for my brother, on his birthday.
don't ever stop writing. when all fires go out
I know this country, now.
The air is sharp with the scent of rain, the mountains impassive, even under the inexorable march of the years. The fields are vivid with blossom, and over the horizon, a lone hawk circles.
The peace this morning brings will not last for long. They will come soon. And when they do, they will be too fast, and too many. For today marks my fifth year in the fields of the Black Warrior, and seven years since I last heard from you. I am now no more a child than peace is a word that endures in this world of ours.
When I am alone in a faraway land, I hear your voice speaking to me. Over the cries of dying men, through the roar of battle, above the beat of my terrified heart, I hear your voice.
Before I left, you wordlessly put a letter in my hands. I looked up at you, surprised. Words would give me nothing in a world at war. Words would stop no enemy. Words would breathe life into no dying man. Words could no more end a war than promise I would ever see you again.
But I didn’t know then that your words would be my strongest weapon in the greatest of all wars - the secret war of the heart, which all men wage, and of which few men speak.
In my barracks, I trace your words, fading with the years. Yet they still give me the strength they did on the day I read them. They keep my nightmares away. They tell me that there is still beauty in the world, even if there is pain, even if the war rages on, and even if I never see you again.
I thought I was a fool for living so much in your words, but as the war dragged on, as friend after friend fell to the blades of our enemies, I began to see the importance in anything that makes us want to go on, even after all we have to live for is gone.
In the still of the night, when my demons whisper the loudest, in the heart of the storm, in the instant before an army breaks over our ranks, it is your voice that speaks to me above all else. Just as it was your hand that steadied the shaking sword in mine, yours is the voice that drives away my fear. In the moment before the blade descends, yours is the voice that tells me when to strike.
“Live like the wolf,” you told me, on the day I left. “Take only what you need. Want for no one and nobody. For it is a harsh world you face, and the sooner you learn that you face it alone, the better it is for you and all around you.”
Then you smiled, and pulled me into your embrace. “Dream deep,” you whispered, so that no one else could hear us. “Soar high.”
I turned away so that you wouldn’t see the tears in my eyes. You spoke of a world after the war was over. You spoke of hope, when all I could see was despair. You brought me light, when all I knew was darkness. And you gave me courage, when my heart knew only fear.
And you spoke of life, when all around us was death.
In your words, you say that distance shall be no divide to us. That as long as you are alive in my memories, you will never truly die.
The trumpets shatter the stillness of this autumn morning, heralding the arrival of the army we have battled for days.
Far away from you, I smile as I draw my sword, and step forward to face the oncoming army.
For you showed me that hope still burns, even when all other fires go out.