Heart Or Darkness

I am on my way to my best friend’s wedding, which is taking place all the way down in the south, a long way from my home. My home lies on the border between the Left Empire and the Northern Mountains, and his wedding takes place on the southern coast, near the Crystal Kingdom's capital. This means that if I want to make the trip to the wedding in under a week, I would have to cut through the Center Kingdom. 

Normally this wouldn't be an issue, but there have been rumors of tension between the Center and Crystal kingdoms as of late, making me wary. I decided to go through the Center Kingdom despite the rumors, as opposed to going around the canyon that splits the Left Empire and Crystal Kingdom to the south. I have been on the road with Orion for the better part of 5 days now,  with about two days left in my trip until I arrive at the wedding.

Traveling through the Center Kingdom has been nothing if not pleasant. The sun has been shining and the forests have been incredibly lush as well. Orion and I have been keeping to a well-trod path that leads south, which mostly goes through fields and forests, passing by the occasional village. Making sure to be careful, we continue traveling due south towards the Crystal Kingdom border.  

As we get closer to the border, I notice that the land is incredibly quiet... too quiet. No birds are chirping, no people or villages in sight, and it seems as if even the wind has taken the day off. The hairs on my arms stand up, and I sit alert on Orion's back, reassuring myself that it's just paranoia. The path follows the perimeter of woods on my left side, and it begins to veer left. As the trees drop away and Orion turns the corner, my heart stops. Orion stops too.

In front of us lie the remains of a battle that took place mere hours ago. The field appears charred, as though set ablaze by the victors. I can see the gruesome remains of hundreds, if not thousands of dead in front of me, and I feel sick. The metallic scent of blood hangs in the air, making it hard to breathe. On the other side of the field, the smoldering ruins of a small village caught amid the battle are billowing black smoke. 

I nudge Orion forward, and we move slowly towards the scene. It seems the survivors of this battle are long gone, and the rest are long dead. As we get closer to the scene of the battle, I begin to make out some of the dead, with body parts strewn across the ground, the whole field has been tinted red and black among their remains. I am usually very put together, but the sight of such gore is, quite simply, too much for me to bear.     I jump off Orion to throw up in the trees a couple of feet away. 

Walking back to my horse, something grabs my ankle. My whole body jumps with nerves, and I look down. Latched firmly to my ankle is a blood-crusted hand, belonging to what I thought was a dead soldier just seconds ago. The man is covered in dirt, with a gaping hole in his abdomen that has turned the ground around him into a maroon puddle. I can't believe he's alive at all. He looks up at me, his mouth beginning to move as he tries to say something.  I crouch next to him. His mouth keeps moving but all that comes out is a hoarse whisper of air. He coughs, his whole body shaking, blood spraying from his mouth as he does so. He is on the verge of death; I can't say how I know, but I know. His coughing fit ends and he looks up at me once again, with mad desperation in his eyes. This time when he tries to talk, sound does come out, and I hold my ear up close so I can hear him speak. "Why?" he says airily, his voice trailing off.

I have no answer to give. I see his life force leaving him, his grip on my ankle fades, and all I’m left with is the gruesome battlefield, and the haunting question he asked me. I turn my head back towards the scene of the battle. Looking once more at the horrific violence and destruction that members of my species caused against one another. How can these men, so similar to myself, be motivated to cause such extreme pain to one another? 

I can't wrap my head around it. Why do we split into factions and kingdoms, if all it does is give us reason to hate the so-called “others”? Are we doomed to continue this cycle of abhorrent violence and dominion over each other, motivated by retaliation efforts and getting ‘even’, unsure of who struck first, or why we call them our enemy? 

For all of our smarts and technology, when it comes to territory we are no different from the Chimps. Sure, our territories have gotten larger, and we have found ways to build new scales of tools to protect us, and to harm others. But the end result is the same. We want to grow our territory while making sure it is protected from others trying to do the same. We are never satisfied with what we have, so we start wars to get more. Except that in each case, we do not start just one war. We begin a series of back-and-forth battles that will end only as soon as we have total control or an honest brokerage of peace is made. Neither of which is very likely. 

Looking at the scene in front of me, with all of these men who gave up their lives to see their region protected, I ask myself to what end? It seems they all gave up their lives, only for the army they were fighting for, to lose horribly. Was it worth it? Did they give up this precious gift of existence for naught? These men probably have families waiting for them to come home. Children at home who look up at the door anytime there is a noise, hoping beyond hope that their daddy’s going to walk through the door, pick them up, and tell them he missed them. Except that their daddies aren’t coming home today. Or tomorrow. Or any day after. 

All of these lives affected, because, what? The Crystal leader was so far removed from the senselessness that he could order his men to charge in and take more land under his name completely guilt-free? And of course, the Center leader has to react and make a stand, because if he allows his border to be breached without recourse, he will quickly have no border to protect. So the Center leader sends in his finest fighters. A thousand-men-strong battalion, each with their own stories and families, who were told to make their leader proud. Told to fight for their nation, in order to protect their hometowns and the people in them, all for the hope of ever seeing their children again. 

No matter how much progress is made in the world, the drive for personal satisfaction always seems to screw it up. When there's enough on the line, standing firm on moral convictions seems to jump out the window. We want equality and peace, yet most will cause harm if it serves our selfish desires. 

Still that soldier's question lingers in my head, “why?" 

 I don't know the answer, and I am not sure I ever will. 

I hop back on Orion, determined not to forget the scene I saw here, simultaneously filled with the intense need to get as far from it as possible. Orion and I ride south, around the battlefield, heading towards the smoldering village, continuing the should-be-happy wedding trip. We're about to physically move past the horror, clearing what remains of the village, when I hear a high-pitched screeching sound over the clicking of Orions' hooves'. I pull on the reigns. Orion Stops and I can hear the noise clearly. It's not screeching, it's crying Somehow, out of all of the chaos, a baby survived! 

I pull Orion towards the sound and pull over at a half-caved-in townhouse, unmistakably where the crying originates. I doubt the roof will hold much longer, but I stop thinking and rush into the house. At the back of the first room is a great big wooden chest, currently closed, but I can tell that’s where the baby is. I decide to grab the entire chest and rush out the door, thankfully still in one piece. I open the chest, and lo-and-behold, a baby. Not more than 6 months old, he looks relatively unscathed from the damage, the chest lid protecting him well. He is wrapped up in blankets within the chest, keeping him warm. I grab him and the blankets, hop back on Orion, and manage to slowly soothe him into sleep as we leave the battlefield on our backs. I am not sure what this baby is called, but he gives me tremendous hope. Maybe humanity has some issues, serious ones at that, but we also create life, that I can hold right here in my hands, a beacon of light among our dark humanity. We ride far away from the terrible scene, the baby resting peacefully in my arms the whole time. I decide since his parents aren't around to take care of him, I will raise the boy myself, and his name is “Hope”.