THERE ARE FEW PLACES more grim, or more detestable than a battlefield in Summer. While the storytellers and musicians spin florid descriptions, telling eager audiences of how fates were made and glories won on their hallowed ground, the reality is filth, pain, and misery. This battlefield was no better, and in many respects, far worse. The once grassy, soft turf had been torn by footfall and catastrophe, no longer the home of many an insect and beast, it now played host to the bodies of some six thousand dead folk. Each of them dressed to their own design, wearing their own unique icons of faith or fealty, but brought into singular confederation by the manner of their end. Such is the irony of a battlefield, that two people who by fate or circumstance stood on opposing sides, would now find themselves connected and alike in the most important of ways. I had, however, found myself excluded from this arrangement, for the time being. My purview was to be dying, but not quite dead, body pierced and broken by shrapnel, flesh burned near to the bone, and suffering miseries so fierce that I could not even bring myself to announce them.
The central feature of this ground was a glassy, ashen circle – through which one could stride a hundred paces without reaching the other side. This region, in turn, found itself separated into three concentric rings. The outermost was where shrapnel and sheer force had ended most lives, mounds of corpses bent in unnatural configurations, and pockmarked with rubble and debris. The next ring was a smoking ruin; the heat had instantly torched most of the dry grass, and the folk who stood on it. Where there had previously been the greens and yellows of Summer, there was now the grey and black of ash and charcoal. It was between this ring and the last that I now lay, spared the immediate incineration that many of my compatriots experienced, but granted a slow and miserable end in its place. The innermost circle was a bowl of glass. Within this boundary, there was nothing that even approximated life, just shapes and materials whose being there was defined entirely by Geometry and Chemistry.
The folk that stood there were no longer represented by forms, but by their absence. Where they stood, there were now only shadows. They had been made into dust, and that dust had been scattered to the winds. In those moments, it was they who I envied the most: those whose lives had ended like an oil flask hitting the floor – a moment of great sound, and then silence. That was another feature of this battlefield, or lacking I suppose. Again, a detail missed by the bards, for whom a man being ended was a climax of a story, with the time after quietly offered as a chance for the audience to collect themselves. I knew this was not so. The deaths earned of a battle fought with iron and wood were loud, long and terrible. The sounds of a soldier who had been run through, formed of prayer or cries, growing quieter but never silent until the last breath. But this battlefield was silent, bar one man.
Perhaps my hearing had been taken from me, and I was instead in a chorus of dying folk. I could feel the blood dribbling from my ears, and was for a moment grateful that it was one fewer sense to have assaulted. If there were the sounds of death and dying, it seemed a small charity that I should be spared them. My right arm was capable of some degree of motion, but was excruciating to try, so I stopped. My left arm, which I thought I might be lying on, was completely numb beyond a burrowing pain at the shoulder. At best I had dislocated it, as I had done pulling a cart four years prior and at worst, it was no longer connected at all. The difference seemed purely academic, who cared whether a dying man’s arm was attached or not? The edges of my vision had begun to fade, but there was one sound that kept bringing me back to consciousness. It was the screaming of a man, a screaming of such intensity and sorrow that it had rowsed me from the brink of oblivion.
I would later be told the nature of that scream. It was the sound made by a man who had lost everything, everything he held so dear and close, but had drawn from it such fire, hatred and death, that the land would bear its mark for a thousand seasons hence.