Neither the Beginning Nor the End

In which a warrior tells the tale of her rebirth.

[My entry for the reincarnation competition]

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1. I. Neither the beginning nor the end

 

Note: written in one go, so basically just a story splurge. Hope you enjoy it!

Reincarnation: the act of being reborn

*

It was hard for her to make sense of. That one minute, she was sitting there by the fire, sword in hand, and the next, she remembered being in a small cottage, children running by her feet. It felt so real to her - the pure, raw emotion, resonating deep in her belly that told her she existed in both of these places. Those feelings - the feelings of wholeness, of safety. How could she be sitting by the fire one  moment,  discussing battle plans and wrinkling her nose in disgust at the men that stumble a few feet away from the campfire for a piss. Then in the next, just by looking at the side profile of someone, be transported into a memory. That of another life.

It feels so familiar to her. She knew she lived it.  She recognises those kids and her heart sores in happiness because they were hers. But how can they be? She thinks about her surroundings. The way the cottage was made, the clothes, and knows this can't be true - this isn't her memory, this isn't her - this was in the past. Someone else's life. How could it be, when that was some two hundred years ago?

But the world has changed. Magic wielders exist openly now. The Queen of this land is one herself. This could be a trick, a spell, one by a witch, wanting to catch her off guard before the mornings battle.

Yes. Yes. Women have now been approved to fight some five years ago. So many were unhappy with this decision - women are weak, they said. Women should be put to better use, to take care of the kids, to cook, to make the homes. Others argued. Women had guts. They were brave and loyal and protective and fierce and could put up a good fight just as any man could.

She's hit by another memory then - no, not a memory, she corrects herself, another fantasy. That's all. This isn't real. But she thinks of a time, not too long ago, about seventy years, of a secret guard: a woman. She'd cut all her hair, bound her chest, and grew to be one of the best archers throughout all this kingdom. When they found out her secret: she was burnt alive. They claimed she was killed for her treachery and dishonour because of how she lied, but everyone knew the truth: they were scared of what this could do. If other women saw her, this icon, and decided to follow, there'd be an uprising, people fighting for the rights of women to fight. So they killed her - but killing her, well, killing her only made this come true. Women - and men - were outraged. They fought and they fought, and then, sixty five years later, women could start to receive training and go into battle.

Now this woman, sitting by this camp fire, was telling herself, reasoning with her mind, that this was all a trick. It had to be. No way was she this woman - no way could she have lived that life. Heck - she wasn't even born then, and if she was, chances were that she would be dead. No. Her mind was producing these images and these feelings all from a different sort of memory - the memory of her sitting down, late at night, reading books detailing the life of Angelina the Great, by candlelight.

That's all.

She didn't want to contemplate the other side - that these were actually her memories and that somehow she had become a soul, trapped into another body, not remembering enough of who she was or how to get out.

*

The battle was brutal. She woke at dawn to the sound of war horns blowing, mixed in with the cry's of battle hungry and dying men. Lurching to her feet, she grabbed her helmet, her sword, her daggers, and after praying quickly to the Goddess, she ran from her tent.

Her eyes watered from the smoke. All around her was fire. She whipped around, braids flowing with her, and had to harden her heart as she saw men, her fellow comrades, stumbling around, lit on fire. Inside, part of her screamed. That part that she knew, even without accepting it, was Angelina. Angelina, tormented and traumatised by her own burning, who cried in anguish at the pain these men were experiencing.

For this warrior now though, she gripped her sword and followed the sounds of steel meeting steel.

The first man came out of no where. One minute she was running, and the next, she had barely any time to duck as the sword came swinging at her head. She moved just in time, and she heard the sword swish over her head, the blood roaring in her flames, and then she sprung into action.

She was trained for this. She was born for this.

Lifting her sword, she met his, and the shock of the force rang through her arm. But she was prepared, having trained with men three times her size. Yes, she could do this, but he didn't know that.

