He is thinking of the man to his left when the arrow goes through his neck. It is quick. He turns on the spot to catch sight of the bow responsible. But it is lost already, amidst the crowds. The air churns and he feels the heavy shield at his side, the unbearable weight of his body, muscle and bone and armour. Things become slow, like dripping honey. Honey on his wife’s lips. The pain isn’t great at first but the sensation of surging blood is strange to him. His knees weaken and he finds himself in the dust. Near him is the light clang of metal on metal, the sound of whirring sand and feet beating the earth. War is more silent than he might have thought, down here in the dirt. The dirt damp beneath him and the sun overhead. The dirt damp with blood. He thinks of cypress trees bending in the wind, so dark against the sky they look black. He has fallen next to a man he may have killed, and knows under that helmet must be a face, like his own. He remembers the child in his wife’s belly, faceless, nameless, waiting for a life so short it is barely anything. Waiting to look like him. His head is heavy. He rolls onto his side and pulls off his helmet. It flashes in the sun. He stares at it and thinks how strange it is that one slim, sharpened piece of wood can take a life and how the blue sky is so blue he cannot bear it. He closes his eyes against the sun. The sun on water, on his wife’s skin, on her round belly and the honey on her lips and the bending cypress trees and blood turning black on the ground as it leaves him. He can feel his heart slowing. He must think not of pain, or of black blood, but of staying alive. The baby in her belly, waiting. When he opens his eyes he sees another of the faceless moving towards him, spear glinting, coming to finish the job. He thinks of how the pain is gone and how he is tired and of the scent of dripping honey. He thinks of everything. And then he thinks of nothing.
Writer: Florence Vincent
Illustrator: Joe Caslin