‘Ocean Duty’ by Nickolas Urpí

sc june 18

“What are you doing?” I said to myself, passing through the desert, the sands trailing at my feet. The wind blew the hot sand all over my body. “Your armor is useless here—what will you fight against? The sun?”

I abandoned my armor there. It was hot to the touch, and I burned myself just removing that which was meant to protect me. I kept my helmet, despite it having been made of the same material. It, at the least, leaned over and covered my neck. My under-armor, too, I abandoned. I needed it no longer. My scarf I left, however, to protect my neck further.

I debated whether or not I should keep my sword. It was a gift from my father, and an object of that intimate sort should never be discarded with ease. Hence, I carried it further, but ultimately left it to the sun and sand. I turned around immediately, perhaps with a sense of regret for irreverence, but it was too late, the sun and sand had swallowed it up.

Or perhaps I had not turned immediately. Perhaps I waited. Perhaps I was miles away before I even realized I regretted letting it go. I had my dagger, nonetheless, though there was nothing to kill.

My feet remembered the pain of marching—only I was marching to my own heartbeat this time, and not to the aloof and unfeeling trumpets of my century. I marched to the beat of my ever-fading heartbeat. My tongue was beginning to swell in the festering heat and I knew it would not be long before I reached the end of my time.

“Perhaps the other side,” I said. “Perhaps I will be there soon.”

“Perhaps not,” said a voice in my head.

“There’s always hope, isn’t there?” I inquired.

“And what if you should reach the other side? Will there not be a legion waiting for you? Knowing you have abandoned your weapon and legion, you will be branded a coward and executed.”

“There may not be a legion waiting for me.”

“Where are there no legions,” the voice asked, “when there is an empire that stretches until the ends of the earth that used to employ your services?”

“I will go forth as a citizen then,” I said, defiantly.

“You are no citizen,” the voice replied. “You are a soldier. You are nothing without your sword. You are a coward without your sword.”

“I am not a coward,” I replied, feeling the anger well in me like a thunder that crashes suddenly over a light rain.

“You are, you abandoned your sword. You abandoned your century.”

“There were circumstances,” I reasoned.

“There always are,” the voice replied with some sarcasm.

“You are right,” I said in reply. “I must recover it. The ultimate penalty awaits for me if I fail to recover it. I must find my sword again. That will prove I am not a coward. I was a victim of circumstance!”

I ran back in the other direction. The hill of sand I was on was continually shifting, however, as though I were simply a chess piece on a board played by forces beyond myself. I slipped and rolled down the hill. There I saw it, the grain of sand. I recognized it. It was a different color from the others, dark and not as bright. It stood out and I knew I was close.

“It’s here isn’t it?” I asked the voice. But the voice did not respond.

“I know it is,” I said to myself. I rubbed my hands through the sand, feeling for my father’s sword. The sword of my ancestors.

“I will find it,” I said, yelling at the top of my parched lungs. I felt my face cracking as I spit out those words. “Answer me! Tell me! It’s here? I know it is. You don’t need to tell me.”

I collapsed though, looking forward.

My mind wandered back to a time when I had not the cares of a soldier or of a man, but when I was just a boy. I felt the cool waves of the water of my childhood home in Ostia wash over me. I felt the coolness of the water and the inside of the waves of sand. The hills moved like ocean waves, and I was swept away in their waters.

It was cool under the sand, away from the heat of the sun—

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