In a small and simple farming village of Zigdan, citizens did what they always did, farmed and survived. It was a simple life but one that many of the residents there loved. The farmers of the fertile flood plane near a mighty river didn’t often complain about their lot. There was something comforting in farming. Every day the people of Zigdan awoke to tend to their crops, feed their animals and manage their homes. Mostly the men did the hard labor in the fields while the women ground grains for meal, prepared food for their children and cared for them while they were at it. It was simple but fulfilling.
The village was composed of a dozen main families but they were each large and the children and grandchildren of each continued to farm around the initial homesteads. There was plenty of land for each member of the family to start their own homestead and so the village spread a little each year. Normal conflicts aside, the community was harmonious and peaceful. They could not predict the storm that headed their way.
Far off in the distance a plume of dust appeared. It seemed small at first but grew on the horizon like a sun rising in the morning. Initially, the farmers who spotted the approaching cloud assumed it was a dust storm which wasn’t entirely uncommon. They began to order their families to get animals inside and take cover in their homes. For a while they assumed they were safe.
One of the young men of the town was out hunter for rabbits and came running from the direction of the cloud yelling.
“Rozkol!” He screamed.
The word rang through the air like a curse.
“Rozkol are coming this way,” the boy repeated.
The message sent a shock wave through the village and sent some of its citizens racing to warn the rest. Soon all were aware that a hoard was coming their way and the only question that remained was what to do about it.
The patriarchs of the town gathered in an small inn maintained by one of the families. There were twelve of them in all. Each man had a long and cold look on his face. They shifted in their seats and were too afraid to ask the obvious question.
A tall bearded man, and the owner of the inn stood, gripped a pitch fork in his hands and addressed the rest.
“You all know the news already,” he began. “There is a hoard of Rozkol riders heading our way. They will be here before nightfall I imagine.”
He paused a long minute and looked off as though searching for some strength, then continued, “What should we do about it?” He asked.
“I say we fight!” A man shouted.
“That’s suicide,” another responded, “There’s no way we can defeat a group of riders from Rozkol. We’re farmers, not warriors.”
“Then what should we do if we don’t fight?”
“Where to? Our whole lives are here. We have nothing but our farms and our community. Where would we go? There is not another town within a day’s ride.”
The arguments swirled around the room as tempers and nerves were tested. Threats were made and desperate solutions floated. After many wasteful minutes, several of the men decided they would indeed fight. One of the men, Griss, agreed with his brethren then rushed to his farm where his family was huddled. He burst through the door and slammed it shut. Griss’ wife ran to him and hugged him tightly.
“What is going on?” She cried.
The strong farmer broke and fell to the ground clutching his woman and started to sob. Their three children ran to them and they all held each other on the floor of their homestead, each knowing that whatever was about to happen, it was not going to be good.
“Many of the men want to fight,” he whispered. “We will all die. There is no winning. Death is coming for us.” His eyes were red with tears and fear and the whole family sobbed together.
“What do we do?” Olina, his wife asked.
Her husband grit his teeth to stop the tears and groaned, “Take the kids. Take the horses. Run. Just run. They will likely stop here after they destroy our village. It will give you a chance to get away. Follow the river. Head to Junatum.”
“No!” Olina shouted. “We need to stay together. We won’t leave you.”
”Olina!” Griss yelled gripping his wife by the shoulders and shaking the fear from her for a moment. “We only have two horses. You and the kids can ride them. I would need one for just me and then we couldn’t get away. Don’t argue with me. If I survive I will head to Junatum. Run. Run. Now!”
Olina leapt to her feet and gripped the kids then ran to the stable with them. They were scrambling to get the blankets and saddles for the animals while Griss slowly and calmly gathered some food and supplies for his family. The farmer held a sack open and slowly dropped bread and some vegetables into it. Tears filled his eyes and he filled the sack that might keep his family alive long enough to find safety. If that was even possible any more. He slowly walked to their well and filled some water skins, keeping none for himself. With food and water in hand he stepped to the stables where his children hurriedly readied their horses with sobs and whimpers.
When Griss reached his family, they were ready to mount and ride. Olina and the kids froze when they saw him. They felt in their hearts that they were looking upon their father for the last time but none of them had the courage to say it. The farmer reached for his smallest child, a son of five years old and held him tightly to his chest, kissed him and then lifted him onto the first horse. He gripped his oldest child, another son, and began to cry and he held him before kissing his head and whispering, “Take care of your mother and siblings.” The boy nodded then mounted the horse behind his smaller brother.
Griss kissed his middle child, his only daughter, and she began to cry uncontrollably and refused to let go. “Please,” he begged, “Please go. Live.”
Finally, the girl let go of her father and mounted the second horse. Griss turned to his wife.
Both husband and wife broke down and started sobbing as their bodies shook and the held each other as if clinging to life.
“I love you Olina,” Griss whispered, barely audible. “I will see you again. I will be with you always. Take care of our children. As long as they live, part of me lives as well.”
The woman could not respond except through tears and kisses as she wept. The children were all crying now and though they knew they needed to leave, they were clinging to the moment. At last she kissed her husband one last time and climbed onto the horse with her daughter behind her. Griss handed to sack with supplies to his oldest son and then smacked the horse firmly on the flank to get it to lung forward and start on its way. Olina kicked her horse and together the pair. Fled the farm with Griss watching his family until he could not see them any longer.
With his family fleeing the approaching hoard, Griss turned to his home and slowly walked into the cabin he built with his own hands. It was the home he built for his wife. The home in which she birthed their three children. It was constructed with love and commitment. It was a good place to die. It would be his coffin.