The Aftermath

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Warfare and Military
In the stories you never hear of what happens after the happy ending.

The tales get so dark but in the end, everything ends up hopeful and happy.

You never hear of the lost families, the loved ones who never made it home.

You never find out what happens to the one person who put everything and everyone he loved on the line and lost it all.

You're never told of the mother who protected her children until the last drop of her blood gushed from scores of wounds.

You never see the unknown child who picked up a weapon to defend a sibling.

So much left unsaid and so much more unfelt, can we really ignore such stories that are aching to be told?

Submitted: July 20, 2016

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Submitted: July 20, 2016

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It's all in that look, that horrible cross between happiness and guilt. They want me to tell them it's ok. To smile at them despite everything, but all I can do is turn away in unspoken permission for them to enjoy the time with their families. It's not like they haven't lost anything; homes, family members, friends... 

I can barely look anyone in the eye. Every time I hear a child laugh it's like an axe scything through my soul. Though I still come to this park, read the plaque on the memorial fountain, run my fingers over their names and replay my fading memories of them. Every day. 

My days consist of a torturous cycle of misery and guilt. 

"I miss you." 

The same words have tumbled out before, my tears burn down the barely dried tracks of every other visit. Time and again I try to say something worthy of them, something that conveys the depth of my grief that they're not with me. On every visit I fail. 

It was a war we never should have survived, let alone won and I should never have left them.

"They'll be safe here." The garrison commander had said.

They had 7 armies - we barely had one.

Just as we broke through their lines and reached their leader, 20 miles away their 4th army tore through the fortress and its garrison. I can't even blame the commander there - he died too well for that. Hundreds of their dead soldiers were sprawled around him as he held them in a narrow hallway leading to where our families were holed up. Their leader went down under my blade as my men and I tore into their center, but the real hero was my wife, she threw herself on one of the attackers who had burst through the doors after the commander and his men sold their lives dearly.

Four survivors. 

Out of over 200 people.

The tears are falling down the plaque face now.

My wife died defending our son and daughter, said one survivor. My son picked up a sword and fought off three men in a rage as they tried to desecrate his mother's body, I was told by another. He died on the end of a spear as he stood in front of his dead mother and terrified sister. 

We arrived just too late.

They were in the midst of sacking the fortress when we hit them; we stormed through the unguarded gate. Tired, no, dead on our feet and surged towards the keep, killing the pockets of men who had scattered to do what men do after breaking through in a siege; rape, pillage, murder, torture...

Parrying the thrust, I countered with a murderous riposte tearing out one bastard's throat and ran on down the twisting stone corridors, deeper into the bowels of the keep where I had left my family. Reaching the door into the large strongroom we found it sundered and could hear the terror-filled screams inside, I ran on past the bodies of the men who had tried so hard to hold on, though I wouldn't see them until later, as I ran I witnessed a soldier finish off a young girl with a quick thrust to her spine.

She was my daughter.

With a blood-chilling scream of grief and rage I threw myself into the room and completely lost it. 

I have no conscious memory of what happened next, I just remember the fog of my mind slowly clearing as I was drenched in blood and cradling the bodies of my family. Men tip-toed around me searching the dead, killing the enemy wounded and giving the mercy blow to our own people who were too far gone and getting help for those who would make it - there were all too few of the latter. 

Apparently, Garen was there the whole time. At my shoulder as my blood fury - his description - pulled me from one enemy to the next. He said that I was vicious, completely oblivious to danger and fought like a baresark. Garen barely had the chance to get his sword wet as I smashed through soldier after soldier, every time I moved, "another enemy died screaming".

It was what happened deep in that keep - not killing their leader - that created the legend everyone sees when they look at me. Only a handful of men followed me into that strongroom, against over a hundred enemy. 

We killed them all.

I killed them all.

The people who spread the tale talk of a God of war come-to-life. Not an unhinged, grieving father and husband whose grip on reality collapsed in a fury-fueled orgy of violence and death. 

Now my life is nothing more than endless horror as I see Sora being cut down again and again. 

The dreams where I'm with them, laughing and playing and teasing, eating dinner, cooking, hunting with my son, cuddling Sora as she reads a book out loud... They are the worst to bear. Every morning after these dreams I wake up and look around the house for them. Hoping my wife's giggles will give away their hiding spot. Then it hits me, like losing them all over again. Feeling like a beast is rending my soul from my body, one strip at a time.

That's when I remember they're gone and that I failed them.

That's when I resolve to come and honour them, here at the fountain raised in their memory.

Every day. 

Enduring the whispers, the stares, the thinly veiled pity and the guilt.

