Leave it to the gods to do something so ridiculous as to be insulting. I mean, they thought they were doing a kindness, I’m sure, but in hindsight it rang as false, so cheap and tawdry that it diminished those of us who survived.
When we made it to the top of the stairs, we found that the entire place had been cleansed and repaired. There were no dead bodies anywhere. The trees were flourishing and fresh flowers bloomed in manicured grounds.
In the main courtyard in front of the temple were set great banquet tables laden with food and drink. Each of the survivors with Boris and Adeline had their wounds bandaged and their clothes and bodies cleansed, all through divine magic.
What it accomplished, I think, was to take away the value of the sacrifice. We mortals need to understand the consequences of our actions. We need to grieve the loss of compatriots and nurse the wounds so we comprehend the true butcher’s bill. If the gods, well meaning or not, sanitize everything, then we forget the price.
This fiasco of good will took all that away. When we emerged, the pirates cheered us. While they hefted great tankards of foaming ale, I saw the horror behind their eyes. These people were out of balance.
Mother Crone beamed at us as we marched out onto the temple steps and we paused there, looking out over the cheering crowd and I had to speak my mind. It would never be enough, but it was the least I could do under the circumstance.
“My friends,” I called out, and my voice carried across the throng, amplified by some magic I did not see.
The pirates cheered again and it took a moment for them to calm once more. The cheering was tinny in my ears, brittle and false.
“Please,” I called, my voice cracking at the end of the word. “I beg of you.” The crowd stopped their antics and looked up at me, perplexed.
“This is a charade,” I said, letting the anger creep into my voice. “I know the powers here thought to do us a kindness, but it is false.”
There was no sound to that. They crowd below us grew deadly quiet. They exchanged looks of confusion, and in a few faces, hope. Hope for pain, hope for grime, hope for the bloody remnants of a battle where loved ones fought and fell.
“I beseech you,” I said, turning to the divine host who stood upon the stairs to my left. “You cannot paint an old barn and call it new. These people need the reality of the day, not the pretense of glory. Death took far too many today. Blood ran into the earth and pained cries scoured the sky above. These are real things. These are our right, our reward for daring to challenge those who would beat us down. We have earned every scar, every wound, every moment of anguish and relief. We should look forward to returning home to our families and nursing our wounds. We should sit in taverns with our wounds and tell the tales of our glory.”
My stomach ached with the dichotomy of it all. This wholesome reciprocity.
“We deserve our pain and our sorrow. Let us grieve and rejoice. For you cannot have one without the other. Let us mourn our fallen and sing of their glory.”
No one moved. It was as if the world held its breath, so I sang.
“In far flung fields when the skirmishes wane
we yearn for the forests of home
As we bury our fallen, we think to our loves
And vow that no more shall we roam
But the harrowing sharpens the blade of our lives
and the cairns mark the truth of each day
With our scars and our tales we bear witness to death
for it is the butcher’s bill that we pay”
I’m not a great singer. I mean well, and I believe that is what truly counts. Semaunzilla (may she help the others see true) but nodded at me and vanished in a flash. Kithri stepped to me and pulled me down far enough to plant a kiss on my cheek. Then she too was gone.
Only Mother Crone remained, stunned and abashed by my words.
“I did not know,” she said with tears in her eyes and the world shifted.
Where there had been tables with cloth and goblets of gold, stood fires and tents. Wounded lay on bedrolls with each man and woman adorned in their own begrimed raiments.
A few were angered at first, by the change, but the rest seemed truly relieved. As we walked down the stairs into the midst of those who had battled, they reached out to touch the babes, or us, and we began the healing that had to occur.
For hours we sat with them, holding a hand, hearing a tale, being in the presence of others who shared similar events. It is the best form of healing. Magic is quick and efficient, but when the mind and body are not as one, the individual finds that they cannot cope. Loud noises frighten them, shadows cause them to be startled. Anger comes quickly, and joy hard to find.
So we did what we have done for time out of mind. We took care of one another within the best of our hearts. Oh, I definitely did a bit of healing. Even the gods had not healed everyone. Only bandaged them. The wounds were left to Liz and I, or the true healer, time.
I think the best medicine for the sixty eight that lived was the presence of the elven babes. Everyone of them took a moment to hold one of the children and exclaim over their exotic beauty. For they were beautiful, Father. The immortality of the elves is legendary, but these are the first elvish children I had ever seen, and they were gods.
Granted, gods who soiled their nappies. The irony of these two was that they were truly infants, in need of diapers and feeding, little fluid exchangers that took milk from a soaked cloth, and within a few hours returned thrice the volume of excrement and urine.
How did any child ever live beyond this stage of life, I wondered aloud to Liz as the babes were fussed over by one pirate or other, and she laughed at me. “They survive because they are cute, and cuddly, and smell like love.”
I didn’t argue with her. I hadn’t thought to smell the children. One does not typically go around sniffing gods.