Tuesday, February 28, 2012
By Way of Goliath (a short story)
The cot had not been kind. His lower back woke before him, ushering in the morning with pain like the thrusts of a quick dagger.
“Boy! Bring salve!” he called out.
With every village and oasis they passed on the march, he sent slaves to buy ointments and medicines for the discomfort, but they all proved more worthless than sand. The worst pain, however, was not in his body, but his mind. Dark visions and nightmares filled his sleep when wine was not available in sufficient quantities. This new pain started several weeks earlier as a small nagging that surged like the tide when his unit received orders to defend a scrap of beach his king thought worth spilling blood over. It was known as The Vale of Terebirth. He had never heard of it.
“Boy! Have you fallen into a pit?”
“I am here,” said a thin youth of ten throwing back the tent’s flap. The low morning sun flooded the interior and filled its smallest corner.
“You are as subtle as a blind ox, boy,” said his master.
The boy halted and hung his head low.
“I am not yet in a mind to punish. Speak. Is this salve new?” The man carefully lifted his massive frame into a sitting position hoping it would ease the aching. It made it worse.
“Yes, master,” replied the boy. “It is unsurpassed in its soothing properties. That is what I was told.”
“Damn the women who bring these merchants into the world. Hurry and apply it before I set my anger for them upon you.”
“Yes, master,” he answered.
For forty days this had been his morning ritual: clenched-jaw sleep, waking pain, useless remedies, and the anticipation of a conflict that never came. Resigning himself to another hot and wasted day of standing, he sought escape by considering the invaders that bore him so far from home. Strangers lusting for land over which they held no claim. He often wondered why they wanted it. Who would want any part of a land that birthed a lonely, pain-filled tower like him? Alas, he sighed, the world is not a simple place. Perhaps it was in older times, but not in the present. Yet, with luck he would keep the blood of both forces well hidden, which he usually did. His size could scare an enemy’s champion into not fighting or shrink his heart enough that any combat was short lived. Either way the conflict was over quickly. Why was this time different? What was waiting to happen?
Suddenly his back turned against him with such ferocity he had to clutch one of the tent’s thick posts to keep from falling over. The pain flared in beat with his heart like a brother and he thought he might have to stop one to halt the other.
“Enough of this!” he grunted as he fought to straighten. “Today this ends.”
Today he would give the enemy his pain.
The day seemed brighter than normal as he exited his tent. The desert glare gave the camp and everything in it a harsh edge. Three older slaves immediately fell into close step bearing his weapons and armor. All camp activity slowed as he passed. They did not see a suffering giant. No one dared see that. They saw a mountain draped with deep rivers of violence. They knew today a life would end.
The soldier’s unit arrived at the designated area at mid-morning and he called to the enemy with all the hate his body could give him.
“Come, you cowards! Forty days I have called for your champion and I can wait no longer! Send him or go back to the sea. Send him or I shall cast you into the sea!” His great voice echoed off the rocks and dunes of the craggy shore.
To his surprise a boy, not a handful of seasons older than his youngest slave, came forward from their ranks. Who is this, he thought, a messenger? He looked to the faces of the trespassers for some answer, but as he watched them watch the youth he realized this was who they were sending to fight. A handsome youth with face and eyes still new to life. A boy who would one day have a woman, a home, and children. A boy who could walk among men, not above them, and who would know true companionship. A boy who could have all he was denied. His veins screamed and his hands grew cold with rage. What monsters have invaded our shores who throw their children to the slaughter? How dare they do this! Through this boy I will kill them all. I will give words to rebut and then strike him down before their lifeless eyes. I will fill the waves with the echoes of their breaking bones!
The giant stepped forward to smash this horrific injustice.
The boy calmly placed a small, cool stone in his sling.