“Please don’t,” The woman begged. “We’ll starve!”
Foolish woman, Tula thought, sadly. Begging was viewed as resisting and resisting earned you a beating. But, she thought- glancing at the frail mother as she passed by – Perhaps she is not so foolish; only desperate.
The soldiers were taking everything edible from her home. With the harvest nearly over and the threat of an early winter looming over them, her family would have nothing to eat. They would die of starvation, if not during the winter, than in the spring by which point they would have eaten everything and had nothing left to plant.
Would I do any differently than her if I had any children? She thought.
The scene was being similarly repeated all across their little village. Soldiers were entering homes and taking what food they could find. Anyone who resisted was beaten. Tula kept her head down, cowering away from the soldiers and trying her best to remain unnoticed.
Some did notice her though and searched her thoroughly but she carried only a small bundle of firewood. No money, no food. They let her go. They were only interested in the harvest this time. Shakily, she picked up her bundle. Tula walked away but when she reached the last building at the end of the street, she stopped, leaning against the wall.
How could they go on like this? Week after week. Month after month. Year after year. They scraped and labored and survived. But, always the soldiers came. They came and took. They took everything- money, food, and even their children, barely old enough to carry a sword, let alone fight in their bloody wars.
A shout made her lift her head, looking back over her shoulder. The sound was familiar. Like the echo of a sound in her past. The shout of her husband, promising to return to her as he was dragged away by the first soldiers to ever come here. They did not take all the men that first time, only the strong ones; the ones who might resist them.
Now someone else’s man was being taken. Tula couldn’t help it, she returned to the village square. She had to see, had to know who was being taken this day. Yes, there they were just like the first time. They were not just going to take food after all. They were taking conscripts too. Men were being torn from their families and forced into irons, chained to the soldier’s wagons.
It was a twisted kind of blessing. Each family would have fewer mouths to feed this winter. But without their men, the workload for the women would be that much harder. Whose arm was strong enough to guide the beasts in tilling the fields for spring planting? Whose hand could shape the barrels they needed to store food? What woman could wield the hammer with one hand and nurse her child with the other?
A little boy ran forward, screaming and crying for his brother. Before anyone could retrieve the lad, a soldier casually backhanded him. He fell, head cracking on a stone. The soldier kicked his body out of his way. The boy didn’t move. His skull was broken open. Blood rapidly pooled beneath his head. The mother, appearing at the edge of the small crowd of villagers, saw his body, screamed and collapsed in a faint. The older brother fought against his bonds, straining to reach out to his family but it was no use.
Tula tore her gaze away from the scene, her heart aching and her breath coming in great, quiet gasps. But tears did not come. Her gaze wandered desperate to look at anything but the horrible scene in the square. She was in front of the old blacksmith’s shop.
It was run down and dirty. The forge was cold, having long since stopped working with no skilled hand to care for it. They made do but there had not been so much as an expertly sharpened knife in the town for two years. Something in the back of the shop caught her eye. She walked inside, peering into the darkness. The shop had been picked clean months ago. Any useful instruments and tools had been scavenged by the villagers and yet, hanging from a peg on the back wall, was a scythe.
It’s edge gleamed with the promise of sharp, cutting power. Such a useful tool could not have been overlooked and yet, here it was. As she gazed at it in puzzlement, a terrible thought occurred to her. The soldiers had long since confiscated any weapons, but this wasn’t a weapon. It was a tool. A potentially deadly tool. She froze, afraid of her own thoughts.
The mother outside had apparently recovered and Tula could hear her sobs and wails, mourning the loss of her last child. People tried to console her, calm her lest she should anger the soldiers. But the woman would not be comforted. Each cry cut Tula deeply.
Always she advocated waiting out the war and bearing their afflictions with patience. The war had to end eventually and their lives would get better. The Maker would bless them for not raising a hand in violence to shed the blood of another.
But this…this slow death by attrition could no longer be borne. She could not accept that this suffering was the Maker’s will for them. Surely, this was the work of the Destroyer and the Destroyer must be fought.
Was it not the Maker’s Law that all people have free will? That everyone had the right to choose and decide things for themselves? Right and Wrong? Good and Evil? But what about those who chose to take away the rights of others? What about those who ignored and broke the Maker’s Laws? What were good people supposed to do to protect themselves? No, not themselves, that didn’t feel quite right. If it was her afflictions alone, she could bear it. But it was the cries of the mother, the death of the boy, that sent her into this shop.
They had to protect the ones they loved. The ones who were not old enough to understand what free will was. The ones who couldn’t even raise a hand to protect themselves, regardless if they would or would not chose to do so. Someone had to protect them. Someone had to love them enough to give up their own free will in order to let them have theirs.
Now the tears flowed, streaming down her cheeks but she ignored them. She was not ashamed. Let the people see. They would understand this choice did not come easy. Not for her. They knew her. This was not going to be a whim or some frenzy-based action. Love drove her and wasn’t that the only thing worth fighting for?
Tula reached up and took down the scythe. It was time for a harvest. It was time for the season of war to change. It was time for these murderers to reap what they had sown.
She walked toward the soldiers.