Of a Dead Man and his Sea


“Still do I fail to understand who that fool was, just what it was he bled for. Perhaps the wonder lies in that which our souls will see, but our minds will not.”

Bim Peacock, Literature Editor

Let it be known I was there from the beginning of that fool’s dash to the end.  Quite literally I was, for I stood as the first to meet him after thirty years of his imprisonment.  A nation had risen and fallen in that span, his time being of the former, yet when the new era began and those convicted of the past received freedom, he did not.  No one knew his crime, not why he arrived within those slowly crumbling walls, nor strangely enough why he was refused release.  Only that he was to be confined beyond those thirty years that turned his hair grey, beyond the time in the future where he might walk no longer, until he stood not as a man but as bones and dust.

Not was I but a guard to escort him to a new prison.  This one of old lay crumbling, as aforementioned, so was the decree to move those who remained to one of more “sound integrity”.  I treated him kindly enough, for whatever crime he committed, it bore no influence upon me.  He accepted such with a silent smile and a nod, following me out the stone halls that housed him for so long. One must imagine the reverie that settled upon his face; such an experience, so long a constant image of dank walls and stones leaves quite the impression on the human mind.

There, I suppose, it began.  This old man at my heels stopped as we passed the threshold, smiled and bowed slightly, apologizing sincerely for what I did not yet know.  Of course, he enlightened me quite quickly.  With an astounding movement he blew me down with a cross-strike from his handcuffs.

Such a gap he left in my memory that I arose perhaps minutes later with the most excruciating headache. Past me charged guardsmen having only now realized what occurred, firing rifles wildly at that grey haired figure surely flying across the fields for how fast he ran.

Naturally, being the idiot who let the old man escape damned me to the forefront of his search.  With a few others out of favor in the ranks we set off after him, following what trail he left on his mad dash eastward.  The nearest city lay as our first destination, so with horses thundering upon the roads we charged after this peculier case.

Not a minute nor more than a single question was asked of his whereabouts before a frightened villager looked around as though afraid to answer, then pointed toward the inn down the road.  Perhaps some logic might have saved a few of us if we had bothered to wonder why the streets lie strangely sparse in population, but of course, such a thought did not cross us.  Quite arrogantly we dismounted and barged through those doors, our ten rifles drawn, to find another fifty pointed at us.

It is quite disconcerting to find an entire village suddenly turned upon those in charge of them, especially when the source of their leadership lay not in some mayor, but in the prisoner we pursued, who stood upon a table behind these ranks of firearms calling “I do apologize, dear chaps.  FIRE!”.  I for one managed to fling myself out the door just as a volley tore apart the few men who followed me inside.

Yes, it certainly is disconcerting, particularly to those leaders that heard the report from those of us who were not reduced to shattered bones and flesh.  “An entire city?!  Impossible!  What in heaven or hell could have caused such a revolt?”

By such time weariness ran the length of my body, as I had suffered a concussion, a bullet to the knee, and a humiliating retreat from the old man prisoner already.  Considering, however, that leave would not be allowed until this fool was caught, I offered a question nagging my thoughts:  “What history has he with such events?”

“None, or all.  Who could know?!” replied this captain so flustered.  “Not a page remains from his incarceration to shed light; only a missive that details sternly and by some godly authority he is to be confined until the end of times!  Such matters not.  This authority deems it of importance to have him confined.  Onward my man!”

Onward my man; such a phrase became rather reoccurring as the months did pass.  Oh, we returned to that village, finding it as suspected abandoned and its citizens on the run ever eastward.  A trail left by a group of that amount is hardly difficult to trace, so naturally my newly amassed squadron followed upon their heels.

Only until the next city came along, of course.  A humble walled city, surely a stronghold of government hold, welcomed us in to aid in the hunt for these renegades, only to seal the gate behind and turn their cannons upon us soldiers.  Once again, myself and a few survivors fled shell-shocked away from that city, that mad old fool cheering with his comrades at our flying tails.

Such the months did carry on.  “Another city?  How on Earth?!  Onward my man!” “Six platoons mutilated?!  Nevertheless, onward my man!”  Eight months of this maddening chase stretched on, with city after city, town after town, home after hovel, all suddenly meeting this stranger’s influence and turning their guns upon us.  An army of peasants—no, merchants, tradesmen, aristocrats as well!—amassed upon the heels of this otherworldly old fool.  The guardsmen and I were all but useless; what chance stood we, as no matter how many soldiers marched out, thrice the amount arose from the hills and the holes to meet us face on!  Hardly a chance whatsoever, and upon these futile crusades it seemed my fitful body slowly wore away, as the cannonball and musket, the sword and the fist, blew away my skin piece by piece, bled my organs dry, blackened an eye and tore away a leg.  Still, of course, to my crippled body “Onward my man!”

