Reflections on a War Long Past: The Broken Sword
It has been ten years since the war, and the broken sword still hangs above my mantle. It gleams with its silvery sheen, a constant reminder of what I loved... and lost.
The war was so many years ago, and most of my comrades are scattered across the land. My memories, at times, are hazy, but as I sit back in my armchair and stare at the mounted sword, I cannot help but remember. The emotions roll over me like a ceaseless tide: the thrill of battle, the joy of flight, the pangs of fear, the ache of regret.
It happened a long time ago, and I was just a kid. But it's time I disregard my youth. I was a fool.
Ten years is enough time for wounds to heal, even though scars will always remain. A decade is enough time to dismiss, but not long enough to forget.
The yellow Draik inhaled deeply and raised his bow with unwavering strength. The bowstring made a soft twang as he released. The arrow embedded itself deep within the bullseye of the practice target, and the young Draik, usually reserved, could not help but grin.
"That was quite a shot," came a voice, deep and amused, from behind the Draik.
"Commander Hadran!" the Draik stammered as he lowered his bow and wheeled around. The soldier managed a hasty bow. "I didn't realize that you were watching, sir." The Draik shrank beneath the steady gaze of such a renowned and decorated commander, one of the youngest, it was said, to receive such a title.
The red Lupe chuckled. "I watch training sessions occasionally. I like to see how the new recruits are shaping up. And so far, I like what I see. You're a natural marksman..." Commander Hadran paused, waiting for the Draik to chime in with his name.
"I'm Valier, sir. And thank you. But if you have any tips, Commander... I still have a long way to go before I'm the best archer in the Meridell army."
"I don't doubt it," the Commander said with a smile. "Just get your left arm a bit straighter..." The Lupe circled around the young soldier, fixing his posture and correctly positioning his bow arm.
"Now you'll have power and accuracy, just what a top archer needs." Commander Hadran nodded approvingly as Valier shot a second bullseye. "How long have you been training, Valier?"
"It's been a few months since I've joined the army, sir."
"I see," the Commander said, nodding as he spoke, "And do you have any family? Any siblings in the army or area?"
"No, sir. I'm staying in the army barracks currently." Valier had considered shooting another arrow, but he put his bow down now and respectfully met the Lupe's gaze.
"Well, Valier, I'll tell you what. On your next holiday, send me word and you'll come over and have a nice home-cooked meal. This army gruel can really do a number on you..." The Lupe's own stomach growled at his words, as if on cue, and the two pets shared a laugh. "And," the Commander continued, his eyes sparkling, "once you've completed your training, I'll put in a special request for you to be transferred to my unit. We could always use a good archer." The Lupe winked. "That is all, soldier. Carry on!"
"Yes, sir!" Valier shouted as the Commander turned to proceed throughout the training camp, "And Commander Hadran?" The red Lupe looked back. "Thank you."
"Valier!" The Draik stepped forward at the sound of his name to shake paws with the army's general, and to receive his training completion certificate. Valier scanned the crowd as he stepped forward and spotted Commander Hadran, nodding approvingly. Warmth radiated through the young Draik with the unspoken praise of his commander.
"Congratulations to our young graduates!" the Ixi's voice boomed, concluding the ceremony. With that, many pets rushed forward to commend the newly-named soldiers.
"Well done," the Commander growled, punching Valier affectionately on the shoulder. "Top marks in everything I see," he said gruffly, but with playful amusement in his voice. "Trying to claim my record of the youngest commander, eh? Well, let me remind you that I got better marks in sword fighting, even if you were a point or two higher in archery."
"Which would explain our respective weapons, huh Commander?" The Lupe harrumphed but Valier could see the pride written across his face.
"Don't think you can take it easy, Valier, just because you're good with the bow," Commander Hadran said. "Or so I hear, anyway..." The two exchanged smiles. "Bright and early, tomorrow morning. You're under my command now, soldier!"
"Yes, sir!" Valier shouted.
