“I will definitely take care of it. I promise you to deliver them without fail.” (Marko)
Marko, who received a bundle of letters from the members of the guard corps, wraps them up in a silken cloth. His movements are careful without belittling them. He paid respect to the weight of the things he received. Jarkko watched intently while only nodding.
“It will take 3 days more than transporting a person to the territorial capital. Please call me outside, if something happens.”
There’s no reply, but the looks of the called men are tinged with a powerful enthusiasm, which they pour onto Marko. This boy has indeed accepted that enthusiasm without the slightest hint of agitation or breaking contact with them, Jarkko agrees with that as well. His nerves of steel* are unusual. He, who was surviving on the battlefields for a long time, is in a state of putting strength in calming his tension*. (T/N: *Originally the author says “The stability of his stomach is uncommon” but that makes no sense in the context if translated into English. Same for the last part of the sentence.)
The men, sitting with their hands and feet being tied, are mounted bandits. It’s those who were captured in the previous stir. Stuffing more than 30 of them into this tent, the guard corps is monitoring them inside as well as outside the tent. There had been several of such tents prepared too. That was owed to the fact that there weren’t any appropriate buildings to accommodate them in the city.
Showing a nod to the monitoring corps members in the end, Marko leaves the tent. Jarkko unintentionally looked back while following him. As if the eyes carried light themselves, they followed Marko’s back, as simple dots. At the time of leaving outside, Jarkko held the exit’s cloth open for a long time. The boy’s back was there without moving away.
Today the sky has a tranquil appearance and it’s once again hot. Jarkko considers the heat to be the same as an evidence of life. Living in a world that is filled with it, people will die, if the heat is cut off and it gets cold.
“… Am I the only one who is alright?” (Marko)
Jarkko apparently sighed unaware of it himself. He answers with a scowl towards Marko, who is trying to look into the bundle he holds.
“This ain’t no treatment for old people only. It’s a season hated by everybody. Me and summer. It’s only that and no more than that.” (Jarkko)
“If you stand around wrapped up like this”, little Marko’s smile bloomed. Jarkko is frowning even more. The quality of this boy’s consideration is somehow horrible and it isn’t anything that can be comprehended by someone who has a dull nature like me. That was something he knew though.
“For me it’s… winter? Because it becomes impossible to move.” (Marko)
The sound of his voice was somehow distant. Jarkko doesn’t respond. As a result of him having seen and talked with a lot of people, he can discern the direction these words are headed towards. Currently, those words of Marko are far away. People are living things, whose mind can fly around even surpassing space-time.
“Do you consider me to be cruel?” (Marko)
His blue eyes aren’t wavering. Jarkko frowns as before.
“Isn’t it like that to someone, whose work is battles?” (Jarkko)
“It is. For example, you.” (Marko)
It was a quiet voice. It carries a sound as if indifferently pointing out a simple fact without praising nor condemning it. However, since there’s something faintly revealing itself in the shadow, Jarkko sticks out his lower lip and grimaces even more.
“Kind people get injured a lot. It’s because they end up taking responsibility for the pain of others. And, even though it might be still fine if they get drunk, you aren’t even able to borrow the power of alcohol.” (Marko)
That was the truth.
With the battle against the mounted bandits ending in the guard corps’ victory, Jarkko survived yet another battlefield. While collecting the war horses of the cavalry, which lost their riders, the infantry had its own official duties. Confirming the death of the dead enemies, finishing off the seriously injured enemies, dealing with the reasonably injured enemies appropriately and tying up the lightly injured enemies. He tasted alcohol hidden from glances.
After that, the all night persuasion of Marko became an embarrassing oath before he noticed it, changing Jarkko’s own intentions towards that as well. Sleeping for a little while, he mourned the deceased corps members the next day . He drank the alcohol with a gulp.
War is a factory of death. Jarkko saw the end of countless people, while making a living from war, without even knowing their numbers. He got used to it. Those, he saw with his eyes, and those, he heard with his ears, are forgotten before long amidst the mob. He isn’t able to remember those, he sniffed with his nose, in the first place. That might be related to Jarkko having no sense of taste.
However, only touching is no good.
I grabbed people, cut people, stabbed people and beat people. Plenty of them. Each and every one of those lives had quivered. Jarkko felt as if he was accumulating souls. The heat made the most intense impression to me. I certainly possessed heat until just now, but if that heat is lost even once, it won’t ever return again. Only the touched hand will remain chilly.
Alcohol warms the body. And, it also warms the heart. It’s a friend I can’t relinquish in this life. However, in order to deepen the relationship with that friend, I have to increase the amount of drinking and nowadays my old stomach lost its vitality to bear those quantities. A coldness, Jarkko can’t reduce well, is clinging to him.
