It would have been ideal for the moment shared by Theodon and me during our mother’s death to be a point in which we determined to hash out our differences, reviving our unified spirit and returning to pressing forward for the Cause together once more — for our mother and her memory. That’s not how it happened, though. We could certainly feel the love we had for each other during our time of grieving; such is the case with most families experiencing a time of mourning, even when also experiencing a time of estrangement. Our differences were set aside for a time in order to respect the feelings of one another and the wishes of our mother. But they weren’t set aside for good, just as nothing ever simply goes away. It’s only ignored out of convenience for the situation.
So after we honored our mother and had appropriately spent what we felt to be sufficient time cherishing her memory together, we went our separate ways. Nothing was said about our argument the night before our mother’s death and nothing was said about her pleading with each of us to settle our discord. The temptation was there for me, what with my frustration with Theodon for giving her so much to handle during her final breaths. But she had claimed she knew how serious the tension was and that she was supposed to live until she had spoken her peace, and I felt I needed to respect those words. And it certainly seemed that she was telling the truth when she said this; she died almost immediately after she said what she needed to say. So in that respect I resigned myself to the idea that Theodon did what he had to do, and it was because of this that I didn’t say a word to him. I’m sure this is why he never mentioned it to me either. We both knew what had been said to each of us by our mother; we just weren’t ready to acknowledge it to each other yet.
One thing that I did know was that I needed and wanted to get back the feeling of invincibility. It was there, waiting for me to put it into practice again. My mother’s death had affected me, but I wasn’t shaken by it, and I didn’t know whether this was good or bad or neither. What I did know was exactly what I needed to do in order to return to my position of power. I needed to regain control by taking control, by further tightening my grip upon the movement, to subsequently continue increasing my status within it.
And so it was on one particular evening that, without the consultation of Theodon, my peers, or the Leaders, I decided to attack an enemy camp in the middle of the night. A surprise attack. My reasoning behind pursuing the attack — the desire to force a return to normal — should have been a warning to me, but my expanding ego and my need to exercise control hid the warning sign from me. Information had leaked that this particular enemy camp had been set-up only a few miles away from us and that they did not know how close to us they were. Had my mind not been in a hazed state from all that had been going on, what I should have realized was that this “information” was leaked by the enemy itself in an attempt to bait us into attacking. My eagerness blinded me, and so I gathered my men to ready them for a charge. A charge I was certain would devastate the enemy and bring more praise upon me.
As we approached the camp I observed that it was mostly dark with a little light coming from torches, which falsely relayed to me that the enemy was there but that most everyone was sleeping, not at all expecting a surprise attack. We then charged into the camp ready to slay a few warriors standing guard and then kill most of the men in their sleep. But when we entered, we found nothing.
We immediately knew we had been foiled. Our puzzlement was brief and as we realized the reality of the situation, we attempted to regroup and plan a search of the camp. The regrouping was in vain. Because as we regathered, the enemy struck at us from all sides. They had been hiding in the surrounding terrain awaiting our arrival.
What ensued was the ugliest and most difficult battle I had experienced up until that point. Our surprise by being foiled wasn’t of the shocking sort; it was rather a collective frustration of our surprise attack being thwarted and returned by a surprise attack from the enemy. Such collective frustrations don’t bode well for men who are suddenly tasked with fighting for their lives. And many of the lives of my men indeed did not survive. What was chaos on our side was organization on theirs; not only had they been waiting for us, they’d seemingly also played out scenario after scenario, determining their various plans of attack when we did arrive. Our frustration was met with their confidence and competence. We were spinning around figuratively and physically, trying to figure out how to best combat the encirclement we found ourselves in. Retreating was not an option. The only option was to fight. The only way to survive was to kill. The only path back to our village was to not be killed. There was no turning back from my terrible decision.
There was also no time to dwell on it in the heat of the battle, but I knew, if I was lucky enough to survive, that that time would surely come; part of me almost didn’t want to survive, so that the dealing with this mistake and failure would not have to be dealt with head on. The other part of me did want to survive, because I was human, and I was feeling the mortal truth of my humanity stronger now than I had in a long time.
So I fought with all I had and so did my men. And through our sheer force of will, my men and I fought back valiantly as we became determined to not turn my mistake into something more devastating. It was through the fighting and determination that somehow, after hours of fighting back, regaining control over our own emotions and then the battle itself, that we were able to drive the enemy into retreating. It was an impossible victory. Impossible because they had us right where they wanted us, and impossible because it was one of those victories that felt more like defeat. Our win was not through a strong desire to be successful; it was through a burning, collective desire to live to fight another day.
Our recovery may have been astonishing and something that could eventually be looked at as legendary, but the victory was not snatched away from defeat without consequence and without losing a significant portion of my army. We may have miraculously not lost the battle, but neither did we truly win it. The loss in numbers was devastating — a devastation that should not have happened had my mind not been clouded by my own ego.
