Cheers and salutes followed Eian, but when he turned to face them, all he saw was a field of corpses.
Their limbs stuck and bent at odd angles. Spears and arrows stuck up in the hundreds like a poorly-tended garden of the damned. Blood. Blood. Blood.
Yet they called him a hero. Eian delivered victory here at Ulten Ridge. He rallied the men after their lieutenant’s death. Spurred them all to a ravenous revenge battle. Against every hope and prayer, they won.
Eian and his men carved their way through the enemy, driven by feral fury. Before long, Eian was dueling the enemy leader. Shortly thereafter he triumphantly held a head up above the field by a fistful of curly brown hair.
The enemy scattered.
The Heissians roared in victory.
But now that his adrenaline waned, Eian saw all the lives lost. Felt the souls drifting away in the air. His throat swelled with the sheer number.
This man wore a wedding band.
That one over there had a mouth-shaped bruise on his neck from the night before.
A lock of hair dangled around this one’s neck. Was it his woman’s or his child’s?
Eian’s stomach roiled. Acid flooded his mouth.
It never felt like this when he was taking orders. His superiors issued the commands. Eian obeyed. Clear cut obedience. Because if he didn’t, it would have been his own head.
But after the lieutenant’s death, the orders from on high ceased. Eian found it easy to take up the mantle because someone had to. He delivered a stirring speech to his defeated compatriots, urging them to regain their strength, it felt inspiring. Every word barked out of his mouth earned him nods and agreement. He had sensed the will to live return to each man and woman. He gave that to them.
But the aftermath…
The aftermath crippled him.
These were men with dreams.
These were women with charming laughs.
He burned every dream. Sliced the laughing throats.
He bent over and retched into the grass.
A warm hand pressed down on Eian’s shoulder. He swatted it away—only to find one of his fellow captains looking stricken.
“It’s just me, Akamar,” Rast said. “You alright?”
Eian nodded. “Sorry.”
“Battle messes with your stomach and your head. Probably thought I was one of these fucks come back to life.” Rast jerked a thumb at a nearby body. She had beautiful green eyes. Like spring moss. A tear’s path still shimmered on her freckled cheek. Eian stared at her, horror arresting his throat.
Rast didn’t see it. “Don’t worry. They’re all good and dead. My men are combing through them. Killing survivors.” Eian looked to his peer, eyes wide. Rast only smiled. “You might make lieutenant for this, Akamar.”
“No.” Eian shot up from the ground.
“Well if you don’t want it, I’ll gladly accept—”
“No. Order your men to capture not kill.”
Rast’s brow furrowed. “But they—”
“Now!” Eian commanded, balling his fists.
Rast wasn’t Eian’s to order. They were the same rank. But because Eian won this day, Rast obeyed, hurrying off to correct his apparent wrong.
Eian pinched the bridge of his nose. A throbbing headache consumed his skull. When he had the courage to open his eyes again, the carnage remained. It may never leave him.
He found the woman again, his sight gravitated to her like sharks to chum. His heavy, tired arms fell to his sides. The grass whispered under his boots like their final words.
Eian knelt beside her, kissed his knuckles, and closed her beautiful springtime eyes.
He rose from the dirt, drew a breath that tasted of iron and smoke, and steeled himself to bear the granite pauldrons of a hero.
Happy Friday! Prompt came from Terrible Minds, Chuck Wendig’s blog, where he hosts a writing theme every Friday.