|Anatomy of a Man
Author: Guede Mazaka
This is how you fight from a horse. You hold out your arm as straight as you can because if you bend it, that makes it easier for a sword or a spear to swing up and take off that arm. Or at least chop too big of a chunk out of it, and then you lose your arm anyway because of the surgeons. The armor helps, but believe me, all it does is keep the edge from hitting your skin. It does nothing to soften the blow, and if you fall off your horse, the charge isn’t going to stop. The rest of them are going to ride on and on, and all you can do is scramble to your feet and fight like hell till the battle’s over. Because with armor there’s no quick jump-on-jump-off, like children do. Like scouts traveling light do. You’re either on the horse or you’re on the ground.
This is how you kill from a horse. You have to hold your arm straight so it doesn’t get chopped off, so there’s not much fancy stuff you can do. Either you point it ahead of you and spear someone, or you slash sideways. If you point it ahead, you’d better have a strong elbow and a good grip on the saddle, because sometimes the blade gets caught on bone and you drag the body. You can’t stop the horse, shake it off and then start again. They’d cut you down where you stand. If you slash from side-to-side, you get tired faster because of all that windmilling. And you have to bend your arm a little, so then you worry more about getting a chop at the elbow joint, or the wrist.
This is who you kill. You kill men because of course they’re always the warriors. They come old and wrinkled, young and brawny, tall and short, thin and stout. Sometimes they’re screaming at you and so angry you think their eyes are all whites, and you have to scream yourself senseless to keep the fear from getting to you. Sometimes they’re quiet and deadly. Sometimes you can see piss leaking down their leg and you hear their sobs turn wet and mushy as you stick your sword in them.
You kill women because they were warriors at home and they’re warriors here, too. If you didn’t kill them, they would not only kill you, but they would drag you down and tear you to pieces just for the insult. They have breasts and hips and buttocks that no amount of gore and dirt and woad can cover, and sometimes their nipples are leaking milk. You don’t have time to wonder where they put the babies because they’re trying to send an arrow through your throat. You don’t have time to remember the mother or the sister or the cousin or the niece that’s so like the one you just killed. Eventually you get used to seeing them as hell and death here, sweetness back there with the barracks. And you know you’re a soldier when they just turn into more bodies, some hostile and some not, but all never lasting for long.
You kill children because they put them there on the fields with too-big weapons and they teach them to scream and charge and dive at your horse’s legs. Because they’re overgrown or undergrown and always awkward, and if they had the chance, they’d grow up to be just like you, only on the opposite side. And you want to live.
This is how you live. You go out and you kill the ones you’re supposed to. You kill better than anyone else because your reflexes are always jangling and coiled, because your eyes work with your brain and because you’ve made that leap from intuition to anticipation. You come back and you scrape off the blood. You dump cold water over yourself and you curse and grin tiredly along with the others, you scrub off your armor and swords because they’ve grown to be you, too, and you are never flawed. You can’t afford to have any. Since you grew the beard, the women have stopped laughing at you and now they laugh for you. They smile and they step coyly past, skirts brushing over the tops of your boots. There’s always a new face trying to catch your eye.
This is how you fuck. You have them up against the walls, in dank little alleys, on the scratchy hay in the empty stalls. You swallow their moans and you take their softness and you shake them till it breaks, because it hurts to see that and because they like it and because sometimes it’s enough to crack you, too. You come away with teeth-marks along your jaw, rough and prickling when you clip the hairs over them, and scratches on your shoulders. The others roll their eyes and make jokes about your appetite, but you’ve had your prick up more women than all of them together and you’ve never heard any complaints.
You do it with a twist of sarcasm and a sharp grin, and you do it without a care in the world. It’s what you do. It’s how you do it. It’s why you’re still alive.
He reads books like they’re men and he reads battlefields like they’re books. He quotes dead men to justify the living and he grieves for the dead as if they were still alive and watching and as if they cared at all. When he rides into battle, he always has some extra goal in mind that has nothing to do with beating the enemy. He still wins, so often that everyone begins to believe he is what he reads, that he is a prophet and a saint and miracle, but if he wins without fulfilling his ideal, he might as well have lost. And when he does fulfill it, he credits it not to himself but to his god and his city.
He cares what men think and he cares for them, but he still pushes them far past the limits of any sane man. He listens to complaints and he works to be fair and just and humble even though all around him people trample that into the dirt, even though he would be better off if he closed himself to the world’s barbs. You’ve known him to nurse one of his men with his own hands, though his own commander couldn’t give a damn whether he died of an infected wound or an arrow to the eye. And then he puts on his armor and gets on his horse and he kills. You’ve never seen a man kill the way he does—you can anticipate, but he knows. He knows where to put the cavalry, where to line up the infantry, where to place the siege engines. He knows and it kills him, it takes him apart to see the corpses and every time he puts himself back together again, he misses a piece.
He knows you. He lets your tongue run on and he hunches his shoulders beneath the weight of your words—your right words—and then he lifts his head to silence you. Sometimes he does it with a reply, sometimes with a look or a sound, and sometimes with a touch. It’s never force or loud persuasion or anything you can understand.
He knows how you cry out against the dark, why you laugh at the sight of your own blood, when you need to cut loose your tongue on the world. He knows that you come to him with someone else’s spit in your mouth and someone else’s scent on your body and he takes you anyway. He has you against the wall, on the floor, on the bed, and you let him. You pull him towards you and you buck into his fingers, you squeeze yourself around his prick and you press your hips into his hands. Your mouth can’t stay away from his and you can’t breathe without him feeding you air. His fingers run over your seams and slide them open so you don’t break, but you come apart anyway and you’re in his hands and you couldn’t do a damn thing about it even if you wanted to. But he doesn’t keep it—he puts you back together and he leaves with his scent drenching your nose and his spit under your tongue, his impress on your skin and his traces dripping down your thighs.
You know he doesn’t think he can stay. You know he doesn’t know how to stay, any more than you know how to tell him so. You know that when you’re in pieces in his hands, you feel more and you live more and you want more than any other time.
You know that you’ll always get up and follow him. And you may have to go through battle and you may dally with women, but you’ll always end up where he is.
This is how you believe.