-They are coming! Squeak! Coming! The bird looked towards the castle far away on the other side of the fields.
-They are coming! They are coming! The other birds echoed through the woods. A war was about to begin.
The squirrel ran through the woods, wanting to get a good spot.
The soldiers marched. They were many, and heavily armed. The trees shivered as they passed by.
On the other side of the forest there was another land, vast, beautiful and fertile. A king ruled, better than most. According to the plan, he was not to rule much longer.
-Some battle, wasn’t it? The squirrel jumped back and forth between the branches. Blood was flowing, people were screaming. It was over.
-Some battle! Some battle! The bird flew off, over the battle field.
Perkel was lying under a pile of bodies. Some friends, other foes, all dead or dying. He was unhurt, but he didn’t move. Mercy would not be granted for anyone who was caught, and the army he had fought for was destroyed. The attack had been demolished.
Men started carrying the bodies away, putting them in piles further down. Perkel crawled down a ditch, reached the river. He let himself in, drifted away from the horrors he had been a part of.
A bird circled above him, watching him with interest. Further down he reached the forest. He pulled himself up, crawled in between the bushes. Lay on the ground, rested. Tried to get his mind back in place. It felt splintered, destroyed. Images of violence rushed through his inner eye, fear tormented his soul.
Perkel jumped around. There was no one there. He grabbed a rock from the ground.
-Up here, silly! Squeak!
He looked up in the trees. The bird was looking down at him. A squirrel was watching from another tree.
-You escaped, didn’t you? The battle! You deserted! Deserted!
-I did. Perkel looked down, moving the grass with his foot. -I didn’t want to die.
-Well, you didn’t, did you? The squirrel jumped down a few branches, to get a better look. It seemed uprightly happy for him. -Now what you going to do?
-I have no idea… I can’t go home, that’s for sure. I’d be killed for deserting. And I can’t go back to the land we were attacking, My kind won’t be welcome there now.
The squirrel looked at him with its head on the chess. -There’s not many choices left, then, is there?.
-No choices! No choices! Squeak!
Perkel looked around. The forest was dense and wild, and he had no idea how to survive there. -How would I even find food? he said out loud, expecting no answer.
-There are nuts everywhere at this time of year, wouldn’t you know? The squirrel jumped up to a higher branch, threw him a cluster of acorns. -You’ll be fine, don’t you think?
-And bugs! Bugs all over! We’ll teach you! Squeak!
Perkel lived in the forest for years. When winter came closer, food was getting scarce, and he missed home, his family. His wife and child. He didn’t know how they were, let alone the worry he felt for them believing he was dead. Still, he stayed. There would be no pardon from the king if he returned.
His beard grew long and wild, so did his hair. The third year he made a decision.
-I’m going back home, he told the squirrel. -I need to see my family.
-You’ll have luck, don’t you think? I sure hope they will treat you right…
-I sure hope so. Thank you, my friend, for everything.
He walked through the forest, the way he had come long ago. He walked through the fields, hoping no one would see him. He reached his little farm in the country side.
There was no one there.
He slept in his bed that night, but he did not feel at home. The next day he went to a nearby neighbour, a friend, a man he trusted.
-We all took you for dead. He looked at him with a disapproving frown. He wasn’t going to tell on him, but there was no honour in coming home when all your fellow soldiers were dead or captives. -They left, he said. -She married a man in town. I’m sorry.
The town was full of life, and built up on a little mountain ending in a mighty castle on top. He had cut his beard and hair, but keeping them long enough to look different from what he used to. He wore a hooded cloak, covered his face as much as he could without looking suspicious. He asked around for his wife, and the man she had married.
-He lives up there, by the castle. A rich man, they say. The fruit salesman looked at him, examining his face. -Have I seen you before…?
-Probably not, I’m not from around here. Perkel hurried away. The fruit salesman looked after him suspiciously, talking silently to a man by his stand
The house was big and beautiful, with a great gate in a secure wall around it. Perkel stood there for a long time. His hands were shaking, his knees felt weak.
The door opened. His child was bigger now, four years old. He looked happy, holding his mother’s husband’s hand. He was beautiful and healthy. Behind them came Martha, his wife, as gorgeous as ever. She was laughing, her new husband turned around and kissed her.
She held a baby in her arms.
He didn’t move as they walked by. Martha looked at him for a moment, as if she was seeing something familiar that she couldn’t put her finger on, or didn’t really believe. His face was half hidden, tears running down his cheeks. They were gone around a corner.
They had moved on. He was part of their past now, part of a life that was gone, a life that was past for him as well. He walked back into the forest, grabbed some nuts on his way. His friends would be waiting for him.