10 Crying aloud - 1211
Mindless fleeing may have saved my life, I wasn't the one who made the choice in the first place as I was being pushed through burning tents and soldiers in full uproar. My seven remaining guards became a wall of harness and flesh.
For my age, I was quite big, but the men kept my head pushed down for the remainder of the turbulent journey. Tremendous fright and terror shot through my chest with every push or tumble. I realised it was rather pathetic in comparison with the dying soldiers around me, but I couldn't help myself.
I tried to ignore the pale grey faces of the dead every time I stepped over them, they looked exactly like the dead men on the battlefield from the day before. Heaven forbid I might recognise one. How could I ignore the fact that in between these shattered bodies were still some dying men, unable to stand, unable to move, so only in their eyes the life remained. I did my best not to step on them, but the guards behind me did not make such efforts; their boots broke joints at a merciless pace. Under us lay men with unknown faces who only yesterday were going on in their daily routine; now they were dead or dying. And there were hundreds more in my army, thousands more in the empire, how senseless was everything that could ever be written or done or thought, when such things were possible.
A blonde and fair face with wide, death eyes reminded me of Julius, and my heart leaped. I felt as if my arteries had been closed off, I would have fallen if not for the strong arms supporting me.
Unfortunately, this support was lost once a tentpole crumbled and fell right in between us. Our group dissolved into chaos. Some shouted and I shouted with them, even though I was unharmed.
Two men hauled me up and pushed me down again in a matter of seconds, we were halfway through the camp, next to the basins. I remained there, huddled behind a mount of dirt, my legs in water up to the belly. Around me, the slaughter raged - and I cried - for these were all my fellow countrymen. They had been set against one another, and loudly, obediently, foolishly slayed one another.
I lay motionless. My guards seemed to have abandoned me, which left me with a shattering thought; what would happen once someone climbed over the mount and saw me lying in the muddy basin?
Panting, I grasped the heft of my sword. I had never used it - I never had to till that point - and realised the dagger in my hem would be more efficient in this situation. Swiftly I pulled it out and fastened my fingers around it. Once someone jumped over, I would go for him. It hammered back and forth between my temples; stab him clean through the troth, so that he cannot call out. That is the only way, whoever becomes my victim must be just as scared as I am, and were we to encounter one another, I must be the first to act.
I cursed and grinned my teeth in the mud. The battle was a ravaging frenzy around me. All I could do was groan and pray. The crash of tents bursted in my ears. I pressed my head down and listened to the cries, the steel, the cracks of wood burning in the fire. Strained to the uttermost, a single shriek was audible amidst it all.
It had become somewhat lighter and I became able to distinguish more. Steps hastened past me, and again, the sound of steel against steel became an unbroken chain of noise. I was just about to turn over when something slipped and landed across me-
I did not think at all. I made no decision - I striked madly and felt how a body convulsed, became limp, and collapsed. When I recovered from my mindless state, my lower arms were sticking and wet. The burning sensation was unforgiving. Stiff and screaming, I could all but move my arms after the effort it had cost me to ravage the chest beneath me.
The man I was straddling gurgled. It was as though he bellowed, and every breath came in the dreadful rhythm of a dying body. I wanted to quiet him, stuff his mouth with the fabric of my sleeves or with the mud of the mount. He could betray my position.
He sounded like a drum, but I realised it must have been my own heart that I heared. I swallowed and lifted myself of my opponent while my quivering hand made several attempts at sheeting the dagger.
I hooked my fingers in the eye-gap of his helmet in an attempt to pull him in the brown water. Sadly, the strap under his chin loosened and the dead man's countenance was revealed. It was brown but peeling across the nose and he had a forehead that went back with his receding hairline. He wore a scar on his chin that could have been taken for a dimple if it had been just a little closer to the center and his nose was flattened across the bridge.
I released the helmet and shoved his face under until I could no longer see his shoulders. My shoulders screamed in effort. Retreating, I scrambled to the left, unable to look away. I watched as he slipped further into the water until half his torso had vanished. Nonetheless, I remained fixated, if he stirred, I was ready to spring on him.
I did not wish to kill you, I'm sorry.
I'm so sorry.
You are a subject in the country I am supposed to lead. You merely followed the local baron into war because you had no choice. You followed an order, that's what you are learned to do, every day again. Did you have a wife? Children? I promise, I'll make sure they are taken care of.
I promised him the heavens and the earth until my tears had dried and I realised I would do none of these things. A calming sense of numbness took over.
