Placing Third Out of Three

Many years ago I entered a contest for short stories.  I enjoyed doing it.  And I was thrilled that I won third place.   I am convinced, however, that there were only three entries.   I’m not sure of why I believed that to be true.  Probably a reflection of where my self esteem was back then.  Today?  I would be shouting and skipping down the street that I had placed third.  Regardless of whether there were only three entries.  For that matter, if mine had been the only entry and it placed third I’d still be skipping!  It still beats coming in after  third.

I just rediscovered a box of things I have written dating back to the 1970’s.  Yes, I was very young when I wrote a lot of it.  It’s a lot of school papers.  But they were important enough to me, to save.  The written word has always been important to me.    So, for your enjoyment I shall share with you my short story.

Let me remind you, I was brilliant back then.

I’m not sure what has happened since.   This story dates back over twenty years ago.

“One Man’s Sword”

Alone, on a hill he sat.  With his back up against a solid tree.  He felt safe.  Safer than when he stood amongst hundreds of men all bearing weapons.  Across his lap there lay a sword, shiny with the newness of the forged metal, heavy with the weight needed to take a life.

He was a young man, new to battle, still new to life.  Scared, he declared to older, battled wisened men, that he could not take the life of another man.  They all smiled empty smiles and told him that when it came down to his life and another’s, he would kill.  By instinct if not be other emotions, such as fear.

He was beginning to relax, he had needed this escape, to just get away from all the other men.  He knew he could get in trouble for leaving the camp. But he knew that if he got back before nightfall, they would never miss him.

For weeks they had been marching, moving forward, coming to few battles.  He had yet to defend himself.  Most fighting was done before his ranks arrived.  The older men kept telling him to wait, the battles would be bigger, fierce and long.  When they spoke of this to him he saw a look in their eyes, a look of eagerness he thought.  To him it was morbid.

He did not look forward to fighting, he dreaded the thought of it, it terrified him.  He didn’t dare speak of these fears, the other men would torment him.  They wouldn’t want him by their sides in a time of need.  He knew you needed to be able to depend on the man next to you in a battle.  To trust him, trust him with your life.

He fervently believed in his freedom, his land and the safety of his family.  And these he supported with his very soul.  Yet his soul questioned the force with which he must protect his beliefs.  Is the other man’s beliefs less important than his own?  Different and strange to him, and often wrong when compared to his beliefs.  But to the other they were just as important.

With his hand lying softly on his sword, he began to ease into a relaxed sleep.  His last conscious thought being that he must get back to camp before dark.

Suddenly he awoke, not sure of how long he had been sleeping, for it was still light.  He didn’t know what woke him so suddenly.  But he felt something, something wrong.  Looking down he realized his hand gripped his sword fiercely.  Feeling fear from his own instincts, he wished he could put the sword down, but he could not do it.

Standing, slowly, he began to walk around the giant of a tree, where he spotted not a hundred yards away, another fellow.  A man dressed in the very uniform of the very thing he feared, his enemy, a man also told to kill.

The other man, spotting him, stopped.  Not knowing what to do.  Each man staring at the other, slowly the enemy moved forward, never taking his eyes off of him.

As the enemy approached, he could see that he was younger than himself.  He could sense the enemy’s fear and was that sure that his own was showing.  The enemy stopped five feet from him.

Suddenly conscious of his grip on his sword he realized his duty was to kill this man.  A boy turned man only because of war.  He knew he could not do it.  This boy was no threat to his beliefs, his life.  Slowly he pulled his sword out, causing  the enemy to look astonished.  He had approached a man of his own fears he had thought.  Moving quickly the enemy moved back, drawing his own weapon.

He realized his mistake by the actions and confusion he saw on the enemy’s face.  Slowly he held his sword out in front of him as if displaying it.  Slowly he began to squat.  Lowering his sword till it lay gleaming in the grass.  The enemy seeing he was right about this man, slowly lowered his own sword to the ground.  Than stood erect to stand face to face with the man.

For what seemed an eternity, they stood examining one another, not knowing what else to do. To the man, he felt that they were communicating without spoken word or movement of any kind except for their eyes.  Each man saw in the other a reflection of himself.  Does he have family?  Where are his parents?  Are they as caring as my own?

Not knowing what to do consciously, unconsciously he smiled at the enemy, he smiled back.  Slowly he picked up the two swords, handing the enemy his weapon.  Both replaced them in the sheaths at their sides.

Turning his back to the enemy, he walked away, never turning back and never fearing the other man.  With his hand resting at his side on the handle of his sword, he only felt peace.

Some hundred years later the sword lay in another’s hands.  Another’s hand felt the now dull gleam of the metal.  Where had it been?  What had it seen?  Whose hand held it’s power?  And another’s mind wondered; why did this instrument of death wield such a feeling of peace.

If only it were so.

*
*
*
*
*
*
*

There are things I would change if I was writing this today.  A couple of incomplete thoughts, and unexplained statements.  But this is what it was twenty years ago.

Thanks for reading!