Vanquished


There is a quiet chill in the air, quite unlikely for summer. The dry leaves rustle with an eerie whistle as they throw caution to the wind. As the moon glitters above, the night is bright as day, bathing the arena with its milky light.

Surely, the gods must be watching; anxiously waiting, not knowing what happens next.

The crowds have gathered in the thousands. The atmosphere is subdued, woeful, and gloomy. The cursed woman is here, seated at the center of the gigantic pavilion. Her fair body, now almost white as the icy breeze hit her pale skin, looks ghastlier than ever dressed in black silk. She wears no ornaments today, for today is not about beauty or grace. Her eyes reflect the sorrow and death that are to follow, completely wet with tears. She looks as though she has been crying for days on end now. It didn’t matter who would win today. She was the only loser leaving the arena tonight.

For she was the reason why they were all here. She was the living embodiment of infidelity; she had betrayed her king for another man. His general. The most beautiful woman in the world, many warriors had died trying to arrest her attention. Yet all she ever wanted was to be loved. She may have been queen, but she was also human, falling in love with a man who loved her back. A man who loved her for her. A man who loved her as much as he loved his country.

The two men walked into the arena to a loud ovation. Both men had exceptional physiques with well-placed scars displaying years spent in gruesome battle. Both men were well-built, extremely muscular and agile, and in the prime of their lives. Both men were evenly matched; they had watched each other in battle over the years and had known each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They knew one of them wasn’t making it out of this duel alive. It was personal. They weren’t here for glory; they were here to rip each other apart. One was fighting for pride, the other for love.

The woman stared blankly at the spectacle unfolding in front of her eyes. The people had loved their king; he was wise, just, and kind. And she did too; she loved and respected him for his benevolence and dedication towards the growth and sustenance of the nation. Alas, she fell prey to her bodily desires. A heavy price; the nation was sure to lose a son of the soil today. But fate had been etched in stone, for betrayal could never go unpunished.

Both men looked each other in the eye. They looked like brothers, having fought valiantly on an array of battlefields together and emerging victorious in the past. They would train together. Fight together. Bleed together. Maybe today they’d die together.

The horn rang through the silence like cold steel through butter. The crowds went silent, watching the two with expectant gazes. So silent, you could hear a pin drop. The people were watching every move closely, every nuance, every flick, and every twitch. Pearls of sweat glistened on their firm, toned bodies. The two men circled each other, expecting the other to make the first move.

The king lunged forward, trying to break the stalemate. Their swords met; sparks flying as the battle intensified. There were no helmets, no shields today. This was to be an old-fashioned fight, a fight to the death. Both men ducked blows, displaying their dexterity and superior fighting skills. Each one had their share of close shaves, the swords missing the body by millimeters. They were so evenly matched that no one budged for twenty minutes. It felt like watching art; so much precision, so much technique. Then finally, a splash of color.

The king had managed to land a blow to the general’s thigh, succeeding in drawing first blood.

Blood. The crimson red liquid shone on the massive blade; the color bejeweled by the moonlight. The king is pleased. The first blow has landed. He knows his opponent would lose blood, making him weaker as the fight continued. He savors the moment. He licks his lips. He has the edge. He looks at his general, trying to stand up gingerly on the injured leg. He keeps his gaze focused on the wound, an invisible target posted on the wounded leg.

The general knows what to expect. He can see it in his king’s eyes, the unrelenting focus on his bloodied leg. He knows he would have done the same. It is now time for self-preservation; too much too fast and he would bleed to death. He could only wait, and hope the king made a mistake. Swords clanged, the metallic clink resonating in the cold night air.

The gruesome battle continues for hours; both warriors able to land blow after blow on their opponents bodies. Both men tire, lose blood fast. However, they won’t not stop. They seem to be driven by a passion to brawl, to go for the kill. Both men chase the ultimate ecstasy.

Then it happens.

The general loses footing, trying to duck a blow from his king. The king seizes this opportunity; he drives the cold, cruel steel right through his general’s torso. Blood splashes all over the king’s body, making for a bloody, gruesome picture. The crowd gasps. It’s all over. The general drops his sword, for he knows death is only a matter of time. The king walks over to him, sword at the ready. He has his man right where he wants him. He tries to fight mixed emotions. All his life he loved this man like a brother, but betrayal could not be forgiven. He looks in the direction of his queen; a walking corpse who had burst into tears when the killer blow was delivered. He decides to deal with her later; he had to finish what she’d started.

He closes the dying man’s eyes. Holds his hand. He prays to the gods that they be brothers again in the next life. And he drives the blade into the dying man’s heart in one swift stroke. The body stops writhing as a last breath leaves its home. The general now lies vanquished, lifeless, covered in dust and blood.

The king tries to control his tears. Even a king has emotions; but he cannot display weakness. He walks away silently, clutching the sword that took his brother’s life. The crowd is silent, stunned by their great loss. Some begin weeping inconsolably, some still trying to come to terms with what had unfolded. For someone, his or her world had just ended.

All that is left on this cold night is the truth. There is no glory for the victor, no mercy for the vanquished.

© 2013 Mihir Kamat

Inspired by this week’s writing challenge.

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9 thoughts on “Vanquished

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  4. This feels like the opening scene to an epic novel. I loved this passage:

    Alas, she fell prey to her bodily desires. A heavy price; the nation was sure to lose a son of the soil today. But fate had been etched in stone, for betrayal could never go unpunished.

    The “son of the soil” is a great turn of phrase!

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