I needed to go somewhere. Somewhere I could be alone to think and wouldn’t be bothered. I mounted my horse, let my brother know that I was going and that I would be back, and hopefully with an answer to the question hanging over both of our heads. Then I set out for nowhere in particular. I rode for some time, not really thinking at all; just riding, nothing else. I took comfort in the repetition. The only noise being the sound of my horse’s hooves beating up and down on the ground below, and even this seemed only to be in the very back of my mind, almost completely tuned out just as everything else was. My mind was completely empty, and it would continue to be until I arrived where I was supposed to be.
Still, I was not sure where this supposed to be was. I just kept riding and riding, eyes staring straight ahead, mind completely numb, and ears tuning out the surrounding world. Riding alone, seemingly lost, yet simultaneously still searching. Searching for a place. Searching for peace. Searching for answers.
After about a day’s riding, I finally arrived at my place. It was nothing spectacular, but it was right. It was a modest ridge overlooking a narrow river. At the top of the ridge were a few trees that would provide enough shade and shelter. The trek down the ridge to the river was rocky but not too steep, and though not much, there was sufficient enough level land at the bottom of the ridge before reaching the water. The river had a pleasant flow to it and appeared to be shallow enough to bathe in. Being a warrior, I didn’t need much in the way of setting up camp: the river provided me with water, and I expected the setting to be an attractive place for potential game for my food. I would sleep under stars.
I didn’t give myself a timeline on how long I would stay at this place. In my mind, I could leave the very next day if I felt enough satisfaction with the answers I was hoping to find. Or, it could take longer, and it most likely would. Whatever it took, I had to be willing. And after arriving I knew I would eventually have to empty my mind of its emptiness and start filling it with questions — ones that had brought me to where I now was, and possibly more that would come to me. All questions that would needed answers before I left this place. But before any of that, I needed to sleep. A choice made not by my mind but by my body.
I fell asleep quickly and slept soundly through the night. I awoke early the next morning to the sound of chirping birds and a flowing river. I went down to the river, stripped off my clothing, and bathed in it. It was, at first, cold but after some time it began to feel good on my worn down body brought on by the physical toll of war combined with the emotional weariness that had begun to consume me. I lay flat in the water and allowed myself to float, taking no regard to how far away from my settled camp I would go.
As I floated, I looked up into the sky and began to mull it all over in my mind. I thought of how, as a little boy, I dreamt of becoming a great warrior and how that dream came true. I thought of how that dream led me to being able to lead armies of men and how my desire to be a fighter first and foremost and not become too involved in the politics of it all actually made me into the best leader our cause had. But also how the trajectory of that story had led to me being recognized as the greatest fighter and general and how it eventually fogged my mind, leading to a great mistake.
What now was my dream? Or rather what should it have been, if I was not now past the time of having dreams? I felt strongly that I still had much to give as a fighter for the Cause, and I still knew the Cause to be right and worth fighting for. Continuing to fight was an easy decision for me to make — it was all I knew and it was everything I believed in. So, of course I would still fight.
But would I still lead? Was one mistake enough for me to take a step back and let others do the leading? Would the Leaders even allow me to lead? Was my brother right when he said the men would still respect me if I could and did continue to lead? I took pride in my ability to immediately get up from hard blows while in the midst of battle. If I ceased from leading would I be going against that resilience I loved to put into practice? Would I be lying down and running away from my calling for the Cause?
As I wandered back to my camp later that afternoon, the replenishment of my mind had allowed me to become more aware of my physical surroundings as I walked along the river. The day was beautiful and I wanted to be able to take it all in as, quietly in the back of my mind, the questions continued to filter in and out. I took comfort in observing the way the rays of the sun came down and glistened on top of the water, as well as in listening to the sounds of the soft wind that rustled the leaves of the trees, the birds chirping, and perhaps most of all, I enjoyed the smell of fresh, clean air. I appreciated these things because I rarely ever got the chance to do so with the life I lived.
The smell was especially appealing to me because of my constant exposure to the smell of war, or rather, the stench of death. I, along with all warriors of that time, grew to be accustomed to the awful smell, because it’s all we knew. But now that I had a few days away from it, the difference was stark. One was beautiful, the other horrible. One was pure, the other unclean. One was full of light, the other darkness; dark even on the most sunny of days. But again, the lesser of the two was all I knew and it was all I was going to continue to know until the Cause achieved ultimate victory. Because if for no other reason, which was certainly not the case with me, bringing about eternal clean air through achieving full victory would still be well worth the struggle of having to deal with the stench in the intermediary.
