Canto del Jilguero (2017)
As a little introduction, recently the Digital Writers’ Festival with a few different events, projects, and livestreams that emerging writers could participate in. One such event was the Swinburne Microfiction Challenge, where for ten days a single word theme was released, and you could submit a five hundred word piece on that theme. I managed to submit for five of those days. This is the first, where the theme was HOME.
The trees had not changed, nor had the hills or the meadows, in the years Ignacio had been at war. Golden stalks of wheat rippled in the breeze by the roadside, and his horse puffed and snorted now and then at some familiar scent.
Pain nagged at his thigh, a reminder of the arrowhead that had lodged there. He was one of the lucky ones. Injured rather than sent screaming to his judgement. Mud and sweat clung to his skin in the throes of battle. That washed off at least. Many a man’s blood was still on his hands.
Home was never driven to the dark corners of his mind, even in such a hell. It was the only thing that kept him and the other soldiers going most days. You’d know each man by the name of his village. Cortegana. Mojacar. Inazares. They’d fought and died together, and most never made it back to tell their tale.
Not Ignacio though. He was there when the tide had turned, when the great gates of the capital came crashing down, when they had charged forth to sweet victory. And now he idly rode among the fields he’d known since he was a child. Home to his beloved Maria, and a lasting peace, warm hearth, and honest work. No more killing.
Though some nameless dread nagged at his mind. Once there had been goldfinches chirping, flitting here and there across the wheat, clamping insects in their tiny beaks. There was none of that now, only the lonely sigh of the wind. No woodsmoke hung in the air either. Could it be that the wind had merely swept it away?
Ignacio urged his horse into a trot. The village would be just around the bend in the road, right where he remembered it. Blacksmith’s anvil ringing, the laughter of children at play, the baying of dogs and goats. The sounds of peace. His sweet Maria waiting to take back the favour she had given him for good fortune all those years ago.
It looked as though it had been razed some time ago. Weeds grew among the clumps of charred wood and stone. The bleached bones of a dead dog were scattered in the street. Not a single building was left standing. Despair threatened to drown him, so he dug in his spurs and galloped toward his cottage. Toward home.
Maria did not wait for him there. She was gone, called back to the Lord with the others. He dismounted and limped toward the threshold. A deer raised its head from the wreckage at his approach, turned its great sad eyes upon him, then fled from that place of slaughter. Ignacio fell to his knees at the lintel, sifted his hands through the ashes to find proof that his beloved had ever existed.
A silver cross. It had once dangled from her slender neck and caught the sun. He kissed it and held it close, and wept until the sunset.