His sword was heavy, feeling twice its normal weight as gravity fought to pull it from his tired hands. The muscles in his shoulders and legs ached and burned, his back screaming in pain while his head continued to ring like a bell from the last three strikes to his helmet.
A sea of bodies stretched as far as he could see, lying quiet in some places while in others still swelling slightly with the final breaths of the dying. The air felt thick and the metallic scent of blood coated his mouth, overpowering the fragrance of damp earth, which was typically found across the countryside.
His brown eyes scanned the vast battlefield, verifying that all his opponents had been defeated while at the same time taking in the number of his own men he lost in the process. The number was staggering.
Since he was old enough to hold a sword he’d been trained to be a warrior; sword and shield and staff and bow, these were the tools of his craft and he had become a master, an artist of death. His body bore the scars where his enemy had exploited a weakness or pressed an advantage, and yet he still always emerged the victor, his bloody face the last thing the dying men saw before shrugging off their mortal coil.
And here he stood again, the triumphant battle master, and yet now he had no desire to hold his bloodied sword aloft and cry out in victory. He took no pride in the fact that he had survived and won, that the Duke he served would again shower him with money and gifts; he just didn't see the value of it anymore.
Raising his eyes he looked past the expanse of bodies, up to the horizon and the fringe of trees that seemed to beckon him like a siren beckoned sailors, but in their silhouette he didn't see his demise but rather his rebirth. A thought of a life of violence and endless warmongering felt like iron armor, heavy and oppressive and smothering and suddenly he couldn't breathe.
Reaching up with one blood caked hand he frantically pulled his helmet off, dropping the elaborately crafted metal into the mud and gasping for air, filling his lungs to capacity in spite of the metallic taste. Taking one shaky step forward he let his sword fall to the ground, fumbled with the leather straps that held his chest and back plates in place until they too fell. Piece by piece he stripped his armor away as he staggered, half ran, half stumbled and occasionally crawled over the dead and dying toward the distant tree line.
As his last greave clattered to the ground he collapsed to his knees at the base of a huge pine tree, his bloodied hands clinging to it as he might to a long lost lover, his cheek pressed to the rough bark and he expelled a shaky breath. Pushing himself to his feet he moved deeper into the forest’s embrace, exhausted but finally truly alive.