“You are strong. There’s no doubt about that. Just how much grief are you shouldering as you stand here as a veteran soldier…? Although all of it is someone else’s pain, you properly embrace it yourself. You, who is warmed by the things you embrace, are similar to the soldier’s mother bird.” (Marko)
Though it would be great if you at least called me a father bird, right? Jarkko’s cheeks turned red without saying that though it was on the tip of his tongue. He had to restrain himself.
“It’s because you are like this… you are necessary for me.” (Marko)
Without replying to Marko’s voice, Jarkko strengthened his restraint.
“I will travel a heartless road. Furthermore, since I will drag along many people, it will result in me scattering nothing but cruelty at front and in the back. There will be a lot regrets and fears. It’s difficult to imagine where such a road will lead to in the end.” (Marko)
It was a tone as if counting the number of arrows in a quiver, without having any self-deprecation nor any masochistic streak.
“The soldiers will head towards death alongside me, but they will never relax under my supervision. The reason is that I will firmly step towards death. I want you to warm this up. If possible… as long, long as possible…” (Marko)
The words became more and more distant and in the end Jarkko wasn’t able to understand them. How many years into the future are Marko’s eyes looking? But, feeling that Marko spoke unpleasant words at the end, Jarkko snorted loudly.
“Humph! Talking about such irritating things… don’cha know that young’uns have their own roles as young’uns!? Even treating an old man as a burden, it’s also a task to talk about a big, bright dream like an idiot!” (Jarkko)
“How detestable”, is what Jarkko’s face is saying.
“Come to think of it, there was also some blabbing about me lowering the amount of alcohol or such even though you dun’ even know the deliciousness of alcohol… good grief!” (Jarkko)
Although he turned away in a huff, Jarkko didn’t miss the smile blooming on Marko’s face once again at the short moment of moving his head. Jarkko felt that his face got strangely hot. And he believes that it can’t be helped. Having such conversation while sober is likely set aside for the time of youth, isn’t it very embarrassing for me to be lured into it again?
Even my companions walk towards the future. There are plenty things I should do.
The back of Marko, who is walking ahead, is small. Although he seems to be training, his shoulder width and the flesh on his body still have some way to go. However, nicely showing his quick-wittedness and agility by moving as if there’s a flow in it and with his spinal column stretching in a dignified manner, he will likely grow into a reliable, young warrior in no more than 2-3 years, he thought.
I wonder what kind of Marko I will see after this figure achieved its view of life.
As Jarkko honestly looked forward to that, his cheeks became loose, but he restrained himself right away. He isn’t able to forgive something like being seen as nothing but a good-natured old man by people. Moving his well trained face, with its many firm wrinkles, with a yawn, he properly fixed it into a scowl.
And then, night came.
It was Jarkko looking up at the clothed ceiling while not sleeping. The snores of the other guard corps’ members can be heard. The chirping of insects is bustling as well. If there was no ceiling, the flickering of the stars would likely keep repeating, too.
Each of the guard corps’ is borrowing the city’s beds in turns, however Jarkko and Oiva are always camping. It’s for the sake of immediately taking command in the unlikely event of the mounted bandits coming to counter-attack. On the other hand, Akseli is always stationed in places belonging to the town. Although that was in order for him to become a contact person for matters related to politics, he has been aware of the small, unspoken side benefits. Daniel and Lauri are heading towards the territorial capital for various negotiations.
Passing the night without sleeping, his frozen heart is unbearable for his consciousness. Jarkko supposed he wanted to drink some alcohol, but he hesitated to extend his hand towards the cup by only suppressing his urge. Something like completely abstaining from alcohol is inconceivable for him, but he believes it to be fine for him to demonstrate the willpower of an old soldier tonight at least.
Therefore he decided to get drunk on something else. Marko.
He recalls the incident the next day after holding a memorial service for the corps’ members… It’s the selection of prisoners by Marko. Taking out all 206 of them, the prisoners were surrounded by armed corps’ members. The selection method wasn’t revealed to anyone. However, they were ordered to not talk about anything to anyone, even including the leaders.
Standing on top of a stand, Marko told them the truth without even giving his own name.
“Currently, you guys are nothing. Being arrested criminals, you are people, who were defeated in battle. After this the death penalty, forced labor or slavery is awaiting you… to start with, you haven’t left the way of life as humans. Even if you are hiding some kind of objective in your chest, a dream, seen by people, is something only people dream of. That dream isn’t yours anymore. You are nothing after all.” (Marko)
The prisoners didn’t feel any animosity or doubt towards the contents, he spoke, or towards the apparent age of the one talking to them. Simply staring at Marko, they listened attentively. Since Marko spent the day, Jarkko allotted for rest and mourning, together with the prisoners, this most likely had an influence. He hasn’t considered that as anything but an ambitious undertaking.
