- April 2023 Popular Vote Pick

The sun was setting, casting a warm golden glow over the battlefield. The air was thick with the stench of death, and the silence was deafening. A lone figure stumbled across the blood-soaked earth, his body battered and broken. He had lost so much blood that the world around him had started to blur, and his steps were unsteady. He clutched his side, where the enemy's sword had pierced him, and tried to ignore the searing pain that shot through his body with each step. He knew he was dying, but he didn't want to die alone.

The cause was just and he had fought valiantly alongside his comrades in arms, but they had all fallen. He was the last survivor of an army that had been sent to fight to protect his homeland from invasion. But the enemy was too strong, and the battle had turned into a massacre. He had seen his friends die one by one, and now he was the only one left. A young boy who had no children of his own had died in his arms as the blood flowed around him.

As he stumbled through the battlefield, he saw a castle in the distance. It was the castle that his family served, the place where he had grown up. How could it be, his home was hundreds of miles away? He had not seen home in years, and the sight of it brought back memories of happier times. He had always dreamed of returning home, of putting down his sword and living a normal life. He daydreamed of the upcoming days of rest and the joy of being reunited with his family.

The wounded warrior stumbled on, his eyes fixed on the castle in the distance. He imagined his family waiting for him, their faces full of joy and relief. He imagined the warm embrace of his mother, the laughter of his siblings, and the proud smile of his father. He had missed them so much, and he longed to be back in their arms.

As he trudged forward the castle grew no closer, his steps became more unsteady, and his breathing became labored. He knew he was running out of time. He could feel the life draining out of him, and his thoughts became disjointed. Each drop of blood was another minute of life flowing away.

He could hear his mother's voice, and he could smell the sweet aroma of her cooking. He could see his siblings running towards him, their faces full of excitement. He could feel the warmth of the fire, the softness of his bed, and the safety of his home.

He gasped in pain and could feel parts belonging inside pushing out into his hand. He leaned on his sword for a moment. Another wave a pain, he collapsed on the bloody ground. 

He looked up and reached for his home, despair awash over him. He wanted to be home, to see his family, to die in his bed. Another wave of pain and his vision shifted. The beacon of light that was his home faded, it was a blackened ruin, smoke still rising from its burning walls. 

He had been too late. The enemy had raised the castle, his family had been slain. 

As he lay there, bleeding out on the battlefield, he realized that he would never know what it was like to have a normal life. He had given everything he had for a cause he believed in, but it had all been for nothing. He closed his eyes, feeling the last of his strength leaving him. He knew that death awaited him, and he was afraid.

In his final moments, he thought of his family, of the castle, and of the life he had never been able to live. He thought of his fallen comrades, of their bravery and sacrifice. He thought of the noble cause they had fought for, and he prayed.

As the wounded warrior lay on the battlefield and man became corpse, the sun slowly set and the sky darkened to a shade of blue then to black. The once warm golden glow had been replaced by the eerie light of the stars. The stench of death had grown stronger, and the silence was now interrupted by the occasional groan of the wounded calling to their family, or their god, or for relief from the pain.

The man's body had grown cold, and his breathing had become shallow. He had lost so much blood that his body had gone into shock, and he could no longer feel any pain. As his mind began to slip away, he couldn't help but feel a sense of regret. Regret for not being able to see his family one last time, regret for not being able to die defending his home, regret for not being able to fulfill his dreams.

But as his thoughts began to fade away, something unexpected happened. A gentle voice seemed to whisper in his ear, comforting and reassuring him. It was a voice that he had never heard before, yet it filled him with a sense of peace and hope.

The voice told him that his sacrifice had not been in vain, that his bravery and courage had inspired others to fight for the cause he had believed in. It told him that he would always be remembered as a hero, that his name would be written in the annals of history as one of the valiant defenders of his homeland.

And then the voice was gone, and the wounded warrior's body went still. His final thoughts were of gratitude, gratitude for having been able to fight for something he believed in, gratitude for having been able to die with honor, and gratitude for having been able to hear the comforting voice in his final moments.

The following morning a group of scavengers were scouring the battlefield for valuables. The found the warrior's body reaching for the horizon. They took his sword and his armor. As they removed his clothes a small necklace fell to the ground and was missed by their greedy eyes.

The following week, carrion began to eat the rotting flesh. Our once mighty warrior, stripped of clothing and armor, was an easy feast for the birds. The tore at his flesh and pulled at the tendons. As his body was devoured the small necklace pushes into the ground.

The next year, a group of travelers arrived at the site of the old battlefield. They were merchants, seeking to trade with the nearby villages and towns. They set up their stalls and tents on the outskirts of the battlefield, hoping to avoid the stench of death that still lingered in the air.

As they went about their business, they noticed something strange. On the ground, partially buried beneath the dirt, was a small, silver necklace. It was simple and unadorned, but it seemed to call out to them.

One of the merchants picked up the necklace, examining it closely. It was old and worn, but it still shone in the light. He could feel the weight of history in his hand, the weight of a life lost.

The merchant decided to keep the necklace, thinking that it might bring him luck or prosperity. He wore it on his wrist, as it was small, and he invented stories of the brave warrior who had carried it into battle it before him in honor of a fair maiden.

A century later, the story of the warrior and his silver necklace became a legend. It was said that the necklace had magical powers, that it could bring luck and protection to those who wore it. People began to seek out the necklace, hoping to claim its power for themselves.

More centuries passed, and the legend of the silver necklace grew. It was passed down from generation to generation, becoming a symbol of courage and sacrifice. People came from far and wide to see the necklace, to touch it for luck, to hear the story of the warrior who had carried it.

A millennia later and the merchant's story of the necklace carried by a warrior for a fair maiden had not been passed on. Though the castle and the family that the wounded warrior had fought for were long gone, the silver necklace remained. A simple trinket a brother once carried from his sister. A bracelet a merchant found and invented a story for. For the people who descended from the victorious army, it was a reminder of the bravery and sacrifice of those who had fought and died for the glory of their land. 

The warrior, his sister, and the merchant, each long dead, long forgotten, shadows of a vanished country snuffed out. The small necklace rests now on a shelf with countless other trinkets from countless other conquered countries. The necklace, the last evidence of a society of which no records exists.