Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Pray To Your Gods

Every Friday Kurt posts a new piece of flash fiction. This week...

Pray To Your Gods
Word Count: 600

You are all that stands between your people and enslavement. Two armies face off across a deep valley, neither willing to attack uphill, and so they invoke the sacred tradition. The enemy’s champion approaches, ready to engage you in single combat to determine the fate of both nations.

He approaches with caution, although you are plainly outmatched. He’s taller and broader. You barely know how to use a sword. You’re a good runner and light on your feet, but you’ve never been brave. Your fellow soldiers have spent the last few days whispering behind your back. No one actually expects you to win. They only asked you to hold out for as long as possible. Clearly they mean to escape. Barely half of your ranks have turned out to watch the fight, meanwhile the enemy’s numbers swell as their ragtag reserve forces in mismatched uniforms run up to get a better look.

You pray to your gods.

Your opponent touches his sword to his shoulder in salute and the fight begins. You want to win, and you make your best effort, but your will collapses once the first blow falls. The blunt impact against your shield reverberates up your arm, reminding you that you are weak and protected only by a few planks of wood held together with metal bolts. So you run.

You don’t flee the arena, but you put some distance between yourself and your opponent. He bellows at you to fight him. The crowd jeers. Your shame is outweighed only by your desire to survive. Your opponent pursues, and you lead him around in circles. The shield is heavy and slowing you down, so you discard it. You can block with a sword well enough. The enemy army laughs, as well as your own.

Your opponent swings at you, and you deflect the blow away with your sword. The clamor bites at your ears. You run, leading your opponent around to the other side. He calls you a coward. He’s not wrong. You run. He follows.

You’ve always been fast. Your mother used to send you on errands to your father and brothers on the farm. You’d carry messages, meals, water, whatever anyone needed. When the war started, you were a scout, and that suited your skills and temperament. Go far, go fast, don’t let the enemy see you.

A desperate thrust lands near your foot. You jump back and swing. Your blow is stopped by a shield and the enemy sword comes around again for your head. You avoid it, but barely. Has it been enough time yet? Can you die a coward now so the remnants of your army can be enslaved?

You don’t want to die a coward. So you find your courage.

When your opponent moves to chase, you change directions and swing at his side. He beats your sword away with his, and it drops from your hand. You run to pick it up, but his blade catches your calf and you fall next to it. You roll to face the death blow, but your opponent hesitates, distracted by the crowd. You grab your fallen sword and stab him in the throat.

Victory is yours. You sit up. You see the crowd.

The enemy army has fallen. Their bodies litter the ground. All that remains are the reserves in their mismatched, bloody uniforms. You recognize many of their faces. From your army.

Then you realize that this wasn’t combat. This was a ruse. A slaughter. Victory without valor. Without honor. In violation of the sacred tradition.

The gods will not be pleased.

Edited by Carolyn "No Reciprocal Salute Required?" Abram

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