The battle was upon them, and they were sorely outnumbered. "Fall back!" came the Commander's hoarse cry, "Fall back to the hills! We'll hold them there!" The soldiers, bruised and battered, heard and obeyed. A steady stream of monsters flowed from the hills and beyond. To Valier, it looked endless. He knocked arrow after arrow as he flew above the battlefield, but it was just too much.
"Enemies steady—from the northwest hills—two hundred, maybe more..." Valier managed to report once he flew down to meet Commander Hadran. "If we can bottleneck them, sir, I may be able to hold them off..." The Draik was on the ground now, patting his bow.
"Two hundred, you say?" Commander Hadran repeated slowly, wiping away the sweat that dripped off his forehead. The Lupe's yellow eyes misted with some impossible calculation. "We'll be able to hold them for now, but we'll need reinforcements." His voice was shaky at first, as if he were only muttering to himself, but then grew more confident when he figured out what had to be done.
"Valier!" The yellow Draik snapped to attention. "I need you to fly south to Captain Yirial's division, and guide them here as reinforcements."
"Sir," Valier protested, "I'm one of the best archers in the division and you need me right here, in order to fend off the incoming enemies..."
"Valier!" The Lupe's voice was sharp, "You may be the best archer, but you're also one of the fastest fliers and right now I need you to fetch reinforcements. Quickly!"
The young Draik was torn, his face wrought with confusion. "But Commander—"
"We'll be all right," Commander Hadran said sharply. "I've never lost a battle before." When the Draik seemed unconvinced, the Lupe sighed.
"I'll be fine, Valier! I swear on my... my sword!" The Commander withdrew his slender, silver blade and crossed it against his chest. "Now fly, Valier! That's an order!"
With one last mournful look at his Commander, Valier leapt into the air and flew with every muscle in his body. The wind pummeled against the yellow Draik, but he narrowed his eyes, gritted his teeth, and flew onward.
When Valier finally reached the troops, he plummeted down and greeted the Captain with none of the usual formalities, but instead reported the situation with grave determination, willing the reinforcements to hurry. The troops moved out almost immediately, but Valier feared it may have already been too late. He soared above them as they marched, wondering the entire while if he should have stayed.
By the time Captain Yirial's troops arrived, the battleground had already thinned. The enemies were exhausted and the reinforcements swept through the hills with ease. Wounded soldiers littered the field but the medics from both divisions were already tending to the injured. Valier circled overhead, scanning the ground below.
"Commander! Commander Hadran!" he cried, diving head-first. The red Lupe was lying on the ground, and his sword was a few paces away, broken.
"Valier... is that you?" The Commander turned to face the yellow Draik who was kneeling next to him. His breathing was labored, and Valier took the Lupe's paw. "We won... the battle. I told you."
"I should have stayed," Valier said hopelessly, the words tumbling out. "I could have helped. I should have helped!" His voice ached with a desperate longing. "Or I should have gone sooner—I shouldn't have argued with you. I never argue... But I wasn't here when you needed me. I wasn't here..."
Commander Hadran moved his head slightly. "You... followed orders. Thank you..." He coughed and extended one paw to point. "My sword." Valier picked up the pieces of the sword gingerly, its edges now jagged and splintered, and set it beside the Commander.
"Your sword now... I'm so proud..."
Valier shook his head. "No, you were the one who was always good with the sword remember? I'm just an archer..." A slight smile appeared on the Lupe's muzzle, but Valier could feel the hot tears forming in his eyes and a quiver in his lip.
"Real soldiers... never cry," the Commander whispered, squeezing Valier's hand. "So... proud..."
Valier picked up the sword's broken pieces and stared at his own wide-eyed reflection in the unblemished metal. "Yes, sir."
I open my eyes once the memories have washed over me. I'm disoriented to find myself in my living room, staring at that same sword, perched on my wall. It hasn't changed in the last decade. It's strange really, that I should be the one to rust while the sword gleams brighter with age.
And, suddenly, I cannot hold back any longer. A tear crinkles in the corner of my eye and I shake my head angrily, willing it away with sheer force. But it's a torrent that cannot be stopped.
Soldiers don't cry, I remind myself. Soldiers don't cry. They never shed a tear. But it has been ten years, and I am a soldier no longer.
I am a fool.