I, the Last

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Based on the writing prompt "I hold his sword and wonder if he was a good man."

Submitted: March 09, 2015

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Submitted: March 09, 2015

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I hold his sword and wonder if he was a good man.  There is a softness about his face that makes me sad.  I can see that he is quite beautiful, if I look past the blood on his face.  He looks to be about my age, his light hair pulled back in a rough braid to keep it from his face, his hands not yet worn from work, his chest not yet cracked with scars, his chin still as smooth as mine.  His lashes are long and white, and the light catches their tips as they rest unmoving against his cheekbones.  I cannot see what color his eyes are, for they are closed, and for that I am glad.  Nurse said that looking too long into the eyes of a dead man will make you harsh and heartless as a rogue and a traitor, and that wasn’t suitable for a young lady like me, let alone the daughter of an earl.

That was before the rebellion started.  Before Nurse turned harsh and heartless as a rogue and a traitor.  Before days of siege and nights of attacks, of huddling underground in the dust and grime with the moles and worms and the other motherless children.  Before the men from the northeast came to fight with the rebellion inside our walls, promised better land for their crops and better lives for their sons and gold and riches and wives.

My father is not a good man.  He is strong and cold, and a ruthless warrior.  His only downfall was that he loved my mother.  He learned his lesson when he sold his three sons to save her life, only to be betrayed and watch as his wife was killed.  He changed after that; he spoke to no one for weeks, vanished from the city, leaving his small, weak cousin to rule, and returning in such a dark, icy fury that all feared to go up against him.  For a time.

The day before my mother died, I asked him why he had not sold me too, along with my brothers.  He said that I looked too much like my mother to let go, and that besides, Nurse had stepped in and told him that she would look after me, if he would not.  I have not spoken to him since.  It has been three years.  Nurse said I have grown tall and beautiful, and that soon I should have a husband.

I look back at the man, hardly more than a boy, lying motionless before me.  I take his cold, limp hand and curl his fingers round the hilt of his bloody sword.  I move his hand to his chest, and he looks more like a warrior now, not a boy sent into battle in his dead father’s armor.  Was he a good man?  Could I have married him?

No doubt he would have tried to kill me if he were alive and could see me now.  I, the daughter of the man whose heartless judgments had been the reason for the rebellion.  The man who now lies stone-cold at the bottom of the sea, not even given a proper burial after his death, only thrown overboard with many cheers and shouts and sounds of celebration.  I wonder where he is now, if he can see me.  I do not think he would recognize me, even in death.

Nurse said she had started the rebellion for me.  That she had not been able to stand the way my father ignored me.  She had said that his death was for the best, that now the city was free from his cruel hand, and now I could have happiness and freedom along with the rest of the town.  She said it was all for me, but I cannot see that there is anything left for me here.  Nurse is dead.  My mother and father are dead.  My brothers are sold.  Now they will come for me.  I am the last one left.

I look at the boy, one of his hands around the sword hilt, the other lying open on the ground, as if beckoning me.  “Hurry, hurry,” it seems to say.  “Go quickly, before they find you.”

The streets are deserted, except for the dead, but I can hear cries from within my father’s hall—raucous, drunken cries.  Hurry, hurry.  I stand.  I wrap my cloak around me against the wind.  I turn to go, but then I look back and stop.  Kneeling once again, I take the sword from the boy’s grasp.  It is heavy in my hand, but I do not let it fall.  “A sword is a useful tool and a dangerous toy,” Nurse had said, just days before the rebellion started.  Days before the soldiers had come down from the northeast.

I turn and see a boy coming toward me.  His head is down and his eyes are trained on the ground, as if he is searching for something.  I keep my head low and hunch my shoulders, hoping he will not notice me and pass by.

Boots stop short, just inside my line of vision.  I can see them out of the corner of my eye, dark and wet with blood.  I hear rapid breathing, heavy, unsteady.

