War is never ending, always looming. You can never let your guard down, even when things seem the brightest, for this world will take more than it offers.
I lived in a small town out on the country, far away from the struggles of power and ideologies; things that I, nor anyone else in my village, could care less about. Even so, war found its way to us. I didn’t understand how it came about, at the time, why those horrible men did what they did, why they just couldn’t leave us alone. But now I understand that they were a product of their time, a time of chaos and unrest. Even to this day, I don’t fully understand how the Order came to an end; giving up the power to the strong rather than the just.
Shortly after the fall of the Order, a Warlord came to our remote village, whose name I’ve forgotten. He was like any other marauder, oppressive and ruthless. Though, later in life, I’ve heard he was far from the worst… We weren’t treated as badly as could have been, I’ll admit, as we had two (disgusting) meals a day and was allowed a few leisurely hours to tend to our own. But in the end, we were slaves and we were expendable.
My father died before the unrest, leaving me and my mother to fend for ourselves. She died shortly after the occupation, however. Before her death, she’d all but given up as the light from her eyes slowly faded, leaving only a husk and an empty expression. I haven’t forgiven her, to this day, for leaving a young girl to the cruelties of the world. Fortunately, I was not like my mother and vowed to escape. I had to simply wait and let opportunity present itself.
Several weeks later, it happened.
Another Warlord attacked our village and our master wasn’t about to let them have us. During the commotion, I snuck through the veil of darkness that was especially dark because of the moonless night. I headed west to the only other village I knew of, where my father had family. I didn’t know if it was better there or worse, but hope kept me going, which was all I needed – or so I thought.
The forest was thick with leaves in summer and there were plenty of berries to pick. I managed to eat some of the bark that was edible but it barely sustained me. After a week through the forest, I finally made it to a large empty field, and as I peered over it, my heart sank. I had grown used to the coverage of the forest and didn’t cherish the idea to travel for days out in the open. In the end, I didn’t t have the courage and spent many more nights in the forest I knew.
Everyday I gazed on the horizon, sure that today was the day I’d dare to go. But as the days pilled on I soon gave up on the notion and instead learned to survive in the wilderness. I taught myself how to make a fire and I even managed to snare a rabbit. The meal was glorious, the first meat I’ve tasted in many years. But though things seemed to look up for me, I was but a young girl and failed to consider that the smoke of my campfire could be seen above the crowns of the trees. And sure enough, two men emerge one day through the bushes. We stared at each other, me, frozen in fear, and they, in bewilderment in finding a young girl alone in the woods.
They told me they were part of a large group of refugees heading west and offered to take me with them. I accepted, with reservation, and made sure to walk a few paces behind them so that I could escape in case they lied.
It wasn’t a camp as much as it was a collection of people scattered around the forest. There were both men, women and children in the camp, which let my guard down. As I entered, a random man approached and offered me an apple. I know now that I shouldn’t have accepted it, but I was at ease and took it without thinking. When I did, he grabbed my arm and dragged me to a tent nearby. I screamed and called for help, but nobody came.
The man smiled throughout and did what he pleased. I remained in the tent shivering for an hour, afterwards. My clothes were badly torn and when I finally emerged, there were several men waiting for me with food as offerings. I didn’t understand it then, but accepting that apple made me into a prostitute. It was then that I learned: there’s no kindness without return. With tears flowing, I forced my way through the men and ran to the forest that I knew.
They didn’t come after me.
Despite everything, (or maybe it was because of it) I was more determined than ever to make my way across the field. So I followed the caravan of refugees while keeping my distance in case somebody would come after me.
They never did.
After a day, we reached my father’s home village, but it had been burnt and abandoned. We passed many more abandoned villages along our way, and after a week in the wilderness, we reached the great city of Rokenstov. There, the army had full control and kept it protected. Fortunately, it was also in desperate need of workers so we weren’t denied when we entered the city. I found work in a Spinnery which I worked for many years and now I’m an old lady that never lets her guard down, even when things seemed the brightest. The rest of my life, there isn’t much to tell. There are a few happy moments, such as buying my own apartment and eventually running my own Spinnery a decade later.
The end comes to all of us; I suppose I decided to postpone mine. Am I happier for it? Who knows, the only thing I know is that I’ll die of old age, which is a win in my book.
© Christopher Stamfors