Indeed that is what I have become. I do not remember ever having a normal life. Most girls dream of childish things like dolls and the prince of their dreams. I grew up in the shadow of great men. Warriors, faithful to their king and the service he had called them to. Battle was in my blood and not a day had passed in my short life that I did not see one. I remember the countless times I had stood by my father and tried to fight as he fought. With limitless faith and fervor. But his sword was too big for me, and so I had to wait. Wait until I had learned to bear the weight of battle on my shoulders.
That time had come. Indeed, the memories of a time when there had been no burden were so vague I could scarcely remember. I parted the curtain a looked out across the field. It was empty now, covered in a blanket of mist that hid the blood-stained earth. In the early morning light it appeared as it once had been. A place of revelry and magic. Here friends had gathered and shared stories. Here we had all sang songs and shared in the wonder of the beautiful world around us.
But that was all in the past. In the distance I heard the marshal calling the camp to arms, and so let the curtain fall back and made myself ready for another day in the field of nightmares. Dressing was a sort of ritual for me. It gave me time to dwell on what I was doing here. Anyone from the outside would call me crazy. Naturally, I agreed with them, but that made little difference. The burden was mine, mine to bear and continue to until the day I died. Until I could lay down in the sweet earth and pass the sword to another.
Someone had to do it. I never quite understood why I had been chosen. I never wanted to be a leader. I wanted to follow, to be taken care of, sheltered from all the horror that I faced. I had seen men fall, slain by monsters of pride and lust. Creatures who pulled down the strongest of warriors. I never quite understood why I was still here. Why had the king chosen me to lead? And why had he denied me what my heart most wanted? I knew I may never fully know the answer, but that was my life. And it was one of privilege as I served a king such as my master was.
I pulled my boots on, girded my sword and looked once more into the mirror. There was the woman everyone knew. Self-assured, fiesty, defiant. My heart was hidden and safe. I was ready for battle.
Outside I heard the masses forming the line. I pulled my gloves on and stepped out into light of the rising sun. It had chased the cloak of the mist away and cast a promising glow onto the field. I took my horse’s reins from my squire and pulled myself up onto its back. I suddenly was overwhelmed again by the weight on my shoulders. How could one such as I bear so much and still live? I looked out into throng of people now gathered around me and looking up to me for guidance. What words of hope could I give them when I had none for myself?
Then, I searched their faces, all so young and innocent. So ready to do whatever was asked of them. Ready to believe whatever was truth there was, I was reminded once more why I was here. They were my people, they were my family. More importantly, they were the king’s children, entrusted to my care and keeping.
I breathed in all the faith that I had and urged my horse to a walk. My captains fell in behind me. To my left, my own sister. Fair and full of grace and still as fierce as any with a sword in her hands. Her pure and innocent heart had graced many healing rooms and mended many broken hearts with hers of compassion. To my right, my second captain and third captains and closest and dearest allies. The first was the older of the two. His strength was joy and a wisdom that exceeded his years. And while he would never give himself airs, his strength was what held me up in the most trying of times. Behind him, rode the youngest of our assembly. Even the dress of battle could not hide his innocence, his beautiful boyish awe with the world, and his simple, pure heart. What battles I had fought before they had been by side and won, I will never understand. These were my friends, my confidants. I knew they would lay their life down for me, and I for them. We were in this together, until the day I was given leave to lay down my sword.
Behind us came the throng. Soldier upon soldier, shoulder to shoulder and arm to arm. Many of them had never been in a true battle, and I knew that their ideas of glory and grandeur were soon to be dashed upon the rocks of reality. Nontheless they had passion, something that was hard to find these days in a world of indifference. As I looked over my shoulder at their child-like faces, upturned toward mine, I whispered a prayer for their lives, each so precious in their own way.
We left our camp behind and began to cross the field. Everywhere there were signs of our previous battle. Earth upturned by hoof and foot, the grass trampled flat by the flurry of combat. Patterns etched into the ground by the blood spilt in the days before. The place smelt of death, of defeat. The aromas of battle increased the burden on my shoulders. I felt them sag under the weight. I knew I must not appear weak, I must be strong for those who had no strength.
At last I called a halt. We were a quarter of the way into the field. Those of us on horses stood on a small mound with the rest of the company huddled around us. The silence was deafening and I was overcome. I could hold my head up no longer. Who was I fooling? This was not what I wanted. It never had been. I had never asked for this. My dreams had been of a safe occupation, love, marriage, and a family. Yet here I was, the leader of a group of eager innocents, who had no idea what was about to come.
I dismounted and walked a short distance off from the rest of the group. Drawing my sword I drove it into the soft earth and knelt. My heart cried out as it had so many times before. My king, why? Why me? Why this? Why choose me to do a work that I have no strength left to do?
And as He had so many times before, my king answered me. Because you have the heart to do what others cannot.
But there are many who would gladly take my place. Why not one of them?
His voice was firm, but gentle. Because you have not given all you can give.
Tears filled my eyes. Lord, I am spent. I feel I have not the strength to life this sword and fight another day. Let someone else do the work. I am through.
The voice once gentle, now rose like the thunder over the mountains. Who made you? Who crafted you out of the earth into what you have become? Who gave you your sword and the strength to bear it?
I swallowed hard. Humbled, and once again put in my place. You did, I whispered.
The voice once again softened. Oh my child, my daughter. Do not doubt your ability. Do not listen to the lies that you are fed. For no matter how many may fall to your right and to your left, I am with you always. And in my name, you will do great things.