That's the thing about some of these men. They'd see her, her small frame and her pretty hair and features, and they'd underestimate her. Woman, they'd mutter, as if it was an insult. A stain on the battle field. But she simple smiled: woman, yes, yes, that's what she was - and she'd show them, show him, how powerful a woman could be.

He definitely underestimated her. He came at her with heavy, sloppy blows, smacking his sword against hers like he was some insolent little boy that had got hold of a training sword for the first time. If she had more time to play, if this were simply just an exercise, she would mess with him a bit. She'd act weak, let him think he had won, and then swipe out his victory.

But this was battle; there was no time.

So she struck back and he stumbled, eyes widening in shock first and then to anger. He came at her growling, smacking his sword, smack, smack, smack, and she dodged each blow. He grew even more frustrated, and as he stepped backwards, stumbling from a blow of her own, she used this opportunity to kick him backwards with the heel of her foot. Caught off guard, he fell, and she didn't hesitate before shoving her blade through the only bit of bare skin that she knew would be fatal: through his neck. His armour had been slit, his neck already slightly bleeding from an altercation, but with her blow, it wouldn't take him long to bleed out.

"May you find your peace," she told him, yanking her blade from his neck. His eyes widened, this time in what looked like . . . shock, and he tried to say something, but all that came from his lips was blood. She knew he'd be dead in a few minutes, but she didn't have time to stay.

So she ran further into the battle, not bothering to wipe her blade clean, knowing that by the end of the day it would be coated in blood from many lives. The thought made her feel hollow, but she moved on with a grim determination. This battle had to be won.

*

A battle like this hadn't happened in fifty years. Yes, people had their differences and armies often clashed, but not like this. Not at all. This battle was to fight off an invasion. An invasion from the neighbouring country that didn't like this new progressive and innovative Queen and her new rules. These invaders, the King they fought for, didn't believe in women having basic rights. This King enforced social class, where the rich kept getting richer, and the poor getting poorer.

This battle wasn't just one for land or for money, but for the basic rights of humans to be able to actually live their lives and not to just exist at the will of someone else.

So for every one of the Kings soldiers she dealt a fatal wound to, for every cut and bruise and broken bone she gained on her body, she knew she was doing it for a good cause. When the men, on both sides underestimated her, she proved them wrong. This was her battle too: for someone born a woman, and someone born in a low class. She was going to show them that she could fight for her rights. And show them she did.

And as she thought she felt the blood and the memories of a thousand women's lives run through her. She felt their strength, her strength, and it kept her fighting. When her sword was lost, she channelled Angelina, and picked up a bow; when the bow ran out of arrows, she remembered Kella, the hired mercenary, she remembered Dina, the teacher and mother, who taught strength of heart and believing in herself. All these women, all from different backgrounds, all her, came together.

So as she moved through that battlefield, swift and harsh, she was an accumulation of strong women.

*

When she saw him, she froze. It was like everyone slowed down around her, and all she could see was him, hitting and cutting and bellowing as he, and his guards, cut down everyone that came towards him.

The King.

She wasn't surprised to see him here. He was bloodthirsty - in his Kingdom, he always hosted various different killing sports, all as a game. Entertainment. He rounded up those who were poor and weak, put them together in an arena, until they killed each other. Whoever came out as victor won riches, but they all mysteriously died or disappeared several weeks after claiming their prize.

This King had no value for human life; especially not those of the poor.

Her hand gripped tighter on the stolen sword. She wasn't sure whose it was, but it would do. While it weighed a bit too heavily in her hand, the grip was tight and the blade was sharp, so it would do the job. Right now, with her eyes on the King, she would go at him even with her bare hands.

She saw red.

This King, this no good, entitled King, was fighting to take away her rights. Was taking the lives of her own people, and letting his own die, without a second thought. She charged at him with a battle cry, that echoed the pain of a thousand people that this tyrant had caused suffering to.

The King turned just in time to deflect her blow. As soon as she started running she heard the shouts of her fellow soldiers, and their desperation as they fought towards her. Now, as she fights the king, they surround her, fighting of his guards. Buying her time.

