The Legacy

He sighed slowly. Encased in black armour, no one would have heard it anyway. Which was just as well. The soldiers’ morale may have weakened slightly to hear their fearless and unfazeable leader release such a melancholy sound.

But sigh he did, even if no one knew but him. And spoke: “Father, why have you left me such a legacy?”

He imagined, in his reverie, he could hear his father’s voice echoing from beyond the shroud of death, berating him.

“Carry your trouble with pride, boy! Small people have small troubles and small glories, great people have great troubles and great glories!”

His father had been wise. Cut down on the fields of battle, leaving behind his son a vision for the future.

A time when their people would finally be free.

For millennia they had laboured under the yoke of sorcerous and infernal forces, to fight and die for fear of total annihilation.

His father had set him upon the path, opened his eyes to what might be. Died before he could see what his son had achieved in his name. The son, the commander of the awaiting host, imagined that his father watched him from the Underworld, proud and pleased with his works.

And knew of the gloom of dreams overshadowing him.

Yes, his people were free. Free to realize how much they had lost, how much they had sunk into barbarism. Lost their knowledge of the ancient ways of the spirits. The clans squabbled and bucked against his claim of warchief. Now there was no overriding fear to unite them against their foes.

There was so much to do. It was a long, hard road back to where they once had been. Throwing off their masters was just the first step, one of many in a very long journey indeed.

“Warchief, the smiths are ready for your inspection.” His adjutant was alert and anxious for attention.

The ringing of steel upon steel, hammers on anvils overpowered even their thoughts as they drew near. The forges were the shape of things to come. The clang of metal almost representing the reforging of the people from crude iron to bright steel. The hammer of their trouble clanging upon the heart of their race. Forged anew. Stronger than before, by hardship and adversity.

He mused upon this idea as the smiths brought their new products for his perusal.

“See, Warchief, the soldier stands here, behind the animal on this platform, instead of riding it! Space to keep javelin or throwing axes here, and the raised walls will deflect footmen attacks.” The smith’s eyes were not focusing upon his warchief, imagining his invention wreaking havoc on the field.

“This chariot will change warfare as we know it! The speed of a mounted soldier with the range of the javelin! Hit and run attacks, like wolves. Wondrous, wondrous, they shall be, Warchief.”

Almost babbling in his excitement, “The boars are well trained, they enjoy the runs and mock battles we have staged, eager for the blood of our enemies. The infantry already are lining up to join the charioteers; we have no shortage of willing volunteers.”

The warchief’s mind was on other things, but he smiled at the smith.

“Excellent, I am well pleased. Carry on the good work.” Glowing with pride, the smith took his leave respectfully from his warchief, bustling off to bark orders at his apprentices.

The attack would be soon. All was made ready for the coming retaliation against the enemy. He sighed once again. There was no love lost between both races, but he supposed that the endless time of their subjugation to dark forces had left their enemy suspicious of their people’s changed ways, their conversion.

Unlike the rest of his people, he had seen the enemy off the battlefield. Had seen their homes, families, villages and cities. Their peoples were different in many ways, yet strangely similar in others, parallels. He had learned much about them as a child, as a house slave, subservient to their menial requests. Many others would have turned bitter and hateful after such treatment but for him, there was only understanding, and a desire for freedom instead of revenge.

Now, it grieved him to strike them down. Needless, needless. A lack of trust, the legacy chaining his people, the path of the future weighed down by the manacles of history. Perhaps this would be the last battle, the last conflict for peace. Perhaps his people would die. Who could say? What choice did they have but to defend themselves?

-——————————————

“Warchief, they’re coming!”

It was inevitable, but his people were ready. Or at least he hoped.

He could feel the thunder of horses upon the dry, cracked plain. The charioteers were being assembled, in theory they would be devastating to the enemy’s cavalry and infantry.

But in practice …

The most dangerous peril that faced the horde was a lack of direction, the erosion of morale, the death of hope. Being a warchief was not just organization, but inspiration.

