by Sauron Gorthaur
At first, all the warrior knows is deep darkness and quiet and a sudden, soft sense of peace and gentle relief.
He realizes that the aches are gone, like in the long ago days when he was young and bold and fearless. He realizes that his veins are thrumming with energy and excitement, though he doesn't know yet what exactly he is excited about.
He remembers the faces of his loved ones gathered about him – his son's tearful eyes, his son's wife, his grandson. He remembers smooth metal in his paws as he presses a sword into his son's grasp and blesses him as the next warrior of Redwall.
It seems like just a moment has passed, yet the memory is also far away and distant, like a glimmer from another world.
It is in that moment that the warrior understands.
He understands that a new journey lies before him, one that will take him to a land of sunlit forests and gentle streams, a land to which so many of his loved ones have already departed. He realizes that he is going to see his wife again, and two dear abbots, and a garrulous retired regimental scout, and a fierce loyal badgermother, and an all-brave sparrow queen, and two shrews whose courage was so much larger than their stature, and a wise, kind, old mouse who taught him what being a warrior really means.
Now he understands why he is excited.
He knows instinctively where to go, as if those loved voices are calling him onward. The darkness wisps away before him like mist and he sees light in the distance, like the sun on the clearest day of summer, like the glint off the highest gables of his dear abbey at sunrise. He moves towards it eagerly, feeling far more alive than he has in many, many years.
The light grows as he approaches, and he fixes his eyes upon it with eagerness and joy and expectation. He is so enraptured by the sight that he does not notice the two shadows in his path until he nearly stumbles over them.
He halts and steps back in surprise. They were not there before, of that he is certain, but there can be no mistaking them now. The two figures are indistinct and faceless, phantoms that seem somehow less real than the glorious light behind them, and yet they are there, blocking his path forward. He realizes deep down that he must deal with them before he can continue on his way.
"Who are you?" he asks, his voice strong and loud and filled with a pulsing quality of light. "What do you want of me?"
The two shadows seem to shrink back, diminishing before his voice, wavering in the darkness, untouched by the glowing rivers of light that the warrior can clearly see beyond them. Something uneasy stirs in the warrior's thoughts, like the faint memory of long ago pain and fear. An inkling of suspicion creeps across his consciousness.
One of the faceless shadows stirs, and for a moment the warrior glimpses a flash of green and yellow, like a single slitted eye. "Please, warrior," a hoarse voice whispers. "Please send us on our way."
Dread gnaws at the warrior's heart. "What is it you want of me?" he repeats, his voice more harsh and stern.
The other shadow flickers, and the warrior hears a sound like the rasping of breath against a silken mask. "It is by your doing that we are here," the shade grates. "We wander the dark, unable to find rest in either the sunlit lands or the dark forest. Please put us to rest, warrior."
The warrior neither moves nor speaks, but stares at these two faded shadows of his one-time enemies, broken, diminished, mere shreds of the ruined lives they once were. It is no longer dread nor fear that pounds in his heart as memories return.
He remembers his pain and the helpless anger of learning that his wise mentor had been brutally murdered and that he had never been given the chance to say good-bye.
He remembers his sorrow as he held the paw of a kind, old mouse who had given his life to peace and whose reward was cruel poison ravaging his veins.
He remembers the gut-wrenching fear of waking in the pouring rain to find his son doomed to unspeakable horrors so terrible that years later the warrior was still haunted with dreams that whispered "what if…"
He remembers dread and suffering and rage.
He looks down at his enemies and for a moment is pleased to see the fate they have suffered for all the suffering they dealt upon others in life. He prepares to push past them, brushing them aside like the shades they have become, and leave them to their doom.
That is when he hears the voice, a dear, dear voice that he knows well. It belongs to a loved one whom he has never met but whom, he realizes suddenly, he will soon see face-to-face for the first time.
"I-am that is."
The warrior pauses and looks down at the pleading shadows again. He remembers words from long ago, from friends and mentors who have made him somebeast he is proud to be. He remembers how easy it is to kill and destroy. After all, he is a warrior, and he knows how simple it is to end a life.
But that is not what has made him a warrior.
In that moment, he realizes he has never truly lost anything. He is going to see his wife again, and his son, and his grandson, the abbot who raised him, and the old scholar who taught him. He has never lost anything.
He looks down and realizes that the two phantoms from his past are the ones who have lost everything.
He realizes that he neither hates them nor fears them any longer. He realizes there was nothing they truly could ever do to him and nothing they could have taken from him forever. He looks at them and instead he pities them from deep within his warrior's heart.
"Go," he says at last, his voice pulsing with light. "Go and find what rest you can. I forgive you."
It is enough. The phantoms melt away into the darkness and the warrior is left standing looking up into the brilliant light. His heart swells.
He has learned his final lesson as a warrior.
He is ready.
He steps forward into the light.