The sounds of battle had long since stopped echoing across the valley when the boy made his way up the road to the eastern pass. He was careful to call out to the broad-backed figure at the narrow gap where the road crossed the razorback ridge while still well out of reach, not wanting to be mistaken for an enemy. There was a grunt which seemed to have a positive tone, and a weary backhanded wave.
The boy found the warrior sitting on a dead horse. The top of the pass had already cut off the light of the setting sun from the pile of rent armor, broken shields, and shorn limbs which had earlier been the horde of bandits bent on plunder and slaving. Quivering at the sight of such slaughter, the boy unslung his burdens, offering them to the village’s terrible savior. In his right hand, he held the pouch which contained the few valuables the villagers collected as payment for their defense; in his left, a wineskin.
The warrior took the wineskin. He drank half of it down without pause, then handed the skin back. He looked at the pouch, shook his head.
“No. They not fight good. Fight lots, but not good.”
The boy looked at the warrior. His outlandish speech was hard to understand, even without the buzz of carrion flies. Without meaning to, the boy said, “Huh?”
The warrior scowled, then pointed down the dark slope. “Look. He fight for money. No good fight.” The blunt finger swung a little. “He fight for anger. No good fight. That one, he fight to get scars for girls… almost good fight.” He went on, the boy wondering how he knew what all the dead men had fought for; surely he didn’t ask each of them? After several examples, the warrior waved his hand in an encompassing gesture. “No good reasons. No good fight.”
There was no human sound for the space of several breaths. The boy offered the pouch again, and there was a growl of refusal. He slung it, and said, “Why do you fight?”
The warrior looked at him for several silent seconds, enough to make him squirm. Then, the craggy face broke into a smile and said, “I fight for magic. Look.”
Swinging his legs over the horse to turn about, the warrior made another sweeping gesture to take in the whole valley below, the little village glowing in the last of the sun’s rays, the magenta brilliance of the clouds, the sun itself hanging just above the far wall of the valley. The ruddy light made the streaks of gore on his face indistinguishable from the sweat between them, and it twinkled in his eyes, which the boy saw were brimming with tears.
“See? After fight, I see better. I see the magic.”
The boy glanced over his shoulder at the charnel road beyond the pass. He looked back at the glowing valley. He saw the magic too.
“Why He Fight” ©2016 Dirck de Lint