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Short Fiction
War and death

Is this a scene of the future or distant past? On this planet or near another star? The universal sacrifice of our ultimate horror, a good man dies in war. When will we ever learn? -Editor

With Your Shield Or On It

by
Syrena Glade


The graceful pride of truth knows no extremes, and preserves, in every latitude of life, the right-angled character of man.
- Thomas Paine, 1737- 1809y


The earth was moving, rolling like a ship on the sea, and he opened his eyes. The strange sensation of motion did not stop once he was awake. His brain slowly processed what his eyes saw: a breastplate of hardened leather, two burly arms, a stocky unshaven chin. A biting pain in his chest forced his eyes to close once again, and he clenched his teeth against the agony. Moans echoed in the cool air, and he shivered, suddenly feeling an intense chill. He opened his eyes again, trying to look down at the lingering ache in his chest, but his strength flagged. His gaze came to rest on the back of another soldier at his feet, watching the man's shoulders shift and move. He knew the terrain was rough from the rocking of the platform upon which he was borne. But what is this platform? he mused, the
thought bouncing through his mind between shocks of pain. The chill intensified, and he felt a tremor pass through his body. He struggled to draw each breath, as if a weight of steel were upon his chest. In one frantic motion he raised his head to gaze upon the cause of the pain. There, embedded in the leather of his own breastplate and the flesh below, was the broken, bloodied shaft of an arrow. His lungs burned as he gasped again, his head lolling back against the solidity of the platform. It suddenly all made sense: this was his shield, and his comrades were using it to bear him away from the field of battle. An act of respect beyond standard battlefield procedures, but he felt gratitude. In this final moment, as he struggled to inhale his last breath, this moment of clarity, he felt honoured and knew he was among friends.

Many days later, after the battle had finished and the fallen lay strewn on the muddied field, a solemn group of soldiers bowed their heads around an open grave. The body of their fallen comrade lay in the crumbling dirt. A few words were said, words for him alone, hushed and broken, before two soldiers carefully laid the shield over the inert form. His short sword lay by his side, and a cloak of heavy fur cradled his head. The hole was filled and the battalion came together to build a cairn atop the fresh black soil. There were many such graves to dig and cairns to build, but this one, the first, the largest, was the loss that would be the hardest to take back to the leaders far away. He would never fight again in this world, but armed with shield and sword, he would be prepared for what may come in the afterlife.

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