A moment of silence descended upon the battlefield when the Red King fell. Just one single moment of silence before the Golden Army’s roar of victory erupted. He often thought about that moment of silence, wondering if it was not more important than what followed.
He also often thought about that moment of silence because it was the moment that he found his big brother’s broken body. His big brother who had easily swung him around as a little kid. His big brother who had looked after him after their parents died. His big brother who had shown him how to fight and given him his first sword. His big brother who had shown him how to hunt and farm and drink, and his big brother who would always be trapped in that moment of silence.
“The Red King has fallen! The Golden Bard has won! The Prophecy is fulfilled!” roared the men around him, yet his brother and the other bodies around them remained silent. The Golden Bard’s banners waved, his trumpets blared and his soldiers surged forward to finish those few in the Northern Army who did not flee. The soldiers surged forward, pushing passed him as he stood silently staring at his big brother’s corpse.
Much like blood had earlier that day, the wine flowed that night. He drank his full–or tried to–but the wine tasted bad. It was bitter and did not fill him like it used to. He wished with all his heart that he was sharing it with his big brother, yet the survivors did not care and they drunkenly boasted of their trophies.
Their trophies, though, were silent; silent along with his big brother.
In those moments and across the years that followed, he often wondered, if given a second chance, whether the dead would choose to fight their wars again. The only answer he ever heard was what he had heard on that battlefield that day: silence. Endless, roaring Silence, echoing louder than anything else.
And, so, that night, he slipped away, taking his Silence and the sword his big brother had given him.
The completion of the Prophecy and the victory against the Northern Army spread across the central lands, but he moved faster than it and found himself in a small hamlet on the edge of the Unruled Land. While the Golden Bard–now a King–was consolidating his Kingdom, establishing his taxes and treasury, and seeing his army’s ranks swell, no one cared about those who lived on the edge of the world with little to their names. And those who lived at the edge of the world preferred it that way.
The wine tasted better here, cleaner. Not sweet, but neither was it bitter. His big brother would have liked it.
He was sure he saw, or recognized, some of the blonde-haired Northmen around these lands. But, they and their army were beaten–he doubted their Prophecies had been fulfilled–and they kept to themselves and he kept to himself.
And the wine kept tasting good.
Years passed and the village remained the same. The seasons came and went, and the honest toil of men yielded sustenance from the earth. Not often, but sometimes, bandits would ride out from the Unruled Land and he would fight them off with his old sword and the help of the other men and boys in the village.
And then they would return to their quiet lives tending their farms.
The old Northmen forgot their lands and many of their ways, and he tried to forget the Golden Army and their damned prophecies. Indeed, he and the Northmen would fight side by side for their shared pieces of land. And then they would farm together, sharing their surpluses and helping out with each others’ deficits. He learned about their ways and they his, and, people fell in love, families joined, babies were born and life continued forging new ways forward without the need for armies and prophecies.
It was a difficult life but the wine tasted good, the birds chirped in summer and the hearth crackled in winter. And, slowly, the Silence began to dim in his heart and he began to only think of his big brother in the darker hours of the night.
Slowly, disturbing tales from wandering tinkers began to reach them. The Golden Kingdom was at war, again, the Golden King–as the Bard now referred to himself–and his Golden Army were fighting amongst themselves. There was talk of new prophecies being told, many new prophecies being told to anyone who wanted one. Some factions broke off and raided innocent villages while the Golden King viciously hiked taxes with harsh treatment for those starving peasants who could not pay. All to feed the furnace of war upon the beguiling promise of conveniently opposing prophecies.
He would shake his head, sip his wine, and wonder if it would reach them. The young men around him would laugh and talk tough about fighting off soldiers like they had the bandits, and he would look at the old Northmen and they would all shake their heads and drink their wine. Once, a painfully long time ago, his big brother had spoken like these boys and he had listened, and the thought of it made an old hurt ache deep down inside him and the Silence began to sound louder in his heart.
He knew it before the boy’s cries pierced the crisp morning air. The raging civil war had been spreading and getting nearer. He had felt it ever since the first tinker had spoken of the Golden Kingdom’s troubles. He had felt the Silence and knew that the noise and violence would likely follow like winter after a long, quiet, peaceful summer.
A regiment of soldiers was heading towards them. Were they for the Golden King or against him? Or were they merely for themselves? Did it matter to the village–his village–as they were surely not for these people?
He was an old man now and his hands were calloused from working the soil. His hair was long and white, and his big brother would never have recognized him. Indeed, he wondered if he would recognize his big brother if he saw him now. He hoped so. What would his big brother have been doing? Would he be here with him, or one of the soldiers marching towards them?
The Silence began to quietly roar inside him but this time he did not try to ignore it. This time no bards would write poems nor historians publish books on the battle. This time there were no prophecies to fulfill while rationalizing murder. No, this time he fought alongside the Northmen just as men, and, this time, they fought not over kingdoms but their homes.
He put on his old armor and picked up his old sword. The sword his big brother had given him. The sword his big brother had taught him how to fight with. It was heavy. It was a heavy burden and one that he did not think he would have to carry much longer. As he walked out to join his neighbors, wondering if he would meet his big brother soon, the Silence roared in his heart.