Once back at my camp I was able to retrieve some dinner from the river and then turned in early for the night. Again, I fell asleep easily and slept soundly. The refreshing surroundings seemed to be helping my sleep and made for better nights than what I was used to. It was the remaining adrenaline from battles that would often keep me up late during the night, and my dreams would often be filled with more fighting, more blood, and more death.
The next morning I began walking up river, setting out almost immediately after waking up. There were no certain factors that led to me choosing the direction I chose to venture. I considered the wise thing to do was to keep as close to the river as possible, but as for which direction I followed each day, I simply went with what my instincts told me.
This, I was reminded of during my walk, was often how I led my army, especially in the days before my pride began to determine my moves: I always went with what appeared to be the wisest choice with the simple decisions that had to be made, but with the more difficult decisions I leaned on and trusted my instincts. These instincts typically led me to making the correct difficult decisions as well. Early on, those successes caused me to be thankful for having been blessed with this ability, but later, instead of being thankful, I came to expect every instinctual decision to be the right one; not because of my being blessed, but rather due to me believing that I could do no wrong.
If I was to go back to continuing to lead others into battle, I would have to rid myself of that belief. At that present moment, because of the one recent and great failure, I felt nothing like a god, but if I were to start achieving great successes again, the temptation was sure to return.
And this thought caused me to wonder if I could place some of the blame on my men as well as on the people of the Cause for allowing my own pride to take over: they worshipped me; they listened to and believed in every single thing I said; they fought for me; and they literally died for me. Was I completely to blame for being adored and looked up to by others as being god-like? What could I have done to stop that from happening?
I told myself that I had to stop this sort of thinking. It was not at all a healthy way to view the dilemma. I, and I alone, was the only one who could be blamed for my fall. So I repeated this to myself in my head and then aloud. But despite my attempts at ridding myself of thoughts of blaming others for my shortcomings, the thoughts kept coming. And the thoughts kept making convincing arguments. I surmised, then, that I could only focus on what I had control over — meaning if the people looked at me as they did before, it wasn’t them I could change; it was me and my response to them. Before I had responded poorly, and I was determined not to let that happen again.
However, this thought delved deeper: the people may have been in the wrong as well, which led me to a new idea.
The people were always looking for someone to lead them and someone to inspire them. They wanted a god-like figure who could do no wrong in their eyes and, when they thought they found this person, they adored and heaped praise upon them much like they did with me. What the Cause needed, I thought, was to return to heaping all of our humanly worship back on to the actual God of the Cause.
We had gradually become more dependent on ourselves as human beings and less so on the reason we were doing what we were doing. This led to the worship of each other and less so on the One we were supposed to be fighting for. Instead of worshipping the God of the Cause, we were creating a plurality of human gods for the Cause. Somewhere along the way the Cause on its own became the reason and this was wrong. The God of the Cause was the reason, The Cause was the means, and we needed to refocus ourselves back to our reason, back to God. And maybe, I wondered, I could play a role in helping us return to that creed.
My wanting to help our cause return to our God meant one major thing, though. And that was that it would best serve me to return to my current role as a leader for the Cause. And while it was my goal to find this very answer, I had done so in a way that I didn’t think I would; I had found a new reason to lead. I had found what I was looking for in order to keep fighting from the front and not from the back. The Cause was always, whether honestly or dishonestly, at the forefront of my desire to fight. But now I needed to go a step further by rededicating my fighting to the God of that reason, and I would try to lead others in that direction as well.
All of this, of course, hinged on the Leaders taking me back as a general. The choice wasn’t completely my own. I had done wrong and had usurped those in authority over me, causing severe damage to our ranks. I had unnecessarily led many men to their death. Trust had been lost, confidence shattered, and blood had been uselessly shed. And now I had to go back and not only ask for my duty to be retained, but also ask for the forgiveness of my leaders, my peers, my brother, and most importantly, my men.
And with that final thought, I headed back to my camp. Not for dinner or for sleep, but for my horse. I had found what I was looking for. No more time was needed, for the answers I sought after had come to me. Now was the time to act upon them. I was headed back. To fight. To lead. For the Cause and its God.