The tales and the legends talk about bravery, about the great warriors who saved the day against the odds. They call me brave because of what I did. But I did only what had to be done. There was no other way. If that – having no alternative – is bravery, then I’m sure every man, every woman, who lives under this cruel sky is brave for just keeping on going when it seems this world and the gods only ever conspire against us.
People talk about bravery, courage and the legends of the great warriors because they don’t want to speak about the fear. Fear stalks us from the day we are born until the day we die. Maybe we are sometimes brave because that is the only direction left for us to run to escape the fear.
We are scared when we are young, fearful of the long dark nights, the cold and the raiders from across the sea that can come, waste our villages and take us to die as slaves in lands far from our homes.
I was scared when I was younger that I would never find a woman to keep me warm at night and to ease the urges that kept me awake and staring at the stars. When I was older, I was scared that the crops would fail, that the cows would die. I was terrified that the wolves would come down from the hillsides and leave our sheep as bloody stains upon the snow.
Then when the plague came and took my woman from me, I was too scared to stay and carry on with a farm where everything could only ever die.
I became a soldier because I was scared of the hunger and the loneliness. Ever since I’ve been a soldier, I’ve been terrified. I’ve been terrified of the enemy and what they can do. I’ve been scared of the arrows that rain down upon us. I’ve been afraid of the swords and axes that slash and stab. More than death I’ve been terrified of being wounded, one of those wounds that leave behind less than half a man who crawls the city street begging, while those still whole look away and pray to what gods they have to die rather than have to live like that.
I’m scared of the illnesses that marching with soldiers brings, leaving more dead by the roadside or in these squalid camps with life pouring, seeping, oozing out of them while the rest of us watch helpless, all longing for a sword or an arrow and a much cleaner death.
I worry about that arrow that will fall on me, or that one lucky thrust through the shield wall that will take me in an instant from this miserable life of squalor and terror. Taking me from this cold, cruel world to sing and drink with the gods in the heavenly halls where this life is less than a forgotten memory.
Then I fear that if that lucky arrow or sword strike comes and takes me and I do not wake up in the halls of the gods, what then?
Sometimes I’m scared that there are no gods and this life – such that it is – is all there is and ever will be.