Our Vast and Inevitable Death
by S. Boyd Taylor
On the tenth day of the battle, in the before-dawn lull, I see our leader, Warlord Grig, walking
the pickets alone, staring at the distant campfires of our enemies the way I have stared at them
myself. Not with fear, not with desperation, but with a hard and empty soul. There are only two
thousand of us here, wedged between the everwhite slopes of the Varrashan and the perfect cone
of the Krazelshan. But out there, down in the pass and out on the plain, the camp fires stretch
unto the horizon and past, so far that I cannot tell them from the stars.
I am nobody, a peasant from a village. Son of a pig farmer. But I hesitate only a moment before
going to my Warlord and placing my fist on my heart.
He nods to me, and I relax as he looks out again at the campfires -- at our vast and inevitable
death -- and says, "My arm is tired, Pikeman Hellar."
"Sir?" I am surprised he knows my name. I have only talked to him a few times, as few as any
other pikeman or halberdier may have. Passing greetings, small opportune conversations. He
must know all of our names.
He says: "My arm is tired. My shoulder, my elbow, my hand. I have cut down eight-hundred and
twenty-six Boskee. I can barely move my fingers even to scratch a flea, they are locked in the
shape of a pommel. You were a farmer -- pigs, wasn't it? -- no stranger to hard work. What
would you suggest I do tomorrow?"
"Use your left arm. Sir."
He smiles at that, and looks away from Death's dark eye and into mine. "We won't get out of
this alive, you know."
We all know. Maybe we didn't on the march out here, but we know now. The best we can do is
slow down the Boskee advance. Let the other legions get in place, let Castle Maur prepare.
Though how they can prepare for this, I'm not sure. There must be more Boskee fighting men
than all the people in the homelands.
I feel a movement in my gut. I have to say something into this silence, into this void opening
around us to suck our spirits in. "Our deaths don't matter, sir. In the city of Wujia in Shaou, they
killed most every man and boy child. A man who escaped wandered through our village and told
us the blood was as high as your waist in the central square. Heads were piled into pyramids
taller than the watch tower. And the women . . . What they did . . . Those demons."
"We will not stop them."
"I know that, sir. But we have to try."
"Three more days. If we can hold them three more days."
He nods at me and I place my fist over my heart.
It will be tomorrow that I see him die, pierced through by so many arrows that I cannot see the
shape of the man at the core. It will be tomorrow that the Boskee break us and chase us like the
tide unto the gray gravestone walls of Castle Maur that cannot hold, cannot possibly last. It will
be less than a year before the Boskee burn every Maurn they can find alive, overturn and shatter
the towering stone bodies of our Gods, and hang chandeliers made from the femurs and skulls of
babies from the roofs of our temples so they can listen to the tiny, perfect sound as the wind
But for now, we are inspired. We both look out at the countless twinkling campfires and silently
promise to kill two-hundred Boskee today. No, two thousand.
We each remember where we came from -- I from a small mudhole, he from a great palace --
and think of our fathers and brothers and mothers and sisters, and we mumble prayers under our
breath to call down the might of our soon-to-be-fallen Gods so our loved ones will not be killed,
will not be captured. And while we pray, we beg not a single favor for our own lives.
"There," Warlord Grig says. "Those torches. They are marshalling."
"I am ready," I say. And I believe that I am, but I am not. I cannot be. I think this is just a war,
just swords and steel and horses. I do not realize that my entire people, my entire culture and
language can be erased from history. I do not yet know that Gods can die.
"Pikeman Hellar, have the herald sound formations."