A SMALL MEASURE OF PEACE, a short story by Sun Tzu. Date added: 2011-12-11. Times viewed: 1325.
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- Intro: Plagued by a recurring nightmare a man seeks to uncover its cause.
A SMALL MEASURE OF PEACE
It began with the biting cold, then fear! Indescribable fear coursing through me; almost overwhelming in forcing me to run - but run where? There was nowhere to run to, nowhere to seek sanctuary. I shiver again the water around my knees is so cold, my legs & my feet are numb as are my fingers; I can barely feel them let alone grip my sword.
'Here they come! Stand firm.' Shouts a figure to my right, he turns to me & raises his sword in salute I raise my sword & return it. Our men have panicked & fled deeper into the water behind, green recruits throwing off their armour & weapons trying to swim to safety. My companion & I stand shoulder to shoulder facing the charging horde descending upon us. We stab with our swords, punch & gouge at the dark figures before me. I glance over as my companion falls under the sheer weight of numbers upon him. Then - I too am falling backwards into the cold blackness, the weight of my armour dragging me down, my lungs bursting for air as I descend into the cold, cold blackness.
I awake with a start! For a moment I have no idea where I am! Totally disorientated I make out a voice, muffled yet soft & feminine.
'Are you ok Stuart?' I turn to see my wife Judith, the fog of sleep slowly clears, I recall where I am - on a coach, outside the window the road signs are not in English, of course! I recall, I'm in Italy.
'Are you ok?' Judith enquires again, her tone one of concern.
'Yeah I'm fine,' I reply rather embarrassed. 'I did it again didn't I?'
She nods & confirms with 'Uh hum.'
Glancing about me I notice eyes upon me, a few of concern, the rest disapproving.
'Was it the nightmare again?'
'Yes,' I reply, '& it's much more vivid.' Before Judith can reply our tour guide Claudia begins to make an announcement on the coach public address system.
'I have for you information.' She begins there is a collective groan from everyone we know what is coming, a force feeding of masses of information. To her credit Claudia takes it all in good humour.
'We will shortly be arriving at the beautiful lake Trasimine, we will stay approximately 3 hours - you can rest, have coffee & nearby is made the finest gelato in Italy.
'Ge what?' came a loud irritated voice directly behind me, 'what's the stupid itie bitch going on about now?'
Judith just rolls her eyes, it was Mr loud mouth the trip moaner.
The coach pulls into the rest stop & we begin to disembark, Mr loud mouth just barges his way past everyone wanting to be first off the coach. No one says anything, they are all clearly intimidated by this ignorant bully.
Judith & I just sit allowing everybody else to disembark, I take a sip of water, she looks at me concerned. 'When was the last time you slept properly, without this nightmare?'
'I don't know Jude, I reply, 'weeks! I've lost all track of time.'
'You look terrible, I'm worried Stuart I thought this holiday would help but it only seems to be making things worse, you've not slept properly since we arrived.'
'I'll be alright, I just need to freshen up & get a coffee.' I can tell she isn't convinced, 'If you're a good girl I'll buy you an ice cream.'
'Given what I'm putting up with you can buy me a bloody big one.' She replied.
We are the last ones off the coach & follow everyone else into a cafe, one that Claudia has recommended. I give Judith some euros to get coffee for me & a large ice cream for her & head off into the gents to freshen up.
Splashing cold water on my face I try to wake up out of the semi fogginess my mind has become. I couldn't believe I was still managing to function, living on coffee & glucose tablets. The image in the mirror was of someone I barely recognised, a much older man than my 30 years, older, haggard with bags under the eyes & in need of a shave; I looked like shit. Splashing more cold water on my face only gave me brief moments of alertness I desperately needed to sleep. Then, it started again, only this time I wasn't there! It was just the sounds the cries of pain & terror, the war cries, the clash of metal upon metal for a few moments it was deafening then it slowly subsided & vanished.
