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5
Beyond the Pale

Day 12: Innocence.

A single son was born to [my father],
born to a short life;
and [father] grows older without my attentions,
since far from my homeland
I remain at Troy to work evil
against you and your sons


- Iliad


Here is born the notion of a destiny under which executioners and their victims are similarly innocent: conquerors and conquered are brothers in the same misery, each a heartache to the other.

- Simone Weil, 'Iliad,' or the Poem of Force


~~~

March 15-16, 3019, T.A.


They had surprised each other some ways beyond the city's walls, and for a second, they had simply stared, stricken, unable to move.

Then someone had twitched and they had fallen on each other – except that the one was hurt, and the other was exhausted, and both were terrified, so that between them, they gave a few bruises, yelled a few insults that were lost on each other, and otherwise it was an inglorious tumble down the little rise, a helpless flailing of limbs punctuated by a few grunts. They had landed at the bottom, scuffled a little, and then worn out from their fear they had simply ceased, except for the weeping.

They had weapons, but these stayed sheathed – there was no point. The boy in the braids only had a knife in any case, and the boy in huntsman green and brown had a short sword and a bow; most of his arrows had spilled out on the way down. They lay there, one half atop the other, for hours, just breathing and feeling their aches, 'til finally the eastern sky began to light.

Then, perhaps stirred by some animal instinct, the boy in green and brown rolled over and sat up stiffly. The other managed to turn onto his belly, crawl a few awkward, wounded paces, and then push himself up, bracing his back against the slope, grimacing at the dawn and his pain.

Eventually, they looked at each other through red-rimmed eyes, and saw themselves there, where the other was. The loathing that crawled over each face proclaimed them brothers, for all the one was Dúnadan and the other Harad's son. Brought here to this place to deal out death to each other, they had both largely failed in that duty and fervid, fevered minds imagined the tale of the other's shame, image of his own. Each hating himself for running, each hated that too-familiar tale - and hated, too, the other for having not run soon enough to leave him in peace.

At the least, one of them could have done the other a favor and died, so as not now to look upon him.

But here they were, and the boy in Harad's braids had a knife, and the Dúnadan lad – of Anfalas, maybe Lebennin? – had a short sword, and here was this unlooked-for chance to fail a little less and drown the excruciating agony of cowardice in somebody's blood. To cover over the horror of remembered battlefields – to end one life, and so master one's own.

A hateful spasm passed over one face, and slid onto the other – but then the pain got inside it, and made it a wince and a grimace, and a little, helpless whine escaped through clenched teeth, coughed up from somewhere down in the back of the throat. The boy in braids clutched his leg, and the boy in green and brown clutched his sword, staggering to his feet. He spit the dirt and the old blood from his mouth, and wiped at his nose, blade weaving unsteadily in his hand. Bitter, incoherent curses spilling from his lips, he fell then upon the other, grabbed his tunic, slammed him against the hillside, and shook and wept and swore.

Then of a sudden, he stopped and looked down upon his grey-faced enemy. His chest heaved and his breath came hard, but he swore once more, then threw the sword away, violently, and stood, tearing the waterskin from the other's belt.

"Water," he said hoarsely, and motioned towards the riverbank – the damnable river that had cost so many so much – and pointed to the earth. "Here." Then, glancing back at the wreck of a city – miles distant but still far too near, and never to be shelter to either of them - finished dully: "Then we run some more."

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