A flash-fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig— the title of a random song becomes the title of the flash-fiction. Length: 1000 words.
The title is from “Wait” by M83.
Finally, after a while, it didn’t hurt so much anymore. The roar of the fighting faded away. He wondered if the brothers had pushed the Kurlanders back to the river. He hoped they had. It would be good to know he died for something.
Being stabbed had been a shock. It caught him unawares. A fellow couldn’t watch every direction at once. Maybe he had been too long battering down that spearman. Perhaps this was the price of being thorough.
The pain returned if he breathed too deep. He tried to breathe shallow; then it wasn’t so bad. But it felt as if half his chest wasn’t working, so he had take one deeper breath for about four or five shallow, and then the pain hammered him.
He lay with his head on the legs of some other fellow, and his own legs pinned beneath somebody’s horse. The animal must have fallen on him after he’d been stabbed; he didn’t remember it. The horse and the man were both dead. The ground was muddy with blood. He smelled smoke and blood and dung.
He didn’t mind dying. He hadn’t lived that long, but he had more than his share of regrets. Parting with life was not an unmixed sorrow. Many lost opportunities…and Briana. Briana, above all.
He couldn’t see much around him. It hurt to raise his head. He could hear plenty, though– moans, weeping, cries for help, prayers. Somewhere nearby someone called, over and over, “Rigan…Rigan….” He wished whoever it was would shut up– it was evident Rigan wasn’t coming back.
Lying there, he spent most of his time staring up into the sky. There were no clouds– the day had started out beautiful and stayed that way. He had never realized how deep the sky was. It just went up and up and up.
He coughed. It made him scream in agony. It also brought up blood. It coated his chin and ran down the sides of his face. He wasn’t surprised. It wouldn’t be long now.
There she was. Briana stood to his left, just beyond the dead man’s feet. She wore the dress they had buried her in, but she was clean and healthy and smiling, though her eyes were pained.
This won’t be so bad— not if she were here to help him. “I hoped…I would see you.”
“Nathan,” she said, “beloved, what have they done to you? Men are so foolish.”
It was just like her to lecture him. “At the moment…I have to… agree with you.”
She came and knelt by his head. She was no apparition. She seemed as real and solid as any living person. Her bare feet touched the earth, although they seemed unmarked by dirt or blood. Then she reached down and touched his face, and her fingers were alive and warm.
“Is this death?” Nathan asked, bewildered.
“This is just the borderlands of the greater world,” she said. “I came because you can’t cross over. Not yet.”
If bewilderment were an ocean, he would be drowning. “What?”
“You must live,” Briana said. “There is much for you to do. You don’t understand yet, but you will. I was sent to tell you.”
“What do I need to do?” he said, perplexity lending him breath. “Briana, I’m ready. I want to go and be with you.”
“And you will…in the end. But the end is not yet.” Reaching, she untied his helmet and slipped it off his head. The wool clothing the dead man’s legs was scratchy. “Listen to me, love. This war is bigger than your quarrel with the Kurlanders. There are forces at work…but all I can tell you now is that you must live, and that you must wait.”
“Wait? For what?”
“For the woman who contains the fire,” she said. “The woman pale of face and black of hair. She will hate you at first, and then she will love you. Wait for her.”
He peered up at her. “You come…all the way from the land of the dead…to tell me to wait for another woman?”
A wry look. “Well, you know I was never the jealous type. This woman is living. She is what you need now.” She smiled again. “I must go. If you doubt, remember this.”
She bent down and kissed him on the forehead. He would rather she had kissed him on the lips, but then, there was all that blood. “Remember me when you see the mark,” she said. She laid his head down and stood. “I love you.” She turned away.
“Wait!” he said.
She stopped. He meant that she shouldn’t leave, but she said, “I do wait for you, love. And you must wait to join me. Soon enough, we’ll see each other.” She turned and walked away.
“Briana!” he croaked, raising a hand. She was gone.
Someone caught his hand. “He’s here!” a man’s voice shouted, a voice rough with shouting over the din of battle.
It was Caspan; the old soldier knelt by him, holding his hand, right where Briana had knelt. Caspan’s beard was matted with blood; his mail was bloody and rent, but he was very much alive. “Hold on, lad,” he said. Over his shoulder he shouted, “Masari, move your ass!”
“Did you see her?” Nathan asked.
“Just lay quiet, Nat,” Caspan said. “Let Masari strengthen you, and we’ll get you back to the healers.” Again over his shoulder, “Masari, get your pox-ridden ass over here!”
Nathan lay quiet. “Did we win?”
“Yes, lad– but the war ain’t over. That’s why you’re not skipping out on us just yet.” Caspan looked Nathan over, grimacing at the wound in his chest, then lingering on his forehead.
“What?” Nathan asked.
“Well, it’s a funny bruise,” Caspan said. “Right there above your brows. It’s fading, but– it almost looks like a kiss.”
“Ah,” Nathan said.
Masari appeared. The adept stepped right over the horse, his fists blazing with blue fire, the light of life.