My mind, immediately after we had reached our survival, went into a funk. It’s impossible to portray into words just how deep the funk was. All I could see was dark. All I could feel was dark. Darkness within me, darkness surrounding me. Looking back, it was almost irrational how despairing I allowed the incident to be on my mind. But it was also good. I couldn’t cope, I couldn’t think straight. And my inability to think straight I believe was because of my inability to think clearly during the days and months leading up to that terrible and costly decision. I was struggling because of how I had come to view myself. I was struggling because I came to believe that it was impossible for me to fail in the way that I had. I was struggling because what had been feeding me was now eating me.
And all of the struggle, despite its filth and its ugliness, was exactly what I needed. Had I made this mistake at a time my pride was held in check I wouldn’t have felt such despair and shame and guilt. But what I had allowed to take over and consume me was now allowing for a reaping to be had. The incident, although I would forever regret the decision I made, due to the amount of unnecessary lives lost, became a crossroads.
After the enemy had retreated and was long gone, instead of going home with the remaining army, I sent my second-in-command back to the Main Village with them as I stayed back alone. I needed some time to myself. I needed to think about what all had just occurred. But more than anything, I needed and I wanted to blame myself for all of the lives that had just been lost — all of the unnecessary blood spilled as a result of my reckless behavior.
So as I got down off my horse and sat on the bare ground, I buried my face into my hands and began to weep. I wept loudly and uncontrollably. I could not stop and nor did I try. I would occasionally lift my face out of my hands and look up into the night sky with the tears still streaming down my face, only to rebury it back into my hands moments later. The night, which was quickly turning to early morning, was still and it was quiet, a common setting for after our battles. The only sounds I could hear were the echoes of my own moaning and wailing. I gripped the ground below me with my hands and did not even think to rub the dirt off my hands before burying my face into them once again. This caused the streaming tears to turn into little rivers of mud flowing from my eyes. I looked nothing like the god I considered myself to be just hours before this moment. The pride that had taken over and consumed the way I lived my life seemed to have left me completely as I sat there as low to the ground as I could, covered in dirt. I was dirt. I needed to change.
As I rode my horse back into Main my brother, of course, was there to meet me. He didn’t say a word as I slowly dismounted. He didn’t have to. I also didn’t have to say anything. He could tell what agony I had already been through. Agony not from any physical battle, though. My battle scars were the dried out rivers of mud, sweat, and tears running from my eyes to the bottom of my jaws. My eyes themselves were red and there were deep, dark clouds of burden hanging directly below them. My physical posture was sunken and my head hung low. Theodon knew, and that’s why he did not speak. The silence continued until my horse was safely in her coral and my brother and I had settled into my home. He began to slowly dress some of my wounds and, while he did, he finally broke the silence.
“The losses in our ranks are not good, but with them retreating we will have time to recuperate.”
I shook my head in response to this. Yes, we would recuperate in numbers, but what about morale? What about my leadership — would the men now lose respect for me? Furthermore, what about me? My mind seemed to be completely and utterly dead. All the confidence I had was gone and doubts began to creep in my mind. Maybe I could still fight, but it seemed my time of leading men was at an end. I didn’t say any of this out loud, but my brother knew me well enough to know what I was thinking.
“Put those thoughts to rest,” he said, “It was one mistake.”
“A mistake that could have ended us,” I responded. “My pride got in the way as you said it would. The men deserve better. The Cause deserves better. I don’t feel I should ever lead again.”
“Hush! The men respect no one more than they respect you. I have no doubt they would get right back up and follow you into battle tomorrow if you asked them to. They’ll forgive you because their greatest motivation for fighting is you. The Cause needs you. You’re going to have to find room in your heart to forgive yourself. And you had better do it quickly.”
My brother then stomped out of the tent, leaving me alone with my thoughts again. I rarely saw my brother as angry as what he had been. Some of that anger was stemming from his disappointment in me that he was trying his best not to convey. But I also knew he firmly believed what he had just said. At the time, however, it was so difficult for me to believe it could be true. My mind felt so stuck.
Did the Cause really need me or had my time come and gone? I would have some days to think it over, and I was determined to use every last bit of those days to come to a decision. I wallowed in my own thoughts for a few more hours before eventually laying my head down to sleep.
The sleep didn’t help, though. Sleep only brought to me a dream — a dream in which I stood in the middle of two armies about to go to war with each other. On one side was my army, on the other was my enemy. I wasn’t leading my men into the charge, however. I was just standing there, in the middle, faced with a decision. As dreams often do, the decision I had to make was not particularly clear, it was just known that something had to be done and I was in charge of deciding what that something would be. The world was still, and there I was standing completely alone as the men on both oncoming sides waited for me to make my decision. What would that decision be? And, of course, the dream ended before I could act.
As I awoke from the dream, I found that I was still faced with my own real life decision: give it all up after one great mistake, or keep trudging along, as much as I’d be allowed to. Again, I needed to change.