Author: Guede Mazaka
The blood isn’t seen because he moves so fast, because his sword rips air and twists worlds and shatters nations. But he can smell it. He smells the blood because it follows him like a mangy dog that has seen food once from his hand. He smells it because it is mortared into the very stones of this place, woven into the light healthy green gauze that drifts so quietly down in comparison to his swift slashes.
He smells it and he sees the faces of the dead and the unborn that come after them, and when his sword is free to seek out that pale throat, to spill the blood upon which the ghost of his country can feast and find peaceful revenge, he smells it still. He smells the scent of his duty and he sees the weight of his responsibility swinging towards the great black walls, bone-crushing blow to this would-be nation, and he balks.
His world falls around him.
* * *
It was a green dream, a peaceful dream. A land of jade hills and sapphire waterfalls, a treasure of a retreat nestled within the deep dark eyes of his love. It was a dream to carry him away from the battle and the wounds and the deaths. It was a memory as well, a recollection of their meeting and their recognition.
She never wears green now, but only white, bone white. And he in turn dons the same shade, as if they were both merely waiting for the coffins to be readied. The sky is paler, the days pass in an indifferent haze, and though she remains in his arms, he has no one but himself to speak to.
* * *
He remembers how angry he was, clenched hands around his family’s blood and his own dripping from his nail-pierced palms to mingle with it. How he opened his mouth as he fought and tasted the lifeblood of his enemy and found it sweet in its cooling death. How his sword broke and he did not care for all the better—he was a broken man and he would break them upon his jagged edges.
What he does not remember is the words or the voices, the days or the nights. He was in fragments, he clawed at little bits of life and war and sometimes they stuck, raking harsh scars over him, and that is why he remembers them. But he does not remember the path or the method, not in its entirety. All he has is the remnants of rage and confusion and fever that did not melt away before her long shimmering sword and her long pale hands.
* * *
Their love is not merely a meeting of minds, a harmony of souls—no. He has sheathed himself in her and tasted the wild rough edge in her mouth, he has felt her sink him into serenity and raise him to rapture. They have clung to and stormed apart and melded to each other so many times that he can feel the little pieces of himself that she has folded into herself, that he can feel the slivers of herself that shiver deep within his breast.
She has been cold, lately. Her tongue is sharp, her sword sharper still, but neither compare to the sharpness of the curve of her back, turned towards him.
Sometimes he falls into scarlet dreams of Moon and blankets knotted tight around each other, of chipped spears and slashed hearts. And then he wakes with a gasp and a scream dying in his throat and he feels her hand on his shoulder, but not her eyes. The blood dries within his mouth once more, bitter ice.
* * *
The sword of the nameless one is swift, and its stroke brings the end. Down comes the silence, down comes the answer she so badly wanted but that she will not accept, down comes the truce between them. It was not love or peace, but it was not war, either. And that will be what comes.
When the sword burns through, the blood finally stains the white, it is almost relief. But the feeling soon chills and only the pain remains.
* * *
Perhaps it was meant to be, ever since his and her first greeting to each other was the discordant crash of swords within a bower of earthly splendor. He thinks somehow that this has been the shadow on the floor, the breeze behind his sword following him all his life and only now overtaking him. His nuance with the brush, his handling of the sword were not to prepare him for the king of Ch’in, but for this. Not for death, but for life. Not for himself, but for her.
Somehow he thought it would hurt. But when he tips his hand, all he knows is wonder at the way her hair streams out behind her. His banner, leading him into the green lands.
* * *
He wishes he could wipe the tears from her eyes. They are warm, scalding on his hands as the desert wind is not. He wishes he had that last moment more, but only because he wants to see her. For himself, he knows that he has filled the moments of his life and that they have been well-spent.
Her eyes are the last he sees, and in them is a world, whole and alive and beautiful. He’ll wait for her there.