Perspective is a terrible thing, throwing into doubt, not our eyes, but ourselves, not the things around us, but the entire world those things occupy. I think, should an eagle, given a brief glimpse through the eyes of the little lamb it wants to carry off, in that moment before its talons pierce through the babe’s wool and flesh to curl around the flexible spine, it would see all things, all the things it sees from the lofty throne of heaven, but in a kinder, gentler way. Not looking down upon the grassy field as a buffet for it to swoop upon, but in that strange moment I describe to you, seeing a home. The grass stops being a mere background, a green tablecloth, and becomes a rich carpet, a never-ending field of tasty flowers. Then to be ripped from that home, seeing itself through its prey’s eyes, to be caught up by a demon, yes it would see a monster.
No one counts it strange, dear friend, that the fox kills the chicken, or the eagle consumes the lamb, but I have not truly been considering lambs. When peace was established, when Alexander ruled without question, what did he do but count the cost of his armies? And what did he say? He said, “Now that I am King, and there be no more land to conquer, I need not this grand host.” So he kept one of ten, and set the other nine free. What did those nine do, what did those eagles do? There was no honest labor for them, strong men would dig if anyone paid them to, and the only skill they had was raiding, pillaging, and looting. They went to it, and now Alexander raises an army to fight the bandits he once employed.
Remember as children, the lanky lieutenant? The one with the golden teeth? I killed him today. Remember, he used to sneak us sweets. Our master had a strict diet for us to follow, but the lieutenant would pinch a few treats now and again, offering them to us. He told me about his family once, had a baby boy, a wife, a farm. I didn’t know why he was crying as he told me these things, giving me candy. I didn’t know then. He, like many of his people, had lost everything in a purge. Alexander loved to have them fighting on his side while he took the lands, but they were the first dismissed after the war. How treacherous is the tongue that in need promises brotherhood, but in security remembers old wounds?
The storm was blowing fiercely over the hills, and I saw it coming toward me like a dragon. Loath as I was, that day, to company with other men, still more so was I to spend the night drowning in the downpour of rain. So, I found a place to stay, to sleep, but, sitting round the warming fire, the men of the town, lamenting, kept me awake with their chilling tales. How were they to feed their families when the raiders’ bellies were never full? There was no more they could give. By and by, I learned that the bandits were due tomorrow, that the storehouses were empty, that blood would spill before the next sunset.
Rising in the morn, I found the day bleak, as if preparing for the tragedy to come. Dark overcast skies covered the land in shadows, and the miserable people spoke not one word to each other. And what was I to them, a stranger? Little did my gold cheer the innkeeper, halfheartedly he took the coins, and without counting them, drooped them into his purse. I spoke of breakfast, and mutely he sought out a window to gaze through.
Following him, I saw what the lamb saw. Over the crest of the hill, the riders came, their horses’ hooves, upturning the muddy ground, sending black earth splattering into the air. They looked like the storm clouds of last night, and sounded as the rumbling thunder. Screaming like devils, some of them with their sabers circling over their heads, they swooped in on this little village. A tall man shouted orders, and a number of his men dismounted and took to the streets. A pair of them came into the inn. The landlord put up his hands quickly, while I eased a knife from my sleeve.
“Hands up,” one cried, pointing his sabre at me.
Recall that old drill our master ran us through. We would stay perfectly still as he threw knives past our heads, or worse still, pull out his sword and swing it so close to us, and at such dizzying speeds, that I always felt for sure that this was the time he’d slip. Or that game we’d play. You or I would see how close we could get to the other and yet still be able to dodge the other’s blow. All the multitude of ways we prepared to face death, little knowing what our training was for.
“Hands up,” the man shouted again. He was fat, and possessing a rather bulbous neck, shared a certain resemblance with a frog. Stomping forward, the mud falling off his boots at every step, he brought the sword’s razor edge to my ear. “I said, ‘Hands up,’ boy.” I stabbed my little dagger deep into his bloated double chin. With a little gurgling noise, he fell to the floor. The other rushed me, his sword high in the sky, screaming with rage. I recognized the glistening gold teeth as he approached. Throwing my already crimson dagger, I watched it embed itself in my old friend. Collapsing to the floor, the lieutenant ended his charge. As he lay dying in a swelling pool of blood, I knelt by his side.
Brushing his hair out of his eyes, I said, “Lieutenant.”
“Gakuto,” he whispered, the light fading from his eyes.
It reminded me very much of another scene, when fireworks, blasting in the distance, lit up the night, revealing in bright colors my master, my knife in his chest. “Gakuto,” he said touching my face. As his arm went limp, the hand falling from me and crashing into the dirty snow, I knew he was dead. I had killed our master.