January 2013 “no regrets”
The Beam of Light
by Martin Bolton
My earliest memory is of my grandfather’s craggy face, illuminated by flames. His deep set eyes twinkling as he gazed at me across the fire. His expression gave nothing away, the only clue to his thoughts lay hidden in the darkness beneath his brow. That visage reminded me of a cliff face; stark and uncompromising, changed only by the fullness of time and the relentless song of the wind.
I can hear his words now as though we were still sat in his hut, either side of that fire.
“Boy,” he said, “you know the customs of our people because you have been taught them every day since you were able to sit upright. And you know that you can only be named once you have killed, that is how you earn the right to exist. You are but a shell until you take the soul of another and claim it for yourself. Your father must name you for your acts of courage. I named your father Redmist, because when he beheaded his first enemy he did so with such ferocity that his victim’s blood sprayed into a fine mist before it fell into the mud. Do you know why I summoned you, boy?”
Of course, I didn’t know why I was there. I was seven harvests old and my grandfather terrified me. I stared silently across the dancing flames and slowly shook my head as he drew from his pipe, never taking is black eyes from mine.
“You should also know,” he continued, “that if your father should die before you have killed, his soul is yours and you become him, and your name will be his name.” He paused again to smoke his pipe.
“Your name,” he said as he let out a thick cloud smoke into the flames, momentarily obscuring his face, “is Redmist.”
That is how I learned of my father’s death, and of my own doom.
There is a beam of light shining through the tiny window, far above me in the slimy stone wall of my dungeon. It is the last light I will see in this world. It seems fitting that, as I gaze at it, I am reminded of the my earliest memory. They say that when you die, your life flashes before your eyes. Perhaps that is the way if your death is quick, but during the past months as I lay in the darkness, mine has trudged past me painfully slowly on a daily basis. But I always end up staring at that beam of light and remembering my grandfather’s words.
“You must now become everything your father was,” my grandfather’s face remained impassive, “because you will be judged against his achievements. You are young now, and you may not fully understand, but you must live up to the memory of your father or be cast out. In the eyes of your people you are Redmist, the same man, and if you fail to emulate him, you will be regarded as an imposter, an abomination, a walking corpse. Do you understand?”
I did not understand, but I nodded anyway.
The beam of light moves each day. It journeys from one side of my dungeon to the other, even as my life runs through my mind. So, each bloody and barbaric event in my life time has its own spot on the dungeon floor. Every act of rage and violence I have perpetrated is marked by some stain on the stone or a rat carcass or a finger bone, each with its own harrowing story. And every day it starts and ends with my grandfather before the fire.
“You must live your life without remorse, without pity, and never show weakness. Every moment of your life will be hard, and every choice you make is etched forever in the annals of time, and burned into the memory of your people. In the end you will not be judged by your actions but by your conviction. The world is full of fools who are certain about every mistake they make, and geniuses who could have the world in the palms of their hands if they were only cruel and ruthless enough to take it. Let other men doubt your decisions, let them deliberate over right and wrong. Yours is to lead, and they will follow a certain fool over a reluctant genius. Are you paying attention, boy?”
I nodded again, my wide, watery eyes not daring to look away.
“Every decision you make will mean life for some and death for others. And every fleeting moment in life is gone in the blink of an eye, never to be retrieved. So live your life in each and every moment and never look back. Never doubt what you have done or will do. Die as a man, die as Redmist, with no regrets. Now go.”
So I lie here, physically broken, watching the beam of light and reliving my life each day. I see the faces of the people I killed. Men, women and children. I see the villages I burned, the people I enslaved and disfigured. I see the babies I blinded so that they would become oracles and tell me the future. I see all this as I await the moment when I pass from this life to the next.
I will die as a man, as Redmist, with no regrets.