Today is the last day. I will join them in paradise or a very welcome oblivion.

A cough sounds from behind me. Slowly I turn my head and see a gaunt-looking man in well made clothes watching me, nervously. I don't have the energy to tell him to leave so I smile apologetically and make to walk away.

"Don't go..." the stranger says hesitantly. "Sh... she was my sister."

"Why have we never met?"

He had the good grace to look embarrassed. "Our parents hated the idea that she had married a penniless soldier, I played the dutiful son and stayed away, but we wrote often, secretly."

Taking a step towards me, he stumbles, clearly in a weakened state. My arm swings up to catch his and steadies him as I lead him towards one of the benches around the fountains. Nodding his thanks, the man reaches into the satchel at his side and hands me some scrolls, I catch sight of the writing and inhale sharply as I recognise the hand. 

"You didn't fail them," I almost miss what he says as I stare dumfounded at the letters.

"I did, I should've stayed at home with them."

"You'd have died too."

My eloquent reply is to shrug and look at my feet.

"Papa, look." a high-pitched voice interjects.

The stranger looks up in horror at the little girl jumping around in the fountain's water, he waves frantically at her and she glares as she climbs out and walks over to stand with her hands on her hips.

"That fountain is a memorial to your aunt and cousins," he begins to lecture the girl as she does a great job of looking bored.

"So where are they...?" the girl looks around and throws her arms out wide as if expecting them to reveal themselves.

Her papa, clearly in a state of distress, glances at me whilst simultaneously flinching.

All I can do is start laughing at the girl's exasperated expression. 

"This, is your uncle Bleddyn and your aunt and cousins were his wife and children, they died in the war. I told you all this dozens of times"

"Just because you told me, doesn't mean I listened." My... niece retorts over her shoulder as she approaches me. "So you're the hero in the family?"

I shake my head. "Not a hero, just Bleddyn."

She smiles and tilts her head, my stomach turning over at the memory that eerily familiar movement triggers. 

"Is it your wife I'm named for? Alayna?"

I nod as the grief swells in my throat again. Looking into her eyes I see she has sensed my pain and can only watch as she flings her arms wide, wraps them around my neck, pulls herself into my lap and starts to cry.

Just like Sora used to.

Strangely, I ignore my own misery and wrap my arms around her in an attempt to calm the sobs.

"It scares me how much she resembles my sister. I'm Aaric and I have something to ask of you." He turns to Alayna. "Are you okay? Would you give your uncle and I a little privacy?"

Drying her eyes on my shirt, she smiles and hops off my lap and runs full pelt at the fountain, jumping in with a splash and a squeal of delight.

"How old is she?"

"Eight. Bledyn, I'm dying. I have a growth and the healers say the cancers are spreading faster. I grow weaker by the day..."

"I don't understand, why are you telling me this?"

He gazes at Alayna with a mixture of pride and pure love then turns back to me.

"You're the only family she has left."

My head whirls as I grasp the meaning behind his words. He hands me a scroll, the movement causing a coughing fit and when he pulls his handkerchief away from his mouth, a red bloom of blood is soaking into the material.

"This is a transfer of rights, you are now Earl of Opari and Alayna's guardian."

"Just like that? No choice, no discussion? Does she know? An Earl?" I ask, still playing catch up.

He smiles and shakes his head in amusement. "I've told her, but whether she listened..." 

Despite the weighty subject, I laugh. "So what now?"

"You and Alayna go to wherever you wish to call home, whether that be in your current one or one of your... new residences." 

"... And you?"

"I disappear and die." He says softly, but with a quiet authority.

"Why not come with us? Die in your home having spent every last moment with your child?" I begin to get angry at his plan.

"I can't..."

"You can," my temper explodes and I surge to my feet, drawing everyone's attention to me. "do you understand what I would give to have one more second with Sora or Coniah? Yet, here you are telling me you're going to leave Alayna with me and just disappear?"

"Don't you want to be my new family?" Both of us turn to find the girl looking at me with widened, tear-filled eyes. 

My anger fades at the loss and sadness contained in her expression. I slump down onto the bench and sigh.

"I will do as you ask, Aaric, but on one condition. You come with us, I'll care for Alayna and both of us will care for you for however long you have left, otherwise I walk away now and do what I had set out to do this morning..."

Aaric nods, conceding to my terms. 

"Alayna, I am not your 'new family', I am part of your current family. I'll need your help though," the little girl tilts her head in confusion and I drop my voice to a whisper. "Someone is going to have to teach me how to be an Earl because I don't have any idea where to begin..."


© Copyright 2017 M K Brown. All rights reserved.

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