“Did you know him?” a voice asks.  It is raspy, strained, lower than mine, higher than a man’s.

I shake my head.

“Did you kill him?” the voice challenges.

My eyes go wide, and I turn to stare up at him in astonishment.  “No!”

He has light hair too, almost white, and eyes such a light blue they hardly seem like eyes.  It is as if they are pieces of blue cloth, like the ones Nurse would hang over the window during the summer months when it was still light outside when I went to bed.  They are wide eyes, opaque, blocking out the sun.

“You’re the earl’s daughter, aren’t you?” he says.

I stare up at him, trying to hide my terror.

“Don’t be afraid.  I’m not going to hurt you,” he says, and smiles.  It is not a pleasant smile.

I stand, drawing myself up to my full height.  I am taller than him.  “I am not afraid,” I respond.  “You could not hurt me if you tried.”

His chin lifts slightly, and his back straightens, as if he is rising to my challenge.  “Is that so?”

“You’re just a boy,” I say.

Without warning he throws himself at me.  I leap out of the way and stumble, falling to the ground beside him where he lies clawing at the dirt.  He reaches for me, and I roll out of the way, my breath coming in shallow, desperate gasps.  He struggles to his knees and from there he staggers into a crouch.  He leaps at me, falls on top of me and does not get up.  It is only when, several seconds later, I see the sword sticking out from between his thin shoulder blades, that I realize what has happened.  Horrified, I let go of the sword hilt and scramble backward, pushing him off me.  He rolls onto his back, and for a moment I see his eyes, those dull, curtain-blue orbs, and a shudder runs through me, uncontrolled, unbound.  I put my hand over my mouth to stifle my sob.  I am not a warrior.  I am only a girl.  I have never hurt anyone in my life—until now.

I see them both, lying among the scattered slain strewn across the road.  One lying almost gently with his hand outstretched, one lying skewed, propped up by the sword that impales his body.  One pair of eyes closed, one pair open, staring wildly, blindly, at the sky.

Now they will come for me.  I am the last one left.

I stand.  I compose myself.  I breathe deeply and look away.  I pull my cloak tight around me again and start along the deserted road toward the gates leading out of the city.  I walk, not wanting to be suspicious, but I walk quickly, hoping desperately that I will not be seen.  Hoping that the victors in the mead hall will stay at their celebrating and forget about the only survivor of the royal family, forget about the lonely girl they had left hiding underground, who had crawled her way up onto a silent street covered with the bodies of the dead in the aftermath of their battle.

The cries from the hall seem to grow louder and they fill my ears as if I am walking among them.  I reach the gates.  They are splintered and crumbling from the battering ram.  I manage to squeeze through a gaping hole in the broken wood.  My foot catches on a jagged edge, and I fall roughly forward with a cry, scraping my arms and legs and face.

My cry rings out, the sound piercing to my ears, sending endless echoes back through the gates and up the walls.  I freeze on the ground, pressing my face to my knees, covering my head with my arms.

Only when the last echoes have died away can I force myself to move.  I look up and see before me the great dark cliffs, looming, towering on one side, plunging away steeply down on the other.  My eyes follow a rocky, haphazard trail that cuts its way up the face of the highest cliff.  Oh, to climb that path!  Oh, to fling myself from its height into the free air, to fly, to fall.

I look right, toward the sea, where its violent waves hurl themselves against the rocks.  I look left, where the greenish brown grass stretches out for miles until it disappears into the forest.  I glance behind me through the shattered gate, straining my ears for the cries from the mead hall.  But there is nothing, nothing but the wind, which has come stampeding up the cliff face from the sea and is roaring in my ears, louder, louder, until it is unbearable.  So I look forward toward the path that crawls up the sheer cliff face, curves right, leads to the sea.

I take a few steps forward, falter, suddenly imagine I hear voices calling out, coming after me.  I gasp for breath against the suffocating wind.  My cold fingers curl around the edges of my cloak.  They are coming for me now, I think.

And then I run.


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