Dusk fell across the barren, blood-soaked fields of the northern plains. Richard, a young, tired soldier grunted as he dragged the limp dead body of a fallen comrade back to the camp. He looked around to see his fellow soldiers slowly walking alongside him, with weary, bloody faces and heads hung low. Another hard day of battle had ended. It could hardly be called a victory for either side. Many good lives had been lost that day. Many more would die before either side surrendered.
“Surprised you’re still alive!” Richard looked up to see his friend, John with a few fresh wounds on his face. John made a weak attempt at a smile. Richard knew he was only trying to lighten the mood from all the pain they had suffered that day. But Richard could not bring himself to even fake a small chuckle. He was disgusted, sick of fighting, sick of the war, sick of the corrupt king he served that sent him into battle over a pointless dispute. The war had started months ago over a dispute between two neighboring nations over a small piece of land. This was not his fight.
John sighed, seeing his efforts were in vain. “At least you’re better off than that guy,” John muttered in a bitter tone, nodding his head at the dead soldier Richard was dragging. Richard clenched his teeth. He hated that kind of talk. A loud thump sounded as Richard dropped the legs of the dead soldier to the ground and turned to face John. He opened his mouth to yell at him when suddenly a loud cry echoed across the field.
“SHIELDS!” the commander yelled. Richard quickly spun around to see the intimidating sight of hundreds of tiny pinpricks of light in the night sky. Fire arrows! In a single swift motion, Richard knelt to the ground, grabbed the shield strapped to his back and braced it in front of him. Just as his shield as in place, the first arrow struck, embedding itself deep in his shield. The sounds of hundreds of other arrows whizzing past sounded, some ending with a loud clang of striking a shield or armor, others ending with a painful cry of a comrade.
Cowards, Richard thought. They had broken the ceasefire agreement and seized the opportunity of a surprise attack. As the sound of arrows slowed and stopped, Richard peeked out from behind his shield. No more arrows could be seen in the sky. He grunted and rose to his feet, looking around at what damage had been caused. He saw the dead body he had been dragged had two fresh arrows in its torso, and one in its thigh. He turned to check on John, who was now laying flat on the ground, partially covered by his own shield. Richard tossed the shield to the side, and froze suddenly as he saw the ill fate that had befallen his friend. John lay motionless on the ground, an arrow embedded in his eye. Richard could smell the burning flesh of his friend as the fire arrow continued to burn away at his lifeless body. Several minutes passed as Richard soaked in the tragic sight.
Richard looked around to see many more dead and injured, a hundred questions racing through his head. How could this have happened? Why was he still alive when his friends were dying around him? He looked down at John’s hand clenched in his own, already starting to go cold. Not a tear was shed at the loss of his old friend. No, there would be time later to mourn, Richard thought. Now was the time for action. Richard carefully place John’s hand over his heart. “Rest in peace, my friend.”
Richard grabbed his sword and bow and started running towards to the forest on the side of the field. As he reached the front tree line, he slowed down and started curving his path toward the enemy camp. All the while, he kept asking himself the same questions. Why would they break the rules of war? Surely it was not an order given by their king. He would know the negative consequences in future wars. No, their commander had to be responsible for John’s death. It was he that deprived John of an honorable death in battle. Even as he ran, Richard did not know what his plan was. He had to end this one way or another. There was so much injustice, so much death. Why was he still alive after this all? He needed it all to end.
Richard slowed down as he reached the end of the forest. He squinted in the night at the enemy camp that lay in the distance. A hundred yards to his left was a scout, facing the field. Richard drew a thin dagger and crept slowly forward, foot by foot, being careful not to make a sound. Fifty yards. Thirty yards. Ten yards. He could hear the scout’s steady breathing now. He continued forwards until he was right behind the scout. In a smooth motion, he reached forward around the scout’s neck, and slit his throat. A soft gurgling could be heard as the man trying to shout for help. But his throat was now filled with blood, slowly suffocating him. Richard looked down. He felt no mercy, not after what they had done.
Further towards the camp he saw two more soldiers sitting on a fallen log by a small fire. Richard drew his bow and dropped to one knee. He fitted an arrow and drew the string back. For several minutes he took aim, being careful to account for the subtle motions of his target and the soft wind blowing from the east. His fingers ached, but still he waited longer. Until at last, a soft flit as the arrow was loosed, flying straight through the chest of his target. The other soldier stood up, shocked at the sight of his companion’s sudden death. Richard took that opportunity to loose a second arrow, striking the man’s thigh. He let out a sudden scream in pain, but it was quickly cut short by a third arrow piercing his skull.
Richard had to move quickly now. Someone surely would have heard the scream. He sprinted towards the first line of tents, hiding behind one just as two more soldiers walked passed on the other side. Richard circled around the tent, slowly making his way to the center of the encampment. His target laid just ahead, a large tent with two guards standing outside. He circled behind the tent, moving swiftly and silently. A soft tearing noise sounded as he made a long slit in the tent’s canvas with his dagger. He stepped through to see the enemy commander, softly snoring in a rhythmic fashion.
Richard took a moment to enjoy this last moment of peace and silence. He knew the unforgivable crime he was about to commit, and he did not care. Everyone and everything he cared about was gone. “For John,” he whispered as he lifted his sword high above his head, and brought it down upon the sleeping man, beheading him it one clean stroke. The guards outside heard the commotion and stepped in to the sight of Richard carrying the bloody sword and the lifeless body of their commander.
A loud, deep cry of alarm echoed throughout the camp as the hundreds of soldiers awoke suddenly. Richard grinned and shouted his own battle cry and he leapt forward, swinging his sword wildly. Time seemed to slow down as he swung time after time at the guards. He could barely feel the blow to his arm, or the deep cut to his gut. The fight was drawn outside, where he could see dozens more soldiers running towards him, weapons in hand. A sudden slash at his ankle caused him to collapse on his back. No regrets, Richard thought to himself as they raised their weapons and landed the killing blow. He was finally at peace.