Image Prompt by Egor Poskryakov
Outside of the village walls stands a small hill. This hill stands out from the other green hills of the rolling plain due to the mass of rocks at the very top. Within the mound is a sword plunged into it with a bit of red fabric which flaps in the breeze. To some it may just look like a blade long forgotten which was left in the rubble on that hill, but to us it’s significant. It’s not just another sword. It is a relic of a time we never want to forget, but never want to repeat.
Not long ago, war was almost constant. Many young men would grow up only hearing the shouts of war as they trained to go off and fight it. Generation after generation of people grew up to be only warriors and they left for war covered in armor with a sword on their side. Not many returned from the bloodshed, but the ones that did were as scarred as the lands they fought on and tried to protect. No one really knew the names of the enemies, but everyone knew they must fight or they would be lost to the other nations.
It’s all that we had to bond us together. It was either us or them, and we weren’t going to lay down our arms and just give up. We were not cowards. We were warriors. Except nobody was cowards. Everyone was warriors. So they had to prove it and it cost the lives of many many men.
Even the women who stayed in the village had their worlds warped as well. Many became the farmers that worked the fields in order to feed the armies or smiths that made armor and weapons for the front lines. Others made clothing and banners for the armies. Women were also responsible for having children. Children that would grow up to either fill their spot as a worker in the town or warrior on the battlefield. Of course this took a tole on the town as they would see wave after wave of young men leave for war knowing that they were not likely to return to see their mothers or sisters again.
Women weren’t just masters of commerce at home or farmers in the field. Many women took up the blade themselves and fought for their village or home. Especially as less and less men made their way back to the village, young women began training with sword and shield. They sought the honor of defending their homeland and slaughtering the warriors of the other.
What started out as a bloody battlefield of male corpses became swarmed with female ones. Many armies suffered from less and less capable people, but an influx of warrior women kept the flames of war burning. Now young men and women were both fed into the pits of hell with swords raised high and a battle cry echoing for miles.
None of this really changed anything on a larger scale. Territory lines were always changing as one army would surge and then get tempered by a second. A third would enter and then a fourth. Constantly changing but no one made any ground. The amount of bloodshed needed to just move the line an inch just to lose it when another army sent their armies to die. Everyone killing everyone else. No end in sight.
Eventually every nearby town and village began running out of people. Running out of swords and shields and food and supplies. The wars had consumed so much and no one had anything left to give. No men. No women. No weapons. No war.
So it came to an end.
Not in some final triumph, but in a whimper. The fighting had ended and the survivors just stood and took it all in. There was no victory here. Just death.
But what was left of the army returned. A few men and a few women. A few warriors covered in the blood of enemies and allies.
In my village, a single warrior returned from the war. Her armor was scratched and dented and her shield was missing. She stood on the nearby hill and planted her sword deep into the stone. She knelt down next to the blade and pulled a piece of a banner from her belt. Then she tied the piece of fabric around the sword and announced to the village that the war was over.
No one won. It was just over.
It was only then when the people left realized how senseless it was. We were told that all the sacrifice and all the bloodshed would have worth it in the end. If we didn’t die for our village, then we would be destroyed. But we destroyed ourselves. We dragged ourselves onto the battlefield just to die by our own hand. And we encouraged it.
Those men and women were heroes. They died for a just cause. Just one more battle or one more army and we would achieve victory. That’s what we were told.
But in the end, only a single warrior returned. One sword. One strip of banner.
That was the only sign of victory. Only relic of war. And it was empty. We had lost so much and got nothing in return. Nothing but the blade.
That blade was our only reminder of what we had done to ourselves and what we had done to others. How war had warped our entire reality and left us hallow and empty.
Our final warrior grew ill shortly after returning home and months later, she passed away in her sleep. No one really knew what she died of. It was suspected that it was a battle wound that finally took its toll on her while others thought she had just given up her will to live.
That was a few decades ago, but the blade still stands, planted in that rock on top of that hill. It’s an old sword that some might think is just a blade, but for the people living nearby it is a reminder of the horrors of war and how little we get for our sacrifice.
Whenever a diplomat from another village comes into town to discuss trade or peace talks, they are brought to the hill. They are told of our history and how the war impacted our people. And they share similar stories from their villages and homes.
That’s how we keep the peace between the people. We remind ourselves of the alternative. We talk about the warriors and the bloodshed and the hollow victory when no one else can pick up a blade and fight.
It’s our only hope that we never forget about the old sword on the hill and never forget the stories of war. We never forget the horrors of the battlefield and the sorrow of never seeing our loved ones again.
If we do forget, I fear that war will fall upon us once again and this time a single warrior might not return at all.
Header Photo and Image Prompt by Egor Poskryakov on Art Station