The soldier sat astride his steed on the cliff, his blade in one of his hands, staring down at the carnage below. They’d won. The battle had lasted for two long, grueling weeks, and he’d lost more than half of his men, a thousand in all.
He’d began this and he’d seen it through. He’d made a living out of slaughter and bloodshed. But now he was tiring. Even generals and lieutenants like him got their fill of bloodlust, didn’t they? He slipped off of his mount and stood next to the beast, taking off his helmet. Ravens and crows swooped around him, occasionally dipping down into the gorge to feast on the carrion he’d had a hand in providing. The thought made his stomach turn, and he winced, resisting the urge to throw up the meager meal he’d consumed that morning at dawn.
How had his life come to this? His horse nickered quietly, and the sound echoed in the silence. It was a hard, bitter pill to swallow, knowing that he’d set such blatant killing into motion. No matter that it was for his country, for his queen. It still felt wrong, and left an oily film coating his mouth and throat. He patted his horse, whispering that he would be rewarded with oats and carrots when they arrived at the next town.
For now, he deserved to see what fresh hell he had help wreak. Even after all these years, he still had a conscience, a heart. And the people he and his men had sacrificed everything to kill had had families, jobs, lovers, children. They’d been more than simple numbers to annihilate on the battlefield.
With that sobering thought, he left his horse and walked down into the gorge, wincing when his boots became stained rust with old blood. The ravens and crows had already begun feasting on the smorgasbord of rotting flesh that lined both sides of the gorge. He had to turn away, and he rubbed the back of his neck.
He was standing in a sea of broken, mangled bodies, and all he could do was say that he was sorry. The heat of the battle did not excuse his sins, and he felt as if his soul had blackened and rotted inside of him. Could a man that made his trade in murder ever be redeemed?
Every body around him felt like a condemnation, a further confirmation that he belonged in hell, as he’d always suspected.
He missed the boy he once was, the boy who’d been idealistic and charismatic and desperate to make a difference in a world that stacked the odds against people from his caste. He’d joined the royal army in hopes that with power came influence. And he’d gotten his wish. But the road he’d followed was paved with blood, tears, sweat, and more than a few dead bodies, and with his talents for strategy, intrigue, and subterfuge had made him one of the king’s most trusted soldiers. When he’d passed, leaving his throne and kingdom to his young wife, she’d elevated him to the position of general, and he’d been more than happy to take the promotion.
But now, standing in this empty gorge, with nothing but regrets to keep him company, he couldn’t help but look back on the years of his life and wonder if it was all just a long series of mistakes he couldn’t even begin to pay for.