Was I going mad? Was the lack of sleep now making me hallucinate? I wasn't sure of anything anymore, though something deep within me told me I was almost at the end of my journey. How I knew this I didn't know; I just did.
When I returned Judith was tucking into one of the largest ice creams I'd ever seen, a mixture of at least half a dozen different flavours. She just looked up at me smiled licked her spoon & pointed to the large steaming cup of black coffee waiting for me on the table.
'Feel better?' Judith asked between mouth - fulls.
'A bit.' I replied feeling the caffeine slowly kick in. 'How'd you feel about taking a little boat trip?' I asked.
'What for?' she eyed me suspiciously.
I pull a bundled up handkerchief from my pocket, placing it on the table I opened it up to reveal a gold pendant, it was a simple gold leaf with some sort engraved upon it.
'Where did you get it? Judith asked, 'It's beautiful.'
'It was left to me by my late uncle George in his will - it's Roman, some sort of medal for bravery in battle. He found it over 30 years ago while doing an archaeological dig here around Lake Trasimine.'
Judith just stared at the pendant. 'You say he found it around here?'
'Around 217 BC there was a huge battle here, a large Roman army was ambushed by Hannibal...'
'Hannibal? That's the bloke with the elephants, right?' exclaimed Judith.
With those few words she had just consigned one of the greatest generals of antiquity & the terror of Rome to - that bloke with the elephants!
'Pretty much, yes, well this bloke with the elephants wiped out a Roman army here on the banks of Lake Trasimine, it was said that many Roman soldiers drowned themselves in the Lake rather than face Hannibal's soldiers.'
Judith looked at the pendant then at me. 'What are you going to do with it?'
'Return it to where it belongs.'
'Why? It must be worth quite a bit.'
'It's worth a lot Jude,' I reply sadly, 'but ever since I received it from uncle George I've been plagued by this nightmare - even before I knew what it was & where it came from.'
'You think returning it will stop the nightmare?'
'I can't explain how I know, but yes - I'm convinced it will.'
'How can you be so sure?' Judith asked.
'Ever since we left home & travelled here the nightmare has become stronger & more vivid the closer we have got to the Lake, earlier when I had that last nightmare - it was like I was there in the battle fighting side by side with a Roman officer. I think he was a Centurion, they were considered to be the bravest of the brave, they had to be; I know it sounds crazy but somehow I know this is right Jude.'
'I don't know what to make of this Stuart, I truly don't but...' She was cut off by a disturbance behind us. I turned to see Mr Loud mouth push his way to the front of the queue. He barged past a young blonde I knew only as Helen, she was travelling with her mum. There were moans but once again he pushed by without anyone protesting.
I don't recall what happened next except once again I heard the cries of pain & terror, the clash of metal upon metal for a few moments it was deafening then it subsided & vanished. I found myself standing over Mr Loud mouth as he laid sprawled on the ground in front of me. I felt my hands clench into fists then relax.
'Get to the rear of queue.' Someone shouted at Mr loud mouth, this was followed by other voices telling him to do the same.
Mr Loud mouth got up & meekly shuffled to the rear of the waiting queue with out any protest. Judith ushered me quickly out of the cafe. 'What the hell were you thinking?' She hissed.
I didn't answer & we made our way over to where some boats were moored. Approaching one of them I spoke quickly to owner of one of them offering him a wad of euros to take myself & Judith out on the lake. Once out a fair way from the bank I took the pendant out of my pocket & threw it as far as I could. It landed with a plop & quickly vanished into the dark cold depths of the Lake.
After a bit we made our way back, I thanked the owner & as Judith & I made our way back to the coach I turned once more towards the lake & there just on hill on the far bank a lone figure stood, I watched as he raised his sword in salute & then he was gone.
The coach was strangely quiet as we made our way back to the hotel. Mr loud mouth sat quietly no longer the arrogant fool he had been throughout the holiday. I felt Judith take my hand & give it a gentle squeeze.
It was the last thing I remembered as I sank into a restful untroubled sleep, the sounds of battle now strangely silent.
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