Lauri had been repeatedly saying 「He is someone having something mysterious about him」. Those are the words of someone that knows Marko better than Jarkko. He felt that this was likely one of those mysteries as well.
“I will offer a single path to you.” (Marko)
He extended his small hand towards the prisoners, but that happened with a dignity as if giving a military command to an army surpassing 10.000 soldiers.
“I will pick 100 selfless prisoners. 100 people for the sake of dashing through the fields of death. Those not chosen will become corpses waiting for their final day or tools with the shape of humans, either way, they will stop being human, but… those chosen will once again discard their humanity as well. Spreading death on the battlefields, slurping blood, devouring flesh greedily and becoming mad blades, those 100 will have an appearance that should impersonate humans. I will develop and train them.” (Marko)
On the face of Marko, who said that, the blue eyes shined dreadfully.
“I will have you breath death. You are those, who suffered the shame of being pathetic, defeated prisoners. Currently you are nothing. You are miserable things advancing to the battlefield without even a flag. No matter how strong you might be, even if you decide on a single desire, you will end up being swallowed by the swamp of violence and you won’t see tomorrow.” (Marko)
His extended hand turned over and his black hair was brushed up as if a night wind is stirring up a grass-covered plain.
“Therefore… you know… I will pick you up and raise you.” (Marko)
What a terrific smile it was! Jarkko saw the sitting prisoners, the surrounding guard corps’ members and anyone else being startled as if being struck by lightning. He remembered himself shuddering as well, but he was able to feign calmness as it wasn’t his first time. The other leaders were the same as well.
It happened in the guard corps’ headquarters in the territorial capital. Explaining the conclusion after analyzing the mounted bandits, Marko showed a similar smile at the time he gave his last prediction. It’s the name of a single man with a motive.
Climbing his way up from being a volunteer soldier drafted on-site, he was a man, who commanded an army surpassing 10.000 soldiers. Jarkko participated on the same battlefield as that man several times. He recalls him to be an exceedingly excellent commander. Using rational tactics to the degree of being heartless, he was frightening in some ways. His heroic tactics were a good contrast to the gaudiness of the brave.
Mixed up in his memories… Jarkko experienced a single miracle himself.
The figure of Marko, who invites the prisoners from atop the stand while smiling, triggered a distinct memory, but why did it cause me to think back upon Salomon’s figure? A man, who was sentenced to die by fire as an evil man, and a child, 10 years old with blue eyes and black hair, are overlapping with each other and can’t be kept apart as if being something inseparable.
“I will pick you up. You will rise from within that swamp. As military men.” (Marko)
He continues to speak of a wonder. With a voice, that still has some immaturity remaining. In a low voice, with a tongue that had been dipped in an adult’s bitterness.
“I will also prepare a flag. An appropriate battle flag for us. Redder than blood, more dazzling than flames, as if killing all darkness that stands in our way by burning it to nothing… I will have you hold such a battle flag. It’s you all, who will hoist it.” (Marko)
He stretched his arm. Holding his palm up, spreading his fingers and slowly bending those. He is luring them. Somehow his way of doing it is a demon-like temptation. Is he a general? An evil man? An adult? A boy? … I’m not sure as everything and anything is in complete harmony, but even his incomprehensibility is a devilishness, which has a charm that is hard to resist.
Jarkko became intoxicated by that marvel. Therefore he has no doubt that it’s a dream and a glimpse of what’s to come.
It was an army dashing towards the battlefield hoisting a flag never seen before. It’s an army that should be feared. The appearance of death called the death on a battlefield is completely the same flame as the one released by them. Even Jarkko felt its blazing heat. It’s hot. The heat of this army is unusual. It will reduce the continent itself to ashes. It might melt it completely.
The knight, who was at the centre of that army… that person is… ?
Releasing his voice, Jarkko got up from the world within the tent. His surroundings are full of sounds. All of the corps’ members are worn-out. The summer bugs don’t tire from continuing to bustle all night either. There was only a little bit of time left to sleep.
Shifting in his bed with a rustle, Jarkko noticed his hands gradually becoming sweaty. He doesn’t feel any chill. He was filled with a stronger heat than the time he got himself dead drunk. Even the pain of his joints has calmed down. It was a feeling as if being young again.
“… Humph, even so I’m an old man, that I am.” (Jarkko)
Muttering that, Jarkko decided to seek some sleep while not having cooled down. The sequel of the dream doesn’t come. That’s fine, Jarkko believes. It’s the same with it not being alright to drink heavily. Keeping everything moderately is better. I guess that’s the secret of a long life.
(Long life, huh? … The most important task of a youngster is to protect the order of life. Show your death to me, Marko…) (Jarkko)
Being immediately visited by sleep, Jarkko started to sleep peacefully.
A smile, which can’t be seen at the time he’s awake, floated on his stern face.