Fiction

Short Story: Honor

Honor

Copyright © Courtney Josephson

Jandemir awoke to the same sight he had for the past three days: the open, non-blinking eyes of his dead son, Anderion. Crushed beneath his equally dead warhorse, Jandemir had no other view available to him. The image was now seared into his eyelids, and fevered sleep brought him no rest.

The only thing that changed in the battlefield around him was the ripening of smells, and the grey pallor that now overtook his son’s once youthful glow. Anderion’s eyes were once a deep rich brown; one could not help but feel he was a kind and trustful elf after looking at those eyes. These once beautiful eyes were now foggy, and blue; becoming looser in his skull as the hours in the sun had ticked by. Jandemir hoped he would be dead before his son was unrecognizable. He was sure he would have gone mad that first day; screaming at a corpse for all the world to hear, for hours on end.

To his dismay, he did not go mad. He was very much aware of who he was and what had brought him to this point. Jandemir was a father and a leader: so sure of what was right and what was wrong.  His son, who was a peacekeeper, questioned him at every turn, but ultimately trusted his judgment and followed him into battle.

That battle had started one year ago; Jandemir leading the elves of the Great Grey Forest, the Esht L’Tir, against the wild and fanatical sea-elves, the Esht M’Durr. The M’Durr believed the sea was coming to swallow the world, and they needed as many elves as they could recruit, and as many resources they could gather, before the Great Tide. Anyone who stood in their way was an enemy of surviving their perceived apocalypse.

The M’Durr were beat handily on land, as they were accustomed to the sea and their swaying ships. In little time, the L’Tir proclaimed their victory, and began the long trek home to their families. What the L’Tir were not prepared for, was treachery.

A scant distance from the citadel, a last resistance of M’Durr elves ambushed the returning L’Tir, but only succeeded in decimating both forces. In that battle, Jandemir watched his son be run through, his startled expression reminding Jandemir so much of when Anderion was a young boy. That expression held him so much that he did not see when the enemy was upon him, and they killed the beast he was riding.

Father and son hit the ground at nearly the same time, gazing upon each other through their perspective pain: the father wincing as his legs crushed beneath his horse, and the son holding his abdomen so gently to keep his innards in.

Jandemir could see his son was scared, and thought belatedly that he should say something assuring, and that he loved him, but the light had already faded from the boy’s eyes. This was no fairy tale where there would be glorious death bed speeches that brought solace to both parties. There was only pain and gore. Anderion was once here, and now he was gone.

But his body was still here, unbathed and given no rites, songs, or prayers. He could not bear to see his son so shamed, barely a mile from his own home. Jandemir spent much of the day blacking out as he struggled from under the horse. When he was finally awake and unencumbered by the horse, he knew immediately from the waist down was of no use to him. He dragged himself over to the boy, wept over him, closed his eyes, and wrapped him in the flag of his people that had once adorned his horse.

After fashioning straps, he began the crawl to the citadel, Esht L’Tir, as he dragged Anderion behind him. Despite the short distance, it was another night and day before he reached home. He kissed the ground as he passed the arches marking the entrance, and continued unseen and undisturbed until he reached a meeting ground: an open area where the elves often gathered socially. Jandemir thought they must be there preparing to go out to see what the delay was in the L’Tir army returning home.

What he found instead was a party: there was much merriment and drink to go around. There were dry eyes all around, and full cups. Merry music was playing, and lovers were nuzzling, and singers were singing songs of blessed times. It was the sight of Jandemir’s wife in another elf’s arms that finally brought words to his lips.

“What is the meaning of this?” he croaked out.

The meeting ground became silent as they elves looked around for the speaker before the finally looked down to Jandemir’s broken form. He watched their eyes track the straps back to the obvious body he had behind him. He watched the corners of their mouths turn down in distaste as they smelled his blood, his soiled trunks, and his son.

The one who held his wife finally spoke.

“Lord Jandemir, we were awaiting your triumphant return, per your messenger’s letter.”

Jandemir fought to remain calm.

“That was nigh a week ago; did no one think to see if we had encountered hardship?”

“Did you not think before parading my boy around this town?” His wife screeched, finally realizing whose body and whose trail of blood was snaked through the town from being dragged. Mutters of outrage broke out amongst the elves.

We should have never gone over there

All this brought was pain and heartache

What Father would desecrate his own son?

Look how disheveled and broken he is; is he still our Lord?

He wasn’t my Lord ever since he sent us on this fools errand.

Jandemir felt a profound headache coming on, and a heaviness in his heart. He tried desperately to remember why he had gone to battle in the first place. What did he fight for? What would be so important that he would risk something as precious as his son? Jandemir raised his arm as best he could to signal he was about to speak, but before he could do so, and elf cried out with his glass raised,

“To our fallen Rangers!”

“Hear, hear!” they shouted in return. They filled each other’s glasses and gathered around in a tight circle, closing Jandemir out.

“To Gierst Valelight!” they began, calling out each Ranger’s name and taking a hearty sip of their spirit.  Jandemir finally realized no one was coming to help him off the ground, when they toasted to his own name. He removed the straps from his shoulder, and crawled back to his son’s wrapped body, and embraced him. He could feel the clot once it had reached above his waist; all of his exertions to get home had dislodged the clot from his maimed legs.

He whispered in his boy’s ear all of the encouraging things he had meant to say, and how proud he was. He quietly sang the songs of passing, prayed over him, and wept upon his face until he was cleaned.

And so Lord Jandemir died on the steps of the citadel, as his townspeople continued to drink deep into the night, honoring their fallen.

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