The March Eternal

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

The ground rumbled with the gait of hundreds of thousands . . . of millions of marching boots. Loose granules of dirt danced in their earthen cradles and mingled with rumbling stones. Among it all, Vigillo sat on sentry duty, set up on a rise as the army marched by. He ignored the taste of the dust cloud and marvelled at how the sight still filled him with awe even after all this time.

The column reached through the haze and over the horizon it was so long, and it was so wide that it nearly touched the horizon on the far side from Vigillo. Interspersed between the thousands of divisions were the followers; families as well as tradespeople with goods and services to provide to the army when camping for the night. They marched so long that children were born, had grown up and had children of their own . . . Vigillo was one of those, third generation of the March, destined to quell the dreaded enemy.

Vigillo was rear sentry, and as such had never seen their quarry, but he had witnessed the atrocities. The wounded were always ferried back down the line whenever they encountered a stronghold, the battles so far away that the rear of the column never caught up before they were done. The rear guard would march past burned out husks of cities and mass graves from the bitter conflict . . . but the enemy were relentless, always receding, flanking and causing misery to the army Vigillo called home, and they had to pay.

The dust cloud was thinning out as the majority of the army marched past his vantage point, Vigillo turned with glee, waiting to relish the clear blue skies that hung over the deep gouge of well worn tracks.

As the stragglers moved on, and Vigillo savoured the taste of clear air, something caught his eye. Another dust cloud on the rear horizon . . . he squinted, then his eyes went wide. He frantically looked between the rear unit and the approaching, growing cloud, desperate to find an explanation.

Are there more stragglers? He wondered, but no, that couldn’t be right, the rear regiment was his regiment . . . he knew that it had already passed. That meant the growing dust cloud could only mean one thing . . . another army.

He fumbled for the horn hanging from his shoulder. The low, foreboding tone sounded across the plains as he raised the alarm. The rear regiment halted and turned, the followers–civilians, children, and the like–scattered to filter through the turning army to safety.

Vigillo drew his sword, gripping the hilt tightly to stop his hand from shaking. This was it, what he had been preparing for his whole life . . . the enemy was here.

Scrambling down the slope, he made it to his regiment commander as she assembled the rear guard for battle. The soldiers stood silent in their ranks, watching the enemy grow in the distance as they marched over the curve of the world.

“Vigllo,” the commander acknowledged his frantic arrival with a nod, “Good eye, did you notice anything about their capabilities?”

“Not much through the dust ma’am, their column is as thick as ours and they glinted with what little of the sun got through to them. I expect they are heavily armoured.”

She bit her lip and furrowed her brow, “Then it will be a fight like no other. Join the line, soldier.”

“Ma’am,” Vigllo saluted and scurried into the ranks.

They had trained their whole lives for this, marching from the day they could walk, yet waiting for the charge to sound seemed longer than any time they had spent alive. But when the order to charge did come, they were ready.

The reargaurd lurched forward at a trot when the horn blasted, keeping their formation as best they could as they picked up speed—and the enemy mirrored their fashion. As the distance between the two armies dwindled, as their speed picked up, ranks broke loose and surged towards one another with a roar of fury and fear. And as the two sides sprinted close enough to see the whites of each other’s eyes, the charge dwindled, the battle roar died out like a fleeting ember in the wind.

The enemy wore the same armour, the same cloth . . . they weren’t the enemy at all, but the vanguard of the very same army.

The two sides stood uneasily from each other as the rear guard commander hailed the vanguard commander and they spoke in the centre. Had the column been turned around somehow? Was this some deception? No, the army had marched for generations in pursuit of some imagined enemy, pillaging and looting and ultimately assimilating the poor people on their warpath. The army had grown so large that it now spanned the small world and circled back around to bite its own tail.

It was all a lie, the enemy, the need to seek them out . . . it was a story to keep the army marching, so that the vanguard to relish in the spoils of conquest. And now the vanguard leered at the rear guard. Vigillo paled, if the army had really pillaged the world, all that was left to slate their bloodlust now was themselves, us . . . the rear guard, their own people.

The call to attack sounded again, and the army that now comprised of two people, smashed against each other in a mad brawl.

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