He kneeled within the spirit circle, surrounded by the sacred objects of power. A glittering natural crystal as large as his fist, signifying clarity of vision and thought, connection with the bones of the world. A blood-drenched dragon tooth. He had torn the fang from the freshly dead beast after it had been slain by his own hand. At the apex of the circle’s strength, the sanctified skull of his father; representing the death of an earlier existence, and the dream of the people’s new future.

Throwing a variety of herbs and powders upon the central fire, he began the incantations. “Spirits, hear me! I beseech you to lead me, and through me, my people. I ask you to be with us in the coming battle, to assist in our struggle for our destiny.”

He bowed his head to the ground, in reverence and anticipation, awaiting the spirits of the land to respond to his entreaty. These were the old ways; lost for millennia and newly regained. Still in their infancy within the people but one day the assistance of the spirits would infuse the horde with a power undreamt of.

The earth rumbled and groaned with repressed fury against these invaders, the storm of hoofbeats was interrupted by the terrified cries of the enemy’s mounts, punctuated by the confused commands of their riders. The people’s own mounts did not spook or flinch, the people themselves knew of the spirits’ blessing, and roared their thanks.

He strode out to meet them, garbed in a cloak of flames, the mantle of the spirits surrounding him, a mark of their favour.

“My people!” he shouted above the continuing tremor-sound. “The spirits are with us, we have reclaimed our old ways. The legacy of our ancestors has returned to us. But we fight against the legacy of our people’s enslavement to infernal masters – those that war upon us today do not understand that we have changed.”

“Brothers and sisters, our change shall be shown through our actions. Today, we fight not for dark powers, but for ourselves; our people alone.”

“I will not lie to you with false promises of invincibility. Some of us will die today. We are going into battle against many. You know the risks; you know it will not be easy. But if you fall today, it will not be as a pawn in some other’s power game. If you die today, you will have died for your children’s freedom, and their children’s freedom.”

“Today, we fight for our people. And our people are strong. We shall prevail, for we have nothing to lose but our lives if we fail.”

“And everything to gain if we win.”

A mighty cry went up amongst the horde and within his people’s eyes burned a flame, a desire that could not be quenched.

They rode to war.

-———————————————

The enemy was at a disadvantage from the outset. The incessant quaking was terrible for beast and man alike, and their foes seemed almost comforted by the rhythmic pounding, as the unborn child is soothed by its mother’s heart. The charioteers were lightning quick and just as deadly, shredding through the ranks of bewildered soldiers in their charge, vanishing before retaliation, to appear again to wreak havoc. But the true terror was their tenacity, no fear; even hopelessly outnumbered, the horde’s warriors fought until they were hacked to pieces.

The enemy’s lines scattered and broke, the horde ever advancing, pressing the harried invaders towards the coast. There was no more room for retreat – with grim determination they realized there was no escape, that defeat was inevitable, just a matter of time.

But then the horde stopped its relentless advance. Their leader, wreathed in writhing fire, spoke to the routed fighters, the quivering of the earth growing silent as he began.

“In times of yore, my people would have butchered you all like animals, without mercy. I know that it is this fate you expect of us – we live with the legacy of past atrocities on our conscience. But you must learn that times change, and our people have changed. We cannot make up for past misdeeds; all we can offer is that they will not continue. We offer quarter and mercy to you who have invaded our lands and made war upon us. Think about this – by rights, you deserve no mercy at all.”

The warchief paused, letting them digest the meat of his words. “But we will give it. As a gesture of our changed ways and an offer of peace between us. Go now, do not return. Leave our lands. By all means, send your ambassadors, send your diplomats. Bring an army here again and we will not promise to stay our blades a second time. Do you understand me?”

A silent, terse nod was the vanquished general’s simple answer. The warchief gave his opponent a small bow of respect and the general gave the victor a salute in return.

The horde picked up their dead and headed home, glorious in their victory. Their warchief, shaking in triumph, spoke yet again to no one in the realm of Life.

“Father, the legacy you have left me is a long, hard road. But today, we have made a step upon that journey, as small as it may be. One day, we shall achieve our destiny.”

The Legacy

Cailean

Adelaide, Australia

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