Mud was filling up my nostrils. I was lying face down. Steel helmet, damaged by the blow, felt heavier than heaven. Is this the end, my only friend? Might be. But not yet. I have always thought that in such a situation I would find myself thinking about my family – my daughters and my wife, about my mistress and about the good times I had with my drinking buddies at the Empty Keg. Non of it was there and even if it found its way into my mind, it was burried at the very bottom beneath the sudden feeling of fear, the weight of my armor, the stinging pain sweat kept causing to my eyes, the diziness, the heat, the infinite hordes of enemies that were supposed to be… miles and miles away. Something went wrong and I was just about to pay the price.
Suddenly darkness fell around. Everything felt light and somehow delightful, like a beautiful piece of ice slowly melting away. How I would love to dive in ice, slide down the glaciers into blue-ish lakes. I felt like I could even walk away. Walk away from the light, from the war. From the monstrous task of getting back to my feet, lifting that rusty longsword and cutting my enemies in the name of a lord, whose name I did not remember. They say that wars are pointless, that wars are not humane. I could not say. At that point, it simply never matters. What matters are the primal instincts, it‘s the fatigue, it is the enemy who very well could have been my drinking buddy, but not at this war. Maybe in the next one, pal. What matters is not the talking, but the swinging. I couldn‘t do either. Was that the end?
What is this place?, I couldn‘t help but think. It looks like some kind of a philosophers‘ sanctuary. Do all warriors become philosophers at the end, or only the unfortunate bunch? Merchants on ships used to talk about formidable fighters dressed in simple clothes who drew their strenght from contemplating, from hours spent meditating in their temples. “One day, they will come down the mountain, and they will be your kingdom‘s bane” was one of their common lines. From overseas, aye, let them taste the roughness of the storms. It takes more than formidable spirit to lead an army across oceans, and it takes more than formiadble clothes to stop a longsword.
I was falling down. Specific thoughts lost their contours and became a blurr and I kept falling down and down until I was hovering over the field of battle. The scene was horrifying – pure chaos ruled the world of man that day. No man held the reins of control. They never do. I always suspected that the only ones in control of what was going on were vultures, ready to feast on human flesh. They came with the thunder banging of drums of war. No bards sign of vultures. Vultures don‘t make a glorious story. They claw your eyes out. I saw them flying in circles, waiting. Men were dying along with their horses, their opponents celebrating another escape from death‘s list. I heard wounded men crying for mercy, I heard men shouting orders. I heard the music of battle – the sinister sound of swift blows missing, the thumps of mace hitting a shield, or someone‘s head, the clink of parry. And I thought wait, some time ago, I was out there as well – where am I? And I started to panic. What if I get killed whilst I fly here? Why am I even flying? Men do not fly! Mayhaps only the dead ones. That‘s too much thinking to be done by a soldier who got used to obeying orders! I would like to sit down, but there is no stone in the air, let alone a chair. Should I consult a God? Will my ancestors come from heaven to counsel me? I wish I could have an ale.
The world started to spin. All sound died away. Only silence remained with echoes of thump, thump, thump somewhere from within. It could very well be my heart, I realized. Then came breathing, heavy breathing. Desperately trying to get some air, I was choking on mud. My ribcage hurt, my head felt as if someone had nailed it to a wall above a fireplace. I opened my eyes. I coughed blood. Then I coughed some more. I found myself kneeling with my longsword still in my hand, albeit loose. Up, up, up! came the voice from my Weapons Master. Strange, he was dead. Blows kill, thoughts kill, slow dies smart survives! Up, up, UP! Training drill. Those long summer days, cold and wet autumn days and freezing nights of winter. Enough! I stood up. Balance came… hard. Some men were shouting at me in a language I did not understand. The enemies? I looked to my right, then to my left, and recognized no one from our hastily established vanguard. Uuuaaaaarrrrr a slash was coming, over head. Goddamn it! Light parry, step aside, do your best to maintain balance. A straight stab, block it to the side, spin in the other direction and go for a back slash. That‘s the dance! Ding. Sound of steel swords clashing rang out ears. Left, right, swing towards my knees, what a bastard! Evade one slash, then another, gain momentum, squat and shove it right through his guts!
The swing came out of nowhere, unexpected but with brute force. It cut my sword, which was still stuck in the guts of my foe, into two pieces. Pain shot through my arm up to my back. And worse, I was left with something barely the lenght of a dagger. Horrified, I looked at my opponent and failed to muster up some courage. He was tall and bloody huge. And fast, also, I thought when he hit me sideways with his greatsword, knocking me down. Out of the blue. He was kneeling on me, choking me with his left hand and punching me with his right. There was too much pain, too many things going on at the same time to put up any resistance. This is it. I saw shadows in the sky. Vultures, I thought. Then I lost consciousness.
I woke up, sweating, and heart beating fast. I saw a woman preparing a breakfast.
“Mom” I blurted, “I don‘t want to be a knight. I don‘t want to hurt people. I want to be a painter.”
“Isn‘t that sweet, child?” she responded. “But you are a man. A man with knight’s blood pulsing through your veins. Now go to the yard and practice swordplay with your brothers.”
And so I did.