EYES OF STONE
Eyes of stone looked down. A man arrayed in gold and elementum, on horseback, holding leather reins in a sweating palm; silhouetted on an ancient cliff, at the head of an army; the azure sky at his back; the blinding sun above his head. Three thousand horsemen clad in metal, on shining horses, burning in the heat of the day. A sandy hill of weathered stone, scarred by ages and the beating sun. The gleaming flash of metal. Bronzed faces gleaming with glistening sweat. Stifled lungs and throats craving water. Minds dulled by the oppressive heat; awaiting commands.
A man arrayed in gold, looking down to the limits of his vision, at distant white walls, across the plain, his voice cracked and aching.
They awoke to the pulse beating in their throats and drank. The commander looked to the anxious faces of his seconds.
They led their horses from scorching sand covered rock, to cool grass, and lay down amidst the greenness.
His heart beat violently; his pulse throbbed; his stomach sank when he saw it. Where there had been nothing, he found himself in the midst of an army, rolling forward like a long wave on the ocean. He lay still, like an animal; his muscles tense; his mind racing. The truth was crystal clear and he was stunned.
He could see them, hear them talking, discern the movements of their lips; a great army almost encircling him. He stole a last furtive look, and edged unseen, along a shallow gully; dropped over the edge into a deeper fissure and crawled to a hollow among the rocks. His horse was tethered there.
A deafening clamour assailed his mind. Mounting, he sped away, through the stone littered hills, across the wide plain, to the white walled city.
Lithe young bodies lay in the sun; sleek bronzed bodies and smiling faces in the shade.
No one at first believed him, but he gathered a circle of young warriors around him, their faces stern and alert. They spread their news and the town fell silent. They saw the dust clouds rising far away. They sensed the empty truth. They realised that death was near. There was nothing left to do but pray.
The man spoke from the saddle, to five thousand anxious faces.
“Arm yourselves my people. They are, at least three thousand mounted warriors. They are the Cohort of Dalvae. They fight from horseback, with swords and heavy armour.
Gather the children together. The men, all the old men… must stay to fight, to defend Avara. The others must escape. If we resist we will probably perish. If we surrender, we will be spared nothing by the Dalvae. No crime will be shunned by them, especially against the young women. They will bring death, slavery and torture… We will resist to the end. Use the bow, if you can. If not gather up the swords, spears, daggers…
The women will go with the children and the horses. These will now go quickly to the west gate. Children listen! You must obey. Go with anyone who is leaving. Go quickly by the west gate.”
A crowd of children moved silently away, young faces worried, intent on their purpose. Mothers reached out to their small hands and drew them on, lifting them onto the horses, leading them away.
The young man continued, “The city must be held, so that they can escape. We do not have much time left. Take up your arms and prepare to die bravely.”
They thundered nearer. The dust clouds grew. Above the city gates, two hundred young men waited with drawn bows. Swords were in the hands of women and old men. Then they were within arrow range. A futile hail of arrows struck amongst them.
The city fell. They entered from all sides, cleaving heads and severing hands, cutting men to pieces, trampling human flesh, impaling children. Everywhere, the smell of death, the clamour of pain. Everywhere the advancing horde.
With icy clarity she looked into the eyes of a man. A gash in his thigh, was dripping blood of darkest red. He ran forward and seized her. She felt cloth tear into her flesh. He drew her close and pushed his lips to hers, forcing her down. He pressed his hand between her thighs.
Her fingers touched upon a dagger’s hilt. She withdrew the blade and pushed it slowly into his neck; feeling warm blood as he fell. She glanced up and caught the murderous gaze of a man on horseback. He drew his sword and dismounted, holding her eyes with his. She backed away. He stepped closer, raising his sword. She reached down to a blood stained spear.
Suddenly he was falling, clutching at his skull; red gore oozing out of shattered metal. A light touch fell on her arm; a young man. Their eyes met.
Her eyes caught the movement as he spoke; the blurred form of a horse hurtling nearer. The rider raised a spear. She screamed a warning; heard the spear thud in, drowned in a groan. He fell towards her pulling her down, the long haft hanging from his back. A great form passed over her. Suddenly something cut into her head – a horse’s hoof. Falling heavily, still conscious, a strange cold feeling in her head, as blood erupted down, flooding her vision.
Drawing close, her eyes filled with tears; she pressed herself against his skin. Something tore into her back: and descending from above, red clouds of pain, spiralling into darkness, a long grey tunnel into oblivion.
They had gone, leaving Avara to the vultures, a shattered ruin. Corpses filled the streets. The conquerors had spared no one. Those wounded whom they had not put to death, had fallen into oblivion, or crawled away into tall grass around the city walls.
A woman crossed the shadow of the broken gates to search among the carnage; her senses haunted by the stench of death and blood and bitter smoke. Down avenues of toppled buildings; a nation ravaged; she went, with grim features: an old woman, walking slowly among the loathsome vultures; her nation, her children, laid naked to the jaws of hyenas and jackals.
As others joined her, and the afternoon drew on, she sat down, overwhelmed by pale burning grief. For a long time she sat and wept tears for her city become a slaughterhouse. She heard the voices of the others. Someone approached. Then she heard a baby’s cry.
She moved among the ruins to a stone oven, and there within, she found a male child of two months. She ran crying to her companions. They were astonished by her displays of joy. One instant of gladness in their darkest hour.
The child was Tytis.