Rage of a frightening degree consumed my hunt.  With ever ball that blew me down, every fall that broke my body, my hunger for the old fool grew to a beast.  Who was he to resist the world so determinedly?  Who was he to sway the hearts of good loyal men and women?  Who… who was he at all?!

My resolve became steel through these dire months, my mind a hound on the chase.  This fox might run and connive, but my nose smelled what path he followed, smelled the scent of the ocean he pushed for.  Yes, indeed; it was the eastern ocean his army pressed on towards, towards the harbors where the great sea rovers and their sails did lie.  So in my fury, in my determination to strike down this man and all his movement that crippled my body, I plotted so deviously to end him.  While he would strike back at our forces that followed, he would run right into his own wall…

So it began, one fine May morning.  Every last man from the eastern garrisons rose upon the hill and watched the fool’s army charge across the land for the sea.  Like a horde of cattle roaring across the countryside, they ran onwards, caring not for our own masses, not for our own guns.  Their prize was within sight, their escape rising before them as that mass of roiling azure that does so capture the imagination.  And there, at its side, rose the harbor and the ships of their oh-so-impending flight!

But nay.  The ships were not in the harbor to be taken that day, nor in the harbor at all.  For out there they lay in the blue waters themselves, watching these renegades spill onto the beaches in such confusion.  Hardly could I help myself from smiling in twisted victory.

One cannon roared, and the others followed suit.

From the sea flew volley after volley upon those golden beaches, from our hills the rounds of a thousand muskets.  The villagers turned to fire, but upon the anvil the hammer had fallen.  Between our blazing forces the beaches turned scarlet.  The revolt, only just before its success, was over.

The flag of victory waved high and silence fell in the darkness of this sunny morning.  I watched the beaches, but not a soul did rise.  With crutch beneath my arm and blackened eye glistening in madness I began my long descent to the shore.

Nothing moved in that puddle of citizens.  No renegade, no sign of rebellion, rose from the blood stained beaches to greet this one legged man in a final resist.  No merchant, no tradesman, no aristocrat, no mothers or fathers, nor sisters or brothers, arose to declare the meaning of massacre.

Except one, of course.  One of grey salty hair and a face worn all but away by prison walls.  One who had arisen from mystery, inspired the people of this country beyond reason, and led them all to their deaths.  So the old man rose, the old prisoner himself, rising with a torso stained in blood, arms and legs and flesh peppered with metal and bullet.  There he rose as the image of death all too alive yet, and… ignored me.  He saw my face not, not the damage he and his people had inflicted upon my body, nor such that I had reciprocated upon them.  He simply rose, caught within in the agonizing peace that preludes death, and stumbled toward the ocean.

Outrage, fear, despair, and utmost amazement.  These were the emotions his rising bestowed upon me.  I ran (hobbled, of course) after his limping form, crying obscenities and questions and orders to his man.  Still, he heard me not, and not until he stood up to his knees in the waves did he halt.

I stood at the water’s edge in exasperation, and simply cried, “Who are you, you belligerent old fool?!  What could you possibly be, that would betray men against their land, wage a war of nomads, and refuse death even beneath this tide of gunpowder?!  Are you death incarnate?!  The Devil himself?!  Is this why they locked you away?!  Are you but something to wipe away the lands and consume us in chaos, or but an imp to drive me into madness?!  Answer me, you fool!  I cannot live on without this knowing!”

He stood there amidst the waves, bloodied and dying, and with the gentlest motion, beckoned me out.  In my all defeating daze and sobs of desperation, I limped on into the tide to his side.

That face showed no pain, no fear of the bullets and bombs that had all but rent him apart.  It only stared on, staring out across the waves, watching them swell bright and blue, seeing them peak and crest and slowly fall against themselves.  It watched the wind blow across the waters, watched the spray that rose upon it, the salt that stung and bit so sweetly.  And still yet, it watched on past it all, past the edge of the horizon, across the seas and their rovers, to the lands far beyond and those that reach beyond them.  Those that he never more would see.

“It’s all out there, my dear chap.  Everything that was, that is, ever will be,” he laughed suddenly and coughed out blood.  “No, far more than that.  Life itself reaches so far into every nook and cranny of this world that few of us will ever see, that reality itself will never touch.  The tides wear on across the ocean and the lands and the trees and every dark depth that brings the deepest desire to the soul.  Such lies out there, on those waves, beyond those waves; every bit of wonder and desire that builds our bodies, that just the same sways a man to wage war against the world as it does send a storm tearing across the sea.   Ah, yes; our storms upon the sea.”

He laughed so brilliantly and heartbreaking, and upon those chuckles his voice turned to blood.  There he fell, still laughing and choking, watching the waters wash across him, falling dead with a laugh still caught in his throat.