I ride through the graveyard on my way home, stealing askew glances at the moon. Some tombstones reach through the frozen ground like pale bony fingers; they seem eager to grab the ankles of my horse. The weary beast paces carefully, exhaling long tendrils of cloudy breath through its nostrils. I cannot remember so many graves.
The war lasted more than ten years. It was a bloody mess at the beginning and it ended the same. Corpses littered the fields, shattered remains of countries, kings, beliefs. Banners flapped with the echoes of too many senseless deaths, with the happy sound of oblivion, with remorse. It’s been a long time since I last saw such a white as that of the tombstones. Screams and pain are colored red and black. Frozen fingers and toes turn blue. Rotten flesh is another color.
I am impatient to see Elizabeth after all these years of absence. We’d been married for only five months when I went away. I can still see her crying on the porch, a child growing in her belly. I have cherished her last kiss like the greatest treasure, her lips lingering for an instant on mine, her smell of cornflower and cinnamon.
The moon peaks through the bare branches of the willow trees and beams upon the frail path I follow. My horse sneaks its way among the tombstones, almost tiptoeing in silent reverence. I imagine I can see the lights of my house, far away, beyond the shallow stream that embraces the northern border of the graveyard. Perhaps Elizabeth is reading by candlelight one of the poetry books she used to love, next to the window. Perhaps she is reading the Bible to our son, or our daughter.
There are so many graves here. The war was treacherous and far reaching; famine widespread, pestilence ubiquitous. I spur my horse. The moon keeps on shining upon tombstones etched with names I don’t have the courage to read, not now. Tonight I shall not keep Elizabeth waiting. It is time I come home.