Panting and sword in hand, he used his sleeve to wipe away the blood running down his forehead. Blood that dripped down like sweat. Bodies littered the space around him. He was alone. The last warrior left standing. The last person that could protect his home.
The creature snarled at him. Determined, he raised his blade again against his opponent, he would not let his clan fall. As strong as the creature was, and regardless of how many others have perished under its claws, he was not going to let it pass him. Not this time. Memories flashing before his eyes, he tightened his grip on his blade. He was not going to let history repeat itself. He wasn’t going to lose her. Not this time. Not again.
He met her eyes in the mirror, as he entered the room. Smiling, he wrapped his arms around her, silently watching her brush her hair before the dressing table. It had already been two years since she had agreed to become his wife, and he still hadn’t gotten over it. If not for the infant peacefully sleeping in the swinging cradle beside her, he would’ve undoubtedly found himself questioning reality. It all felt like a dream, everything seemingly too good to be real.
Before her, he was in heaven. Her choice to stay with him was more than he could’ve hoped for. Everything he could dream of. If only the war could settle faster. If only, he had more time to accompany her. But all of that faded into the background the moment she turned with her gaze meeting his eye. She was beautiful.
So mind-numbingly beautiful. Staring into her brown eyes, and sharing the contentment written on her face, he knew that there was no place that he would rather be.
But that happiness didn’t last long. A soldier soon rushed in, interrupting them. He turned, bringing a finger to his lips, silencing the other man. His men were well-aware of his love for home, and his dreams of the war’s conclusion. Without another word, the soldier saluted and exited. He knew the other man would bewaiting for him outside. Still, he leaned forward, nuzzling his wife’s neck. Kneeling before her, he took hold of her hands, and rested his face against them. The last thing that he wanted to do was leave her so quickly. He’d only returned.
Longingly, he looked up, staring into her eyes. Gently, she passed a hand through his hair, delicately caressing it. They both knew what this meant. No one could say how long he would be gone this time. Knowing that she understood him, he pulled her hand closer and planted a kiss over it. Unbridled tears blurred his vision, robbing him of the last image of her.
Even so, urged on by duty, he stood. Sensing his reluctance, she gave him a gentle push toward the door. Fighting his innate desires, he tore his eyes off her, and turned to leave. Their son cried out behind him, pulling harder at his heart strings, as he forced himself further and further away from her. He needed to win this war if he ever wanted to live peacefully with her. It was as much for their country as it was for their future.
Without a peace, there was never a moment of guaranteed safety. No matter what she told him, no matter what lies he told himself, without freedom from the constant threat looming over them, he could never give her the life that she deserved. He could never give their son a normal developmental environment. For her, for their child, he would fight. For their futures, he would serve the king, even if it tore at him to leave them.
In a blink of an eye, he’d been gone for half a year. Yet, there was not a moment of free time he didn’t think of her. There wasn’t an instance outside of combat that he didn’t want to run back home, if only to see her for a split second. But she was days away. Too far for him to return to between engagements.
He pulled out a sheet of paper from his new makeshift desk. Wetting his brush in black ink, he began to write. How he wished to have her in his arms, to hear her voice in person, and to see her smile at their son’s laughter. Alas, he had but a pen and paper. An inadequate substitute for her physical presence, but his only way to retain a connection with her. The only way he could still share her feelings, and understand her day to day.
He sighed. He hadn’t received a letter from her for over a month now, but he knew he had to be patient. The war had undoubtedly affected postage. Though unsure of whether she was still recieving his messages, he didn’t want to risk cutting himself off from her, from his home, from his awaiting family. So, despite the month-long lack of response, he continued to write.
Just as he finished the greeting and returned his brush to the bottle of ink, in preparation for the next stroke, a man stumbled into his tent.
“General!” The man shouted.
“What is it?” He asked, without turning and fully intending to continue writing as soon as soon as the man left his tent.
“The Northern City.” The man responded, still huffing. “They’ve fallen into enemy hends.”
