2511 Third Age
"Grey demons? Armies of straw-heads?" I sneer. "You expect me to believe mere horse-straddlers could defeat our chosen battalions?
"The Great One is enraged at our failure! And you dare offer such cowardly excuses?
"Kneel, Deserter!" I spit.
Now quaking violently, the once-proud warrior begs mercy, gibbering tales of unspeakable sorcery: a brace of grey-shrouded necromancers garlanded with oozing eyeballs, uttering foul incantations to make our dead enemy rise and kill again... ripping out our captains' throbbing hearts to guzzle their courage-laden blood... summoning thunderbolts from open sky....
Wearied of his falsehoods, I signal my vigilant guards, commanding his dispatch.
I am but a greybeard, no longer war-fit. 'Twas my sons and theirs who marched off to conquer, commanded and consecrated by the Great One Himself.
Our honourable warriors do not return home.
We dare not speak this openly; such is deemed treason, punished by sword.
Yet some hear dark whispers of ghastly grey spectres, dealing out slaughter on a distant war-plain.
What sinister witchcraft could master our warriors, shielded so surely by His fabled grace?
Wives murmur no elegy, wailing no loss — chancing no sacrilege. Yet on the inside, lonely and silent, suffering hearts will ne'er cease to bleed.
"Warriors' wives cannot claim stipends — only widows. But our warriors will return! Dare you gainsay the Great One?" So proclaim our war-chieftains, more moved by parsimony than piety.
Cloth-weaving stopped earning coin; I sold the loom. Still, my beloved did not return.
I sold our possessions. He did not return.
I sold each daughter. No return.
I sold his son.
Slowly, I remove my marriage-scarf, embroidered by my dead mother's hand — praying my husband's spirit may forgive my imminent dishonour. I venture trembling into the teeming market-place.
Scarfless and guardless, all here will know what I trade for coin.