Then I felt the wind rise and surround me with its power. Rise, he commanded. Pick up the sword and bear this cross a while longer.
I stood and gripped the sword. Every part of my body sagged under the weight of what was to come.
I am with you.
I heard his voice in the last remnants of the breeze and my strength was restored. I drew my sword out of the ground and raised it above my head. Behind me I heard the cheers of the soldiers. They too had raised their weapons and brandished them with renewed zeal and fervor. I sheathed my sword and returned to my horse. As I mounted, I felt the hands of my captains on shoulders. They gestured toward the horizon and I squinted to see beyond the rising sun.
A writhing mass of evil approached in a thin, long line as far as the eye could see. No matter how many were destroyed it seemed ten were sent in their place. I could smell their stench and hear their laughter. Sneers and jeers. Taunting me, criticizing my every move, leering at my every fault.
Those behind me were silent. For some, this was their first time seeing the horrors of battle. For others, it was an aged experience. But no amount of knowledge could ever prepare one for combat with evil in physical form. My captains were still, my other ranking officers, resolute and passive. Was I the only one who was afraid? They all looked at me expectantly. Then I understood. They were not afraid because they expected me to lead them. I swallowed hard. The burden pressed in on me from all sides. I was going to fail.
I heard the enemies battle cry rise up in the distance. The sound of those thousand screeching, nagging voices struck something in me and halted my fear. I remembered who I was. I remembered why I was here. I drew my sword, listening to the sound of the metal running against the inside of the sheath. Slowly I lifted it above my head. The sun caught the steel and blinded me in a dazzling radiance. With every ounce of strength that was not my own, I sounded the charge and the company plunged forward toward our nemesis.
When we met them in the middle it was as though thunder had fallen from the heavens. Instantly there were screams of agony on both sides. The enemy’s darts pierced the tender skin of many innocents without giving them a chance. I tried to focus on the writhing black mass that was before me. I cut to left and to the right with my sword. They clawed at my legs, trying to pull me down. One of the winged beasts perched itself on my shoulder and began to whisper in my ear.
Failure. Horrible, ugly failure.
One of my captains sliced it in two and it fell to the earth in a oozing black heap. Another imp latched itself to the right foreleg of my horse and began to gnaw at the poor creatures flesh. It fell with a horrible shriek to the ground throwing me from its back. As I hit the earth six creatures leapt on top of me and began to beat me with their clubs.
I was powerless to do anything. Truthfully, I had no desire to fight back as Doubt inched its way into my mind. What was the use? They would only fight back with more venom and cruelty. Better to die now than continue to struggle. They knew my thoughts and fed on them. My fingers dug into the earth as I gave myself for dead.
Then through the heaving mass of death around me I saw a figure robed in white walking through the throng. As the figure drew closer I could make out the features of his face. Eyes that looked neither left nor right, but straight through me into my soul. There was so much love and compassion in those eyes that I forgot the pain of wounds. My king had come.
As he approached the creatures upon my back shrieked and scrurried off to find new prey. He bent over and touched my head. Peace welled up within me as I felt his hands on me. I lifted my head and looked into his eyes. In them I saw the love of a thousand years. All the things He had done for me, for others. His face bore the scars of the infinite number of battles he had fought. He smiled and pulled me to my feet.
Come on, I heard his voice in my head. You can’t stop now. The battle is not yet won.
But Sire, do you not see my wounds? I am bleeding and tired. I cannot go on.
His eyes locked with mind and I lowered my gaze under his. Have I not bled for you? Have I not been pierced over and over for your sake? My child, what can you possibly not do that I have already done?
He then bent over and picked up my sword. Wiping it with the hem of his garment he handed it to me. I looked at it with tears of shame in my eyes. Who was I to ever doubt his word? I looked up to thank him, but he had vanished. Yet somehow, I knew he was still there, surrounding me with his strength and goodness.
One of the soldiers fell against me from sheer exhaustion. I grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet. He shook his head but I shoved his sword into his hand and raised mine above my head. I plunged into the throng cutting down the enemy. One plunged its weapon into my side, but I did not stop. Behind me I heard the battle cries of those who trusted me to follow me into battle. I knew if we could cut through to the other side we would be victorious. Slowly, one by one, I cut them down. My burdens mattered little now as did my wounds. I felt my king’s presence and knew that nothing could touch me.
The screams of the enemy as the scattered was as beautiful as a chorus of angels. They ran from our weapons in all directions. Those not quick enough were cut down by soldiers euphoric at certain victory. As they disappeared in the distance I stopped. The rest of the army flooded past me. I closed my eyes and sank to the ground, gripping my sword to my chest. I could scarcely believe it, we had won. We had driven the darkness out and lived to see another day. And it had all been down with the strength given to us by our king.
Suddenly I was tired again. I looked down at the wound in my side. Blood had pooled at my feet and was soaking into the earth. I felt lightheaded and fell forward only to be caught by the strong arms of my captains. They lay me down on the earth and collapsed beside me. We must have looked pathetic in our dirt and blood-stained clothing. But none of us cared. We were together, we had won, and knew that our king was proud of us. Involuntarily I cried out from the pain of my wound, and one of my captains stood and lifted me into their arms. As we walked back to the camp I felt the presence of my king once more. More importantly I heard his voice.
Well done, he whispered to my heart. Well done, my daughter with whom I am well pleased. At last I was where I wanted to be. At last I was safe. At last I was going home.
The burden of life often lead to the greatest of victories.