The pen fell out of his hand, the ink splattering all over the sheet and covering obscuring her name that covered it. Immediately, he turned around, abandoning the letter, and grabbing the man by his shirt.
“Then my wife?” He asked. She had to be okay. “What of my wife and son?”
“They haven’t been found.” The man answered. “Our recent reports only said that your home was ravaged.”
“Fetch my horse!” He ordered.
“But what about the conflict here?” The man inquired. “What of the king?”
“My wife and child are missing.” He replied. “And you’re asking me, what of this conflict? No wonder I haven’t heard back from her for so long. Why didn’t you tell me sooner that the north was being attacked?”
“There were already troops stationed there.” The man answered. “His highness had said that they were enough to keep the region safe.”
“Fetch my horse.” He repeated. “I’m going back.”
“Alone?” The man asked, as the stableman that were normally stationed outside of his tent returned with his stallion.
“I can’t continue fighting here when my family’s in danger.” He answered, climbing onto the warhorse. “You know that I only fight because of them. The opposition forces are already in a corner. I’m sure his highness can handle one more engagement on his own.”
“What should I tell his majesty?” The man asked.
“Just tell the truth.” He replied, urging the animal toward the direction of home. Toward the direction of chaos, toward his family.
But it was useless. Panicked, he returned back, explicitly disregarding his majesty’s orders, and abandoning his post. Crimes that were both punishable by death. But none of that mattered at the time. He had to confirm she was okay. He had to ensure that she was okay. He had to see her well and unharmed. He had to ensure that she would be safe, even if it meant fighting the Northern enemies on his own, even if it meant he had to take her to the southern camp with him.
But nothing was ever the same after that day. She was gone. Never did she return. For weeks, he’d searched. The man was right, there was no sign beyond the bloodstains that greeted him from the walls and floors immediately beyond the doors of their home. A place that was once his sanctuary. A place that he’d he’d once imagined their future. The place that he’d last left her.
As he’d predicted, the war ended from the catastrophic defeat in the south. Within days, the enemy troops withdrew from the north. But still, she did not return. For weeks, he’d passed each day, searching for her by day and waiting back at home by night. For weeks, he’d sat entire nights, waiting for her, not daring to move beyond the perimeter of their once happy and shared home. For weeks, he waited for news. For any sign of her. For any sign of their son.
For weeks, he waited, getting his hopes shattered time and time again. For weeks, he cried himself to sleep, holding nothing but her pillow in his arms and breathing in nothing but her familiar scent. But weeks turned into months long after the war ended. Never once did he hear of her. Not a single one of the men he’d sent out returned home with her news.
Still, he stubbornly waited, until the moment that he met the king’s eyes with a blade sitting on his neck. Until, he had no choice but to admit that she wasn’t coming back. Until, he had no choice but to admit his failure to protect her. Until, he couldn’t but admit her demise, a cost of hisnown failure.
He still remembered that cold blade, and the crashing weight of the cruel and unforgiving truth. He still remembered the incomparable pain in his heart and agony in his mind that overwhelmed everything else.
But this wasn’t last time. Defiantly, he met the creature’s eyes. He wouldn’t let history repeat itself. He had to protect her this time. It didn’t matter how slim the odds were. He tightened his grip around his blade, as he charged at the creature. He was going to make sure she was safe this time, even if it took him everything he had.
He was now a part of this Irryea clan. He’d found her after all those incarnations, and he wasn’t going to let it end the same way. Even if she didn’t remember their shared past any longer. Even if she didn’t remember anything beyond the last few years. He would protect her this time without fail. There was no future without the securing the present. This time, he wasn’t leaving their home behind. He was going to stay till the end. Even if these creatures were stronger than the men he’d fought in his past incarnations, even if his body wasn’t quite as strong as those he’d once had, he would still stand by her this time. In life, he’d live with her, and in battle, he’d fall protecting her. Nothing else. Nothing else again.
This story was inspired by a writing prompt from the “Promptly Written” Publication.
Tell me the story behind this title
Last Clan Standing