She stared the King down, fury in her eyes. He looked back at her, with nothing but cruel amusement. He opened his mouth, but she cut off whatever taunt he was going to say. This man - this was the man who had ruined so many lives, and with each passing second he breathed, more people suffered.

Her blade swung through the air in a high arc, hitting his. He deflected her blow, hitting back with one of his own, laughing at her. She swung again, and he deflected, and it was like a dance. One would swing, the other would deflect, and then repeat. She knew that she couldn't continue like this - fighting with only her aggression and not her mind. That was stupid; that's how you got could

So she fell back slightly, and she saw in the Kings eyes that he had thought that he had won. He thought that she was too tired, to weak to go on, and that she would run.

Good. That's what she wanted him to think.

The King let his guard down. His cockiness was getting the best of him, and he came swaggering towards her, those green eyes glinting with victory, blood dripping from the corners of his mouth like a fine wine from a celebratory feast.

Good. Good, he was opening himself up, leaving him vulnerable.

That was the thing about this King. He had such arrogance and such surety. He had no real battle strategy, if he did, he would've been able to see through her play. So she fell to the floor, acting weak, and hung her head down low. While it looked like she had a loose grip on her sword, she hadn't.

He came closer, and closer. She saw his blade reach out, and she waited. She knew he'd want to play - make an example of her. He proved this as he let the blade come to a rest just beneath her chin. 

She shot into action.

She yanked herself back, and shot to her feet, spinning in an arc with her blade. They moved as one, and it's like she felt the blood warm her fingers as the blade sunk into the front of the Kings leg. He fell forward, bellowing in pain and she caught him with a hand.

"This is for everyone you've ever hurt," she hissed at him, as she shoved her blade into his heart, just as the Kings hidden dagger sunk it's way into her side.

She let go of him, and he let go of her, falling forward onto the muddy and bloody battlefield.

Dead.

The King was dead.

All around her, she heard the shouts of men. She heard the horn blow, signalling the death of the King. She heard the thud of swords, daggers, and various other weaponry hit the ground, and the shouts of the soldiers surrendering. A few continued to fight; they died quickly.

Her own men came towards her. Surprise, relief, all write on their faces. She had done it. She had ended this battle; she killed the tyrant.

Her hand went to her side, bloody leaking out around the dagger. The men followed her movements, and she only saw their eyes widen, before they all came rushing towards her.

That was the last thing that she saw.

*

She was neither dead nor alive. This was neither the beginning nor the end.

She sat as part of a circle, with at least fifty other women.

No - not other women.

Her.

All these women were her. These were the people she had been, and then she had died, and then been born as another.

She didn't have to ask if she was dead. She knew this was just the in between. The place of rebirth. She'd been here many times before, having to choose between the very same choices as she had before. To die now, and be reborn in another life, or to stay in this one. Only she could make this choice. Only she could know if she was ready to move on.

"I must stay," she told herself, "There's still a lot of work to be done."

*

So she woke up.

Immediately people rushed to her, asking her if she was okay, to take it easy, did she need water. She batted them all way with her hand, and against their protests, she stood up. She stood, wavering on her feet, head feeling as light as a feather, and she knew what she had to do.

She walked from the tent, and into the cool morning.

All eyes turned to her. Men, stopped what they were doing and turned to her, devoting their attention. The women smiled at her, triumph in their eyes.

"Where do I start?" she asked. And it was then, as her commander stuttered an order to her, that her heart soared. This - this was truly the beginning of the end. This was what she - in this life and all her others - had been really, and truly, fighting for.

For this freedom. For this equality.

All those lives lived, all those sacrifices and all those lives lost, she had done it for a reason. She came in a time of conflict to steer humanity on the right path. To aid them and to show them kindness and strength. To fight for rights and freedom.

Here and now, she had done it.

Rebirth.

Not just for her.

But for the world too.

 

 

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