Another Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig…and he’s offering loot!
When the last cherry blossom falls
“When the last cherry blossom falls, so will my axe.” That was the mantra Darrich had been instructed to repeat. He’d done so with a steady voice, denying his internal strife an outlet. The shaky voice of his youth had been beaten out of him long ago. Darrich believed the trees could hear the words he couldn’t yell, could see the tears he couldn’t cry. His heartbeat was banging away on the war drums in his ears, calling him to do the inevitable.
A light rain had swept across the village that morning, attacking the resolve of the cherry tree’s ornaments. The vast majority of blossoms had let go of the branches from which they’d clung so delicately. Their tender petals blanketed the courtyard like freshly fallen snow, signaling that the time for the ritual had arrived.
Darrich had looked forward to the ritual with ignorant enthusiasm. Today would mark the day he became a man – a great warrior of the Josi’ck tribe. Now with axe in hand, he wanted anything but.
The Josi’ck were feared people, unequalled in the arts of war, bloodthirsty savages on the battlefield. They brought uncompromising, nonnegotiable hatred down upon their enemies. The Josi’ck were well know for hunting the families of their fallen enemies in an attempt to stomp out the bloodlines of those who’d dared oppose them. The sight of just one Josi’ck warrior in full battlements was enough to make most men betray their allegiances and flee in terror.
During his warrior training, Darrich had slowly come to terms with the severity of the trials he’d been made to endure – too slowly if measured by the beatings he received at the hands of his father. Josi’ck men didn’t express emotion. Josi’ck boys were beaten severely whenever they lost composure. Darrick was often betrayed by his voice during the early years of training. His father would question him sternly and listen for sounds of weakness. Knowledge of the beatings that would follow his failures were often enough to cause Darrich’s voice to quiver, forcing the punishment, intensifying his dread, and making the task of hiding his fears increasingly difficult.
Darrich knew of boys who’d been beaten to death by their fathers. He’d been friends with one of them and the boy’s death had cut Darrich deeply. After that, he’d started to gain a level of control over his emotions – perhaps for no other reason than his own survival. He’d continued to receive the beatings, but their frequency had lessened as control over his emotions grew.
His mother, Carrin, had often helped him to practice control over emotions while his father was away. She questioned him frequently about events she knew would trouble him, trying to provoke a response. During these harsh questioning sessions, Darrich saw a weakness in his mother; her eyes betrayed her otherwise stoic manner. It obviously hurt her to dig at him and make him feel pain, hidden pain or otherwise. Darrich had always been thankful that women weren’t held to the same standards as men. His mother would’ve been beaten mercilessly if they were and to his knowledge, she’d never had a hand raised to her. Even without fear of beatings, she’d always shown great respect for her husband, and mostly controlled her emotions.
Darrich didn’t fear his mother, and her questioning had less impact on him as time went by. She’d often made up outrageous stories to try and find any weakness. She’d once told him that his father was going to make Darrich kill his own dog, the one she’d given him at age four. Darrich hadn’t flinched. Another layer of naiveté was stripped from Darrich that evening at dinner.
“Darrich believes you too kind to have him kill his own dog,” Carrin had said to Darrich’s father.
Darrich had felt it pulling at him then as it did now. There was no escaping a thing that had to be done. His father had halted dinner to take Darrich outside where he’d forced him to execute the animal and then endure hours of questioning.
There were no beatings that night. He’d performed the task without hesitation and answered the questions as if they’d concerned the act of breathing in and out. He’d wept for the last time that night, silently into his wool pillow.
Darrich had wanted to hate his mother after that but he couldn’t. He’d seen something in his mother’s eyes; she’d done it to protect him. She’d hardened him with her betrayal, strengthened him in a way that made beatings a rare occurrence and ensured his survival.
The Josi’ck had learned long ago that it wasn’t enough to have one’s enemies fear you for what you did in combat. They needed their enemies to also fear the youngest of untested warriors for what they had done before ever stepping onto the field of battle. They needed the world to fear the ruthless nature of what it meant to be a Josi’ck warrior and had established a code of training to ensure that every man who donned the warrior’s battlement had unquestionable resolve.
The rain began falling again. Darrich looked into the grey sky and let the drops fall across his face like tears. He wondered if anyone would be able to tell if he were, or if he would even be able to cry. He knew he wouldn’t. He had learned on his own that while he wasn’t allowed to express emotions, feeling them wasn’t really optional. He felt certain today would change that. A storm was raging within him and he feared something might disconnect, might snap.
Darrich looked at his mother’s outstretched neck on the chopping block. Her eyes betrayed the brave face she was attempting to show her son. He looked beyond her to the cherry trees in the courtyard. He watched as the final rain-soaked cherry blossom fell into the dirt.