The searing sting from the cuts brought tears to my eyes, but I refused to allow them to fall. The cuts were gifts of love, and I needed to fight the superficial pain and concentrate on the deeper emotion and energy connecting me to the women as they offered the only thing they had of any worth, though not of monetary value. As tradition dictated, the loved ones would offer a trait of theirs that they valued greatly but would be willing to sacrifice to another. This farewell ceremony consisted only of three bloody slices to my flesh, a far cry from what others had endured. As a child, I could remember when villagers would say goodbye to the soldiers, both men and women, leaving for battle, and each remaining person—not able to fight—would mark the back of the departing with the same bloody knife, offering their farewell gift. The sign of a true warrior who had left behind all that they once loved would be a shoulder or back scarred with marks from people who were forced to say goodbye forever.
In this world, everything was forever. The belief of hope had long expired, and no one believed or lived by looking toward the future for a possible good outcome. Hope dissipated right along with the sunrays—nothing but grey, dread, and despair in its place.
Ruth helped Anna out of her seat and to another so that she could sit behind me with the blade. She placed the tip of the metal to my flesh and pressed firmly, barely breaking the skin. “As I say goodbye to you forever,” she slowly lowered the knife down the length of my shoulder, “I give you the gift of submission.” As Ruth reached the end of the cut, I squeezed my eyes shut, feeling the blood from my wounds drip down the side of my back, running along the grooves of my ribcage. “May you always have it… and understand it fully.”
I glanced over my shoulder to stare at the woman, slightly confused as to why she would alter a time honored tradition and ceremony by changing the verse. Although, when I looked into Ruth’s eyes, I could see the woman had wanted to offer something extra. It was her final farewell gift, and she simply wanted to give a little bit more.
Raising my tunic—not caring about the bloodstains that would occur—I watched my dirty fingers fiddling with the buttons as an excuse not to look at the women. I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want to break down and shake with fear. It was my duty to remain strong. I was no different than all the others who had left before me. Everyone would eventually leave one way or another.
Taking a deep breath, I made my way to the doorway and paused with my back to the women. Without turning to face them, I said, “As I say goodbye to you forever, I give you the gift of memory. May you always have it.”
Walking out the door and down the dirt path, I knew it would only be a matter of time until I walked right up to the army to surrender. I didn’t know what that meant, or what consequences would occur from such an act, but I had no other choice. I didn’t look back once as I crested the hill that would remove any sight of my village behind me.
Never look back. Never look back.
Those were words I told myself time and time again when I had to leave or say goodbye to others. Those were the words I chanted when I walked away from my charred childhood home, knowing that not a single soul but myself had survived. Those were the words I recited as I tried to block out the image of my mother’s eyes, closed as if she were only asleep, but while my bloody father stared lifelessly up at me, eyes wide open. One parent looked so peaceful while the other looked so tortured, even in death.
As I trailed up another rolling hill, I concentrated on the cadence of my heartbeat to move my hungry and tired body forward. Beat after beat, I marched, until the sound of the beats grew in intensity. Glancing up toward the horizon, I realized that the sounds were not from me but from the approaching Pike army. I had found them…
Or they had found me.
I stood in place, hoping that zero movement on my behalf would signal to them from a distance that I meant no harm. I would not attack, nor try to run. How one sacrifices to save others, I didn’t know. But all I could do now was stand in place and wait.
Luckily, my plan seemed to work as a large caravan of men, both marching and on horseback, approached me. A large, covered, wooden wagon with bars on the windows was being dragged by mules. It slowly made its way behind the soldiers. At a glance, I assumed it was a prison transport of some kind.