The Final Battle
The battle had raged since mid-morning and now it was mid-afternoon.
The shouts of men, the screams of the wounded, the clash of weapons and armor resounded over the battlefield. Were one to take the time to look, he would see bodies lying all over the plain nearly as far as he could see. That is, were one so foolish as to look.
No one could ever say what it was that caused it to happen, but slowly, the two armies began to disengage and pull apart, forming two battle-weary lines some 50 paces apart. No man in either army relaxed their grip and all were breathing heavily. Here and there a man would slowly drop to his knees. Some struggled and succeeded in rising back to their feet but others just stayed where they were. Some dropped their weapons, finally unable to hold them any longer in the sudden break. No one gave them any aid or thought — the battle hardened veterans kept their eyes on the enemy.
The word cut like a sword through the air. Slowly, keeping one eye on the enemy, everyone looked to the source of that cry. Coming down between the two armies was an old man. Both sides knew instantly what he was, even if not who. No one else would dare walk between two warring armies like that.
Pausing half-way down the two ragged lines, the man glared first at one army then the other. Impossible as it was, every man in both armies thought the Gifted stared directly at him.
“You waste your youth, you waste your men. You waste your families…your crops…your lives.”
The words seemed to strike home like a pail of ice water on a sleeping man. Through some trick of acoustics or of the Gift, every man on the battlefield heard the Gifted clearly.
Raising his arms and pointing to each army, the Gifted spoke again. “This ends NOW. Thrice a full cycle is ENOUGH. This war ends NOW!”
Men began to shift nervously.
Stamping his staff on the ground in front of him, the Gifted laid out the terms. “Maer dha Xamp! Death of the Champion. Send your Champion here, and now. Maer dha Xamp! Who lives wins and this war ends!”
The silence seemed to irritate the Gifted and he slammed his staff into the ground again, the heavy thud felt by all.
“Maer dha Xamp! You will obey. Send your Champion!”
Somewhere in the two armies inaudible speech was heard. Leather creaked and metal hit metal as a trail of slow turbulence formed in the still ranks. From each army a man began moving forward. As each front line parted to let their respective Champion through, both armies seemed to shift their weight forward.
The two Champions made their way to the Gifted to stand on either side of him, each warily eyeing the other warrior.
“Remove your helmet!”
The two Champions complied. Recognition dawned in each, along with a slight thrill of anticipation. Murmurs ran through both armies as the two Champions were recognized and word spread.
From the front lines, men passed back word that the Gifted was speaking and the Champions replying but no word of the conversation could be heard.
The Gifted looked at first one Champion then the other. Each nodded in turn. The Gifted stepped back and raised his staff, holding it out from him by one end, the other end horizontal between the two Champions. The Champions stepped back and seated their helmets on their heads again. Gripping their swords and shields, they crouched slightly and nodded, almost in unison.
The Gifted looked neither left nor right as he stepped back, quickly pulling his staff away from the two Champions. Their reaction was instantaneous and the sharp sound of sword on shield rang through the quiet air.
All eyes were on the two Champions as they battle. Those who could see quietly pass word to those who can’t, providing a quiet murmur background to the clamor of sword and armor. Even the carrion birds seem quiet, unable to make a sound, as all there are transfixed by the battle waging before them.
In the stillness only the sound of the Champions battling is heard. The air rang with the distinct sounds of sword against sword, shield, or armor and shield against shield or armor. Grunts of effort were heard from the two Champions as they waged battle around the Gifted who stood quietly as if he were the only one there.
The sounds of battle seemed unnaturally harsh and loud. As the battle progressed, the watching men begin to cringe from time to time as a successful hit is made. Armor, shield, and sword all took on a sheen of red. The watching warriors want to look away but find themselves unable to do so. Swords blur through the air, sometimes blocked but more and more they strike home, each Champion giving as good as he gets, but neither able to make the killing blow. Shields shift, bodies move, as often as not failing to fully stop the attack but still managing to protect the vitals. Sometimes just barely.
The sudden silence was startling.
The two Champions had backed off and now stood some 20 paces apart. Both were bleeding, both were panting, shields and swords were nicked, armor was cut and dented but neither dropped their guard. The watchers could see their shoulders heaving as they drew in great breaths. Neither Champion stood still, both were carefully stretching, trying to loosen muscles, shifting their grip on their weapons, and moving, looking for a more advantageous position. Always, though, their eyes were on their opponent, constantly moving against the other’s movement, maintaining that defensive stance.
The watchers suddenly realized that both Champions had stopped moving and were facing each other, standing absolutely still. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, both began to shift their stance. Gradually the more veteran watchers understood what was happening and word spread through the two armies. This battle was almost done.
The silence became total. No one, watcher or battling Champion moved. No-one seemed to breathe, waiting for what was to come.
When it came, it seemed more vicious, more horrible than any battle any veteran had ever been in.
Both Champions acted in the same instant, as if they were mirror images of each other.
Screams seemed to shred the very air about the Champions. They charged at each other, shields falling to the side, grips shifting on their swords. Swords blurred in motion as the two Champions passed, shrieking metal on metal piercing the air. Then the two Champions were past, coming to a stop 10 paces apart. They slowly turned to face each other, their swords lowering as they did.
The silence lasted several lifetimes as the two Champions stood there.
Both Champions fell silently, the only sound the harsh thud of their bodies as they hit the ground.
It seemed as if it were several more lifetimes before sound slowly returned. The harsh cawing of crows, the creak of leather, the moaning of the wounded seemed to cautiously return to the world, wondering if it were safe to intrude. Strangling sighs and gasps were heard as watching warriors suddenly realized they had been holding their breath and began to breathe again.
An officer in one army looked around at his men. He half raised his sword but couldn’t seem to bring it up to rally his men and let it drop to his side.
The silence of the two armies is broken by the sound of metal against metal on the ground. A single soldier has dropped his weapons and turned to leave. First one, then another, then more and more warriors of both armies drop their weapons in surrender and turn to leave, walking away. Here and there men pause to help the wounded to their feet or gesture for another to help carry off the wounded. The men begin to spread out, searching among the bodies for the wounded.
The two armies mingle, indiscriminately helping with the wounded. By the time the sun sets, there is only one person standing in the battlefield.
The Gifted shakes his head as he looks around him. “Maer dha Xamp, sin’n caer lae maer.” He turns and walks off into the dusk.