"This is war, you shouldn't have gone to war, you shouldn't have opposed me," I said, "I didn't want to go to war, you rebelled."
I creeped closer on hands an knees, fisting the mud between my fingers. My lips trembled, "I never asked for this! You rebelled! You rebelled!"
My whole body was shaking as I threw the accusations at the dead man.
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"I don't need Sicily, nor Italy or Germany. I don't need my father' empire nor the crown and throne that come with it. I want to go back to the clear fields of Palermo and play between the trees and trailing plants of the vineyard!"
I threw my head back and wept. Spit mingled with tears as I cried out to the heavens, "I do not want the crown, I do not want the throne and it's sorrows. I do not want it, I beg You."
My prayers were towards a deaf ear, and only when the sun was high in the sky and the church bells in the far east rang twelve times, the fight ceased.
There were columns of smoke, thick and unpleasant. The neat lines of the tents were demolished, poles were snapped and canvases drifted at odd angles. Others had been spared, tainted by ash and dirt. The ground was blackened where the fire had passed through the camp.
Julius was the first to find me.
My friend; my confidant; my dear companion.
He was a few years older than me and nature had endowed him with the most beautiful of countenances. Cerulean eyes watched me. They matched the Tyrrhenian sea we had often watched together and were veiled by long eyelashes; strokes of blond from the finest brush. They had shed tears. Like a dull blaze before me I saw his blue garments beneath the maille that covered him, I saw the hands with which he reached out to me. His blond hair, full and lustrous, falling loosely around his face in waves seemed to hold me in trance. The fearful voice with which he called out to me was soft and broken.
"Why were you crying?"
"Why were you?"
"It's of no matter. It's over." Hooking his arm under mine, Julius attempted to pull me from my kneeling position. I regarded the figure in the water behind me. He clicked his tongue. "Eyes forward. I need you to stand up or we're both going to end up looking like you."
"Scared of mud?"
"It's not the mud."
I gave him no rebuttal. My hand flying to my forehead. He did the same, pushing away my trembling fingers to place his palm gently over my brow. Upon his caress, dried blood fell in crumbs from my skin.
"Is this yours?"
"No,- yes. Yes I am."
I saw men alive but dirt-streaked, weary and grim; others lay on the ground, coughing laboriously. I knew some would never get up. I saw Alessandro, white-faced with a bandaged shoulder, the cloth dark with dried blood.
The fires that had been burning were now pyres.
I was escorted back to my big, familiar, overdecorated tent. It had been a heavy sleepless morning, and I had a billet and cushions on which to rest but there was a feeling in my chest that prevented me from doing so. Julius had seated himself in the chair on my right, his absent gaze indicating that he was far from here. I caught a glimpse of myself in the small mirror, reflecting the visible trauma of the morning that still covered my face. I was eager to wash up despite being beyond tired. Due to a mixture of ash, mud and dried blood clotting to my clothes and skin, my appearance looked more like a ghost than that of a man - or must I say child - of my standing. Upon seeing that a bowl of warm water had been prepared, I took a rag and a slither of soap.
Shut your mind, I told myself. Don't think of anything. Don't replay it.
Relishing the hot water as it hit my skin, I let out a deep sigh. I just wanted the blood and mud off my face and neck, I would have the time to have a more elaborate wash later on.
He was no one, I told myself. A commoner, a thing, he felt no pain nor suffering. Had he not called out as I butchered him? No,- no he had not. He had, he cried out. No, I'm wrong he was nothing but a puppet. He was a person, whom still lived this morning. He wasn't. Don't lie, he was. He was not!
I did not hear the bowl as it hit the floor.
Julius looked up. "Should I call for assistance?"
I looked around the tent and the unsettling feeling intensified. The two arched pieces of fabric that served as an entrance to my left, each covered with patterned grilles, looked out on the rows of tents opposite mine. Behind them lay the hills that characterised the region. I knew every inch of this tent, every bow of wood, every frond-curve of the interior. I knew the beautiful pattern on the ceiling that I regarded when lying on my bed. I knew the limit of two steps I had to take in order to rise from my bed and leap for my sword.
Everything was exactly the same - unchanged, beautiful - no matter what had circumvented during the heavy fires.
"Are you all right?" Julius had appeared right before me.
When did he move?
"Sit down." He inclined his head towards my bed. I instinctively complied.
It was then that I felt my stomach convulse. Julius held my head and swept my hair out of my face as I leaned over the edge of the billet and retched and moaned, and retched some more.