A Price to pay

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The familiar background, bathed with hues of orange and scarlet, lay behind the lush green valleys. The sun sat on the immeasurable horizon, meditating, waiting to demonstrate his grand exit beyond the unreachable. The small world that the Price family knew had diminished like always. What would appear eerie to an outsider, the familiarity of this deathly tranquility had rendered it all commonplace for the indigenous dwellers. That evening, however, was unarguably uncommon even for the poor Prices. A young, strong and handsome, Alex Price had been standing in front of a rotting old contraption of a carriage for an appallingly long while. The event that was to take place was not something that had plagued the family by surprise. They had been expecting the fateful day their only son would be snatched away from under their protective wings by ‘Insensitive Overlords on high horses’.

The most beautiful black horses that Alex had ever laid eyes on neighed impatiently whilst clanking their metal-like hooves on the worn-down tarmac. Behind him stood his mother, shaking and shuddering while she held on to a hand kerchief. There she was, weeping till her bosom housed no breath, her eyes defied her as she looked at her ‘little’ boy, who had, much to her disappointment, grown all the way through his prime teenage hood. She was not ready to thrust aside her child like a trifling possession. The very idea made her blood run cold. Not far away, sat grandma Esther, her cherubic face glowing under white wisps of satin. She had been sitting on a slab of cold stone, leaning against the white washed walls of the family’s ancestral abode. Her lips quivered with unspeakable agony. Her arms weren’t idle however, for they had been cradling a four year old girl; Alex’s little sister, who would grow up, ever unknowing, how it would feel like to have a big brother watching over her. She had painted a card for him the other night. Alex had helped her make it. She broke free from granny’s arms , giggling like there was no tomorrow, only to run into her brother, who, after spotting her, thought how much he would miss her, and how he can’t be around when she would need him . As he bent down on his knees to receive her, she planted a gentle kiss on his fore head, before shoving the painted card at his chiseled chest. He traced the outline of two stick figures, a tall one holding hands with a shorter one with long hair. Next to it was written in clumsy writing ,’Big brother and me.’ He knew that if he willed, he could just stay home and hide like a coward while a thousand others shed their blood. But no. He knew that these sacrifices were necessary, at least to aid in his growth to become stronger and wiser. The breakage of bonds.

In the distance, a loud bark was heard. Everybody’s attention flew towards it and to their surprise, the family’s pet German shepherd was sprinting towards Alex, his broken chain dangling on the collar. Alex received the now whining canine too, as he was still kneeling down on the rough tarmac which threatened to scab his knees. They embraced each other for what seemed like eternity. They had grown up together. Memories that they had painted along the fabric of time flashed through their minds, but neither could utter a sound. It was time to say good bye. ‘Best friend…’ Whispered Alex before one of the servants led the dog away from him. Inside the carriage sat Mr. Price. His bearded chin rested on his giant palm as he leaned against the window. His soul had been weeping since the crack of dawn. His only son, his only friend, his most valuable asset, his blood, was being taken away from him, and the worst part of it was that Alex did not even protest. According to him, he was about to gain honor for doing this for his mother land. All that Mr. Price could do was to stare dumbfounded, watching his boy become a man on his own.

The war had been severe. The bloodshed had begun two winters ago and more men who had come of eighteen years of age were given strict orders to report to the Military Academy . Those who refused would be dragged out of their homes like animals to a slaughter house, but it was not like so, for Alex as he had readily agreed to join his people in battle. Farmers like Mr. Price were ordered to keep the food stock in balance and increase crop production, while the industrial workers were trained to forge weapons of war. There was no sign of the war coming to a standstill. It was destined to last till one of the two foes, who had locked their horns, had slain the other to have his head placed on a golden platter. The death of a thousand soldiers was, but a trivial loss to the government.

The driver of the horse carriage had been asleep all along, unresponsive to the gales sliced with nervous tension. How would he not be? He was one of them.

The silence was interrupted yet again by Mrs. Price’s wailing and sobbing. ‘ Is there nothing you can do to stop this madness? Don’t you love us?’ she cried. Fearing that she might wake up the slumbering driver, Mr. Price growled lowly from within the carriage ‘It’s not his decision to make, if the king says he needs his service, then away he goes!’ He was glad nobody noticed the slight shaking in his voice. It was a lie of course ,that it was the government’s decision alone. Both knew who had submitted to the royal orders, and was mentally prepared to bleed on the battle grounds. This worsened the state of misery that was already crawling under their skins. The women broke down in tears, only to see that they had woken up the driver who thundered ‘SILENCE!’ before he looked around him with a satisfied grin on his sly face, and behind him, when he saw a grumpy, middle-aged man, where a handsome lad should have been, he pointed his finger at him and spoke in a monotonous tone that sent shivers up everyone’s skulls. ‘Mr. Price I presume? You are not permitted to accompany your son to the Military Academy. You may get off the carriage this instant. Refuse and you will be seriously dealt with by the imperial one himself.’ And like he had been ordered, without a sound of protest, Mr. Price jumped off of the carriage and hugged his son, and joked, ‘Kick his bottom for me when you return will ya son?’, enticing a chuckle from Alex. He nudged him towards the carriage before handing his trunk to him, subtly wiping a stray tear on his sleeve. Alex gave a subtle nod to the driver, who in response whipped the horses with vigor. The carriage jerked into motion before Alex lay back against the old oak boards. The carriage rode onwards, away from the lush green valleys, away from his home, until he could neither hear his mother weeping nor his baby sister calling out to him, ‘Big brother!’

‘I have to survive’ he thought, as he was clouded with bittersweet memories ‘without Mummy’s kisses and Daddy’s smiles…’ By then, the carriage had begun lulling him into sleep. ‘I have to make them proud…’ he whispered. And so, his mind drifted off into a chasm of visions without his own restraint. Images of him fighting for his motherland filled him with newfound zeal. He imagined himself striving endlessly towards excellence, towards victory, under scorching sun, hail, snow and rain, Never stopping till he had slain those who posed a threat to his motherland, until he puts an end to all suffering , until he returns home…to the ever loving , ever welcoming arms of his family back in the deep valleys.

The journey was long, two nights and a day to be exact. Right above his carriage, a pandemonium of parrots dotted the now unfathomable purplish, sun kissed sky. The pine trees that lined the road, swayed side to side with the wind, elephants trumpeted in the distance, and the monkeys screeched and chattered. In a far off groove of tropical flora, a pack of grey wolves howled with all their might, along with Mother Nature herself showering her blessings on him, all of them singing in harmony…

‘Good Luck Soldier!’

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