He came on the day the fires went out, when the rain came in a deluge over the mountain and valley, he came on horseback from behind us, startling us right out of our panic.
We had started the fires ourselves, taking our chances with the wind bringing the flames up the mountain toward us – anything that we could think of that would stave off the horde trudging their way toward our keep on the mountain ridge.
And the horde, we’d been watching it for days. Across the valley and into the desert, we saw them coming, and at first it looked like a shadow moving over the sand, but there were no clouds in sight to keep the light from hitting the ground, and so we knew that it wasn’t a shadow, but the gray promise of death – dead flesh in tattered rags stumbling toward us. Hundreds of bodies moved as one unit, an army of death, encroaching on what had been such a safe place for so long.
‘What will we do?’ was the question on everyone’s lips.
‘Die,’ was the answer no one brought themselves to say.
Two years on a mountain in the desert and we had held our own against the stragglers, remaining reanimateds who wanted nothing but our breath and blood.
We did the only thing we knew how to do.
We sent runners down the mountain with torches in the night. From our perches above, we could see the fires being lit in the shallow gulley between the valley and it’s rise. Fire was a way to stop them. They were not afraid of it. They did not know that they would burn. In our time, we have seen hundreds of reanimateds who have walked trustingly into flames, and sometimes through them, only to see them slow and fall, but still quiver and reach while they burned until their second death. They never did figure out how to put themselves out.
The fires burned for four day and four nights before the rains came, and of course it was our luck, of course it was, that the horde had only crossed half the valley before the rain. None of them burned. Not even one.
He came from behind us, from the other side of the mountain. No one heard him coming, and all of the watchers at their posts missed him somehow, as if he were a ghost who just appeared from the ether to save us all.
He was clad in leather armor and had long blades at his hips, a helmet like an old knight would wear perched on his head. He was our knight, really.
He guided his horse until he stood before our shivering clan. There were just seventeen of us left, and we clustered around each other in the pouring rain as we listened to this stranger:
‘I haven’t an idea of how you survived on this mountain and I don’t so much care,’ he said. ‘We are survivors of the Dead. We are living and breathing and thinking beings, and we will prevail against them. It is our duty and our destiny to go on, long after the dead are deader and gone.’
He was an army of one.
Our knight disappeared and the horde pressed on toward us. The rain still fell, but they were close enough for us to hear their moanings.
‘He’s forsaken us,’ we said.
‘We’re going to die on this mountain.’
There was panic on the ridge. We were all getting ready to flee down the mountain, try to run from the horde out in the deep unknown and the dry desert.
We cursed our knight.
We cursed our fate and our deaths.
‘We’re going to die,’ I whispered, and a shadow loomed above me. The knight had returned, holding a torch in the dying drizzle and a piece of string that led down the mountain.
‘We are not. Be careful what you say, young girl, you could cause a stir. We are not going to die. We are armed to the teeth.’
The torch touched to string and ignited. The sharp smell of cordite and confused hope.
I watched the tiny flame disappear over the ridge and looked into the knight’s eyes.
Years on the mountain, and would we be saved? And if we were saved, for how long?
He put a finger under my chin and lifted my face for him to regard.
‘Until they are deader and gone.’
The mountain exploded below us.
And we were saved.
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Caitlin at http://thehiddentree.wordpress.com gave me this prompt: We are ready for the siege. We are armed up to the teeth. Be careful how you live and breathe. Release what’s brewing underneath.’ –Silversun Pickups, ‘The Royal We’
I gave Christine at http://trudgingthroughfog.wordpress.com this prompt: These are songs for heartbreak.