Continuing my re-read of the Pratchett oeuvre...Monstrous Regiment and Going Postal add a few more of the pence per page to my commitment to the Alzheimers fund...both already reviewed on here. Seek them out if you've not already read and rated.
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[Advantages, Disadvantages & Rating are for having been there at the time. I hope 29th Candidate will forgive me for being a little abstract in my interpretation of one day in history ~ for what it's worth, here it is.]
~ ~ ~
It’s cold now, and dark. Would it be warmer or worse, if I could get clear of this filth? The mud isn’t so bad…but it’s not just mud. How can it be so wet, I don’t recall rain? Yet the stench is unmistakable, unforgivable. I smell as bad as the rest I know. But what can I do? I’m broken, blunted, worn away. Forgotten. That’s what hurts the most, the forgetting. The lack of respect. Yes, we’re a simple weapon in the cause of the great invasion, but without us such grand schemes of dukes and would-be kings would all come to nought. A tiny grain of gratitude can’t be too much to ask. That rough stroke of skin, the firm grip of the hand, the vacuum of an intaken breath too close, and a warm curse for luck.
It’s funny the things you remember, how little you really remember in the end. Much of what passed before the rolling storm-wracked journey has already slipped away. I know we trained. Companies of us on the butts. The swish of feathers through the air, the satisfying solid thwack into the target. The sharpening, and preening, and the bravado of ‘one day’ to come. Did we ever think it would ever be any different? Did we consider that the day would come? We too are guilty of forgetting.
What do see of a battlefield from where you are? How can you see anything at all? Of course, you don’t. Not “see” as the word would be understood. Chaos and order merge into one another, sometimes the view around is clear and then it’s gone. In the midst of the noise and the jostling details are absorbed, a voice cuts through a cacophony as clear as the church-bell on a still morning, the sweep of a movement is felt as an imperative even when the order wasn’t heard, and choice-less,
you follow. Hanging on. Hoping for the chance to do your bit, against the blinder hope of maybe not being needed today.
I suppose it really kicked off last night, but it’s hard to tell. After the landing the mood was exuberant: the feel of dry steady land does that. Besides this was little more than a family squabble, it was only going to be a skirmish. It’s not like anyone is going to remember this one day. Their lot had been away fighting in the north so even if they’ve got here they’re not going to be exactly fit. So if some of the boys were a little over-enthusiastic in obtaining the camp supplies, upsetting a few of the locals, it’s understandable. For our part: we were left quietly “to rest or rot” as the saying goes. The calm before the storm. In truth we’d been cosseted this far. Kept dry and sheltered, good bedding and all. This is when were at our keenest, feeling the moods around us.
The high-spirits were dampened with an almost audible sudden hiss… like a cauldron kicked into the campfire. The muster call went out and a kind of discipline descended. Training and tradition taking over. We waited and went as required.
Dawn came. Misty. We were in the front line. The ground ahead rising steadily and there they were above us. Harald’s shieldwall. So many men. Down here. Up there. Yet in the late dawn of an autumn morning there is an eerie stillness. Not a silence. The horses and champing, and scratching….some of the men too. A tense calm felt in the shoulder, spread through the ether.
Which then exploded in slow motion. The first volley. Whoooomph. If you’ve never heard archers in battle you cannot begin to imagine the downdraft, the force, the power of that flight of iron and wood and so much goose-feather. The seeds of chaos are sewn. Battle then. All around. You cannot keep track. You’re carried this way and that, the noise is felt not heard, the hand of fate reaches for you again and again….and again and again you escape. Survive untouched. The sun wandered through the sky unaware. The rage continued. Scores were settled, and vendettas born, and the mire began.
And when it’s over, what do you remember of it? So very very little.
You notice the space growing around you, where your comrades once were. Again and again, the curse is shot. Then fate reaches out for you.
I remember that touch. Surprisingly warm, and firm. I must have expected something different. But this was it. My moment of glory. Whoever said ‘Death OR Glory’ must have been misquoted. Oh, but it was glorious. The sun was low in the sky by then, so far as one could tell…shadows were long, so far as anyone had energy left to cast so much as a shadow. Formations had come and gone, and gone to pieces to tell the truth, yet somehow we’d been pulled back together and the archers were called on again to press home the advantage. Mutterings of ‘what advantage?’ went unheard or disregarded,
The touch came. Firmly, flowingly I was taken from the quiver and settled against the string, resting firmly back, taking the strain, waiting the moment of launch. It was a strange thing: I could ‘see’ only sky. No target. A thought filtered through: “Aim High it is then and one in the eye for that bastard Englishman!” and with that curse I flew. Everything before and since has been worth it for that one soaring flight. Free of the fight for a few beautiful seconds. Exhilaration. The air rushing through my feathers, shank cutting through, windrush so loud all else is drowned into non-existence. Upwards. I’d never flown before. Cut through the air yes, from start to stop, dead straight, deadly. This, though! This was flight. Onwards, upwards towards a dim indistinct sky, clouds that could be concealing eternity. Then riding the arc, over and down in a slide that might have been graceful if you could see slow enough to appreciate it. In reality it was all so quick. The climb, the excitement, the fall: the end. Battle-noise forced its way back into consciousness, thuds and creaks and shrieks and low long moans and mudsquelch and oaths and orders. A second later, I felt the sudden slow-up of resistance, the sharp crack of bone and the warm soft enveloping matter of a live target wrapping its life essence around my head, seeping into the shaft, and out into the morass of other dying flows. He slumped. He fell. And I with him.
Even then I don’t think I knew what I’d done. Only a job after all. One of hundreds of thousands today. I felt the outflow though. The confusion that seemed to circle out from this one fallen soldier, and I noted how far I’d flown, how far behind their front line I was…and slowly it penetrated. Harald. Confusion into disorder and dismay, and so a battle was lost. Very quickly afterwards…though it seemed forever. At some point I was torn free and discarded. Just that. Dropped. Unnoticed. Unimportant. An irrelevance now. Familiar Norman accents converged on the would-be king, and wrought their anger upon him. That I remember. That overwhelming release of tension on the person who’d brought them to this bloody field, this lake of blood, this Senlac as our tongues now mutated the local name. Then he was bound to a stretcher, tied fast as if he might yet rise up, and he was carried away. And I…was not.
Gradually the din dimmed into murmurs. Even the dead moan sometimes. And always there are those who come to the field only afterwards, to do what must be done, or what they will. As the deeds of this one day already begin to pass out of memory.
It’s cold now. I want to be away, but I have no choice. Like all my kin, how many thousand of us, I’ll lie here now and wait. To rest or rot. I may be lucky, there may be some of me worth the salvage but the field is wide and trampled and the scavengers have richer pickings than a few broken arrows.
Brilliant!!! The foreigner I am I missed ALL the clues....
scampi1 25.08.2004 22:50
One hundred and eighty!
Saajan 23.08.2004 00:50
Writers on Ciao of your calibre are few and far between. Yet again I am stunned by your creative and emotive prose. I am proud to finally add you to my C.O.T. - not a day too soon! Scintillating stuff. xxxx.