Courage | Georgia Willis

For love, not war


By Georgia Willis

For the What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Award


“Courage” he told me, an innocent child of eight, before he walked out the door never to return. My father had volunteered to fight in the king’s war. I hadn’t understood then and now, a decade later, I still don’t. The only thing I understood was that my father, a loving and generous man with a wife, two sons and a daughter, had given up his life for a power hungry king. My older brother Jack had quickly taken on the role of man of the house, as my mother become increasingly withdrawn. My younger sister Daisy was only two when father left, she couldn’t remember much of him. It was probably better that way. While Jack ran the family business, a small bakery in a small town, Daisy attended school and I was left to get a job. This happened in the form of a labourer at the local brick works.

One day while I was in a pit digging out mud for a new house, I heard a small voice call my name. Daisy was sitting on the lip of the pit smiling sadly down at me. I smiled as warmly as I could and climbed up the rickety ladder. As I moved closer I saw her eyes fill with tears. She ran to me and hugged me tightly.

“What’s wrong?” I asked as she sobbed into my muddied shirt, my hands wrapped around her small frame.

“Army men came into the school and started pulling the older boys out of the classes. They said any male between sixteen and thirty were now drafted into the king’s army” she cried. I stiffened. This could not be happening. I didn’t know what to say to Daisy, but I needed to find out for myself what was going on. I picked her up and hurried home. Jack would know what was going on.

I walked into my house, covered in mud with my weeping sister in my arms. Two men in armour stood by my brother, who was more pale than the flour he baked with.

“Flynn” he said shakily.

“It’s ok, I’ll go” I said feeling my heart crack in my chest. Only one of us would need to go, and I knew I would never be able to live with myself if I let Jack go. For my family, I would go.

I placed Daisy on the ground and she ran to Jack, whose tears now flowed freely. One of the men approached me and handed me a piece of paper. I stared at the paper not knowing what to do. I looked at Jack. I wandered outside, the men following. I came to the town centre, where men and boys had been ripped from their homes, by a king we had all come to despise.

That was how I came to stand, drenched in blood and sweat. Some mine. Some not. On a battlefield of corpses ten years after we had been taken, never allowed to return. We had won the battle, yet again. If you could call the carnage I stood in a victory. The king was proud of his warriors, or that’s what we had been told. I walked through the corpses looking for my friends. To begin with we’d all stuck together, had each other’s backs. But as the years and battles went on, our numbers slowly dwindled. And now there were three of us left out of the thirty that had been taken from my small town.

We huddled around a small fire, trying to ignore the putrefying smells around us. I remembered something my father had said when my mother protested his leaving. He said he was volunteering, so that perhaps he could help end the battles that our king had started, so that his children could live in peace. The king was so concerned about an imaginary line on a map, he didn’t care how many lives he wasted to move it a few inches. But we did. That was why we would continue. We had seen many horrors, many things that a man should never have to see. How could we possibly allow another to undergo this slavery? I remembered Daisy, how innocent she was. She would be grown now, and have children of her own. I never fought for the love of my country, its king or even my own life. I fought for the right for my sister’s children to stay innocent, to love and laugh, and to never understand the futility of war. I fought for the love of family, and would sacrifice my life to spare them from this. My father once told me to have courage. Now, sitting in a field of corpses, listening to dying men scream, I finally understood what he meant.

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