The Runner - A Short Story
I want to stop and rest, but I can’t. Many depend on me to complete this run. If I stop, then people will die. If I complete it, then lives will be saved. There will be peace if I deliver the message in my hand. My lungs burn with every breath I take, but I must not stop, for my family and all families depend on it.
I was told that I will have two sunrises to reach the battleground before both sides can attack. The truce in my hand passed directly to me from my king as he wisely heard reason for peace. Sneers and insults were thrown at me because he gave the task to a woman, but I pleaded my case in his court. Out of the men left in the kingdom, no one knew the trails of Greece better than I, and nobody can beat me on my stallion in any race.
They yelled blasphemy for me, a woman, trying to help stop a war, but I pleaded with all my heart to let me go because my son will die in battle if I do not stop it. My husband, my love of my life, died in the last war; what if I could save my son and the love of others from dying?
They rationalized with the king the treacherousness of my path, the dangers from the mighty mountains, the savages and the wild beasts, but I pleaded to my king that I cannot fail, because I must not fail. My king, my wise king, handed me the treaty with his seal and ordered me to deliver peace.
I rode off on my noble steed within that hour, only taking a spear and sword, as I raced into the mountains against the falling sun.
That was one sundown ago. My horse broke its legs in a trap set by hunters. I mercifully killed my mighty horse to set him free from his pain. But his sacrifice was not in vain; he got me over the mountain. Since then I have been running.
Through the forest I ran, its sharp brush and jagged cliffs slicing open my skin, but I run on because I have to. I push on even though I feel the blood slowly pour from my feet and out my leather sandals. My joints burn, crackle, and pop with ever step I take. I want to scream in agony, for the excruciating cramping of my muscles. I want to stop. I want to rest and let my body heal, but I can’t, for my brave son.
I climb a hill and that is where I see the glorious sight—two armies in the far distance. I take a painful breath of relief as I watch them still in their camps for the night. I want to celebrate, but I cannot because the sun is going to rise and the battle will commence.
I start my run down the hill, but my sandal loses its grip and slips on a jagged rock. I tumble down the hill. Falling and falling, for what feels ages, until I land hard on the jagged bottom. I lay there for a moment and breath. I don’t feel it at first but the pain intensifies.
I slowly feel my way to my stomach, where the rough edge of the sharp stone dagger pierces bellow my stomach. I want to lie down and cry but I can’t. My son needs me. I reach down and dislodge the phallic stone from myself. A flow of warm blood pulsates out. I grab a handful of earth and plug the gaping hole, then tear a piece of cloth from my sash and bind my wound. I carefully roll over and push myself off the ground, but the pain is overwhelming and I fall back down.
I cry in agony for a moment until I hear the cries of my brave son when he was an infant. Those cries he wailed when he fell running for the first time. Those cries I could not deny; he still cries for me, and I cannot fail him. I pick myself up and cry in pain, but I start running again.
I have been running for hours, and I want to give in to my exhaustion and let go of the excruciating pain across my body. I want to die. I slow down and fall to the ground; my eyes begin to close as I feel the comforting embrace of death. I see the first rays of the morning sun break free above the camping armies.
“This is it, I am done,” I say.
I am about to accept failure and welcome the rest much needed until I see an image of my brave son. I see him as a child playing with his friends, as a young man lovingly kissing his wife, and as a dead soldier lying mutilated on the battleground with other sons of mothers.
“No,” I scream out into the wild. “No! I must not give in! There will be peace! There shall be peace for my son!”
The pain subsides as I feel rejuvenated with the thought of my son dying. I take a deep breath and painfully push myself off the ground. I take one step forward and scream in pain. I take another and another and another until I am running again. I run faster and harder than I have ever run in my life.
The cracking of sinew and bone grows intense as I keep running to the battlefront. I am so close, and to stop now would mean war. The pain becomes unbearable, and I vomit on myself as I kept running, but I don’t slow down.
I take deep breaths, but each one makes my lungs burn. I try to focus on the end, how close it is, but I vomit again and wipe my mouth with my hand, only to see a wet chunky crimson gleam underneath the moonlight, but I do not stop. Tears stream from my eyes, and I beg for it to be over. I pray to the gods for them to end my pain, but I think of my son and I run faster.
The sun rises as I make it to the edge of the battlefield where the two great armies march toward each other, flying their colors, chanting their prayers, and grabbing their spears tightly for their war. The explosive sounds of the war drums pound their frightening melody, causing my body to shake as I make my approach between the two converging armies.
I run between the two armies and scream, “STOP!” as I finally halt to breathe. The morning sun warms my face, and I look down at my bloody body and the treaty in my hand. I lift the treaty above my head and then fall to my knees out of exhaustion.
“Mother?” I hear a familiar voice scream.
My eyes blur, but I can see a soldier break ranks and run toward me.
He drops his shield and spear as he gets closer and catches me as I collapse to the ground. My brave son holds me in his arms. I look upon his lovely smile, which warms my weakening heart. His warm tears fall upon my cheek and wash the blood and dirt from my face. I put my hand on his armor to feel his heart one more time.
“Somebody help me!” he screams to whomever would come. I hear the running of feet and clanking of armor from the opposite direction, and I see him unsheathe his sword and aim in that direction.
“No,” says the enemy soldier. “Here is our healer. Please, let us help her.”
My son stares at them uneasy, but he lets down his sword and lets the healer examine my broken body. I hold the treaty tightly in my hand until I see the two opposing generals meet in front of me. The sun grows brighter for them, but my world grows darker for me. With the last of my strength, I lift the treaty and its seal to both generals. One takes it and reads out loud for all to hear. At the end of the reading, both generals look each other in the eye and shake hands. The order is given and both sides stand down; there will be no war.
I can no longer see the sun, but I can still see my brave son’s beautiful face as bright as day. He is crying uncontrollably as I take my final breaths. I put my hand on his face for the last time and say, “For you, my son, there will be peace. There will be peace. . . .”