peace in my life.
Peace is an illusion. Death is the only real thing that I know.
We arrived in the dead of the night at the ship dock and herded the survivors – women, children, the old, and the wounded – into large crates. They were a battered lot. The march had been long and dreadful over barren lands, and under the threat of annihilation if discovered by the enemy. It was just our luck that the moon hung bright in the sky, and so we were able to find our way without attracting unwanted attention.
It was my turn to stand guard. I leaned on one of the crates as I watched and listened for threats. In the cold night, my breaths formed mists like a fire-breathing dragon, yet, it was not just the temperature that caused goosebumps to appear on my skin. Occasionally, I would hear a noise from inside the crates – children and adults alike, crying in their sleep. Knowing what they must have gone through the last few days, it was no surprise that their dreams were hellish nightmares. I was chilled to the bones just thinking about it.
Thankfully, my shift ended before my butt froze completely. I left my weapon with the new guard and went in search of a spot to lay my head until morning. Packed as it was with warm bodies, inside the crater was the best place to thaw from the cold.
I was careful not to step on anybody; the poor bastards needed all the rest they could get because we still had a long way to go. Lucky for me, I found a good spot and wedge myself in.
As I was drifting off to sleep, I heard voices talking quietly in the dark -a woman and a child.
‘Just a bad dream.’ The woman said.
The child sniffed loudly, ‘I’m scared, mama.’
‘It’s okay to be scared. I’m also scared too. But we have each other, and everything will be fine.’
‘Promise?’ The child asked.
‘Of course, I promise. Besides, the war will soon be over. After it all settles, we’ll return home, just in time for the planting season.’
Unlikely, I thought.
The war would rage on because both kingdoms were fevered with blood lust. I was certain that it was just the beginning. When the sun touched the horizon, we would continue the march to the southern borders. It was still several weeks away, and many of us would not make it.
And why don’t you save your own skin? You don’t owe these people anything? Run far away.
The same old argument I had with myself.
I shut out the voices, including the ones in my head, and soon I was fast asleep.