In 1854, during a campaign against Russian forces at the Battle of Balaclava, a miscommunicated order was erroneously issued, demanding that the British Light Brigade charge a well defended position with no hope of success. Knowing at the time that the order was tantamount to suicide, the Light Brigade rode onwards anyway. In doing so they displayed a tremendous commitment to bravery and honour that would later be immortalised in the legendary words of Lord Tennyson.
Unfortunately for those doing the charging, neither poetry nor bravery are particularly cannon-proof.
“That was a bit of a cock up, wasn’t it?”
I never knew a lead ball could hurt so badly. In my life I’d maybe shot my rifle a thousand times, but if I was honest I’d say I only ever really aimed it at another person a handful of times. It’s a big lot of bluster and pain when you’re in a battle. There’s always some posh twat up ahead with a big moustache who’s still harbouring a grudge about what a sixth former did to him in some boarding school and feels the need to march you into the lion’s maw to make up for it. Next to you, you’ll find a bunch of hungry men you wouldn’t trust alone with a goat for fear they’d bugger and eat it. And along with the Posh Twat and horde of degenerates, there’s usually some fresh-faced boy crying a load of nonsense about Queen and country while the rest of us wonder if he’ll feel the same way after he’s been invited into the Posh Twat’s tent for him to see who can hold their ankles for the longest.
But in all that noise, what you really hope is that everyone leaves you the fuck alone. I shoot my rifle to look like I’m doing my part, but otherwise I don’t bother aiming too hard. Only when I feel the hairs on my neck rise up, and I see some distant blurry figure behind the smoke and thunderous press of bodies turn and aim a rifle vaguely in my direction do I suddenly shoot to kill. But that only happens rarely.
So, six, seven, a dozen? I couldn’t say how many men I killed. I never cared before because I hadn’t really thought of the pain I’d been dealing. Well, joke’s on me. Now I know just how God damned painful it is to have a lump of lead tear through your soft belly fat, shredding your small intestines like a shot put tearing through a communion waifer.
I wish I’d shot Posh Twat when I had the chance.
“Probably shouldn’t have run towards the cannons.”
I looked up and saw a raven leering over me. He turned his head from side to side, looking at me with one beady black eye and then the other. He seemed cheery, given the circumstances. With the ability to fly, I imagined he wasn’t much concerned with the squabbles of men like me.
“I mean there’s bravery,” he said while pecking at my forehead. “And then there’s sheer stupidity. What’s all this for then, anyway?”
“I don’t know,” I gasped, my throat dry.
“Well that’s just even worse.”
“It was an error,” I said, my words pained as I struggled to breathe or move my lips. “I tried telling him. I did try, but he wouldn’t listen.”
“Well you have to bear some of the responsibility. You still followed him into the giant wall of cannons.”
“I suppose I did,” I groaned. “So, when does it happen?”
The raven slid his beak out of my nose and looked at me with a queer sort of curiosity.
“When does what happen?”
“How long before I die?”
“Oh, that.” The raven ruffled his feathers and stretched his wings before turning away and rummaging around my belly button. “It’s happened. You’re dead, mate.”
“I don’t feel very dead,” I moaned, trying my very best to crane my neck to see a little better. I glimpsed a carpet of shredded men lying dead in dusty blood-stained uniforms. Some of them were still groaning.
“They haven’t got long left,” the raven said. “They’ll be dead too, soon enough.”
“Is there a man with a large moustache?”
“Quite a few, mate. It’s the Victorian era, don’t you know?”
“Is there a man with a tremendously large moustache?”
“Uh, yes, funnily enough. There is. He’s crawling back towards your side of things. He’s still alive but he’s got no legs and I think he’s missing his hands. Wait… yes. He’s missing most of his two hands. Still, it’s not terribly far. He might make it. ”
I tried to crane my neck up even further. I couldn’t see anything, but I was desperate to move, struggling desperately to rise from the grave for my revenge.
“I’m gonna fucking kill him,” I cried through gritted teeth.
“You haven’t got any arms, mate.”
I looked at either shoulder and was dismayed to find that he was right.
I fell backwards and left the raven to it.
“What now?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Aren’t you some kind of spirit from the afterlife?” I asked.
“No mate, I’m a raven. I’m here to eat your eyeballs, not to carry your weary soul to the pearly gates or lead you to some dingy underworld inhabited by dog-headed men.”
“That’s a shame,” I groaned.
“Just be thankful you aren’t on your stomach.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Well I need somewhere soft to kind of get going, y’know? An easy opening... well there's only one of those on your backside, if you catch my drift.”
“Eurgh,” I gave a cry of disgust.
“It’s not great for me either, but I gotta eat,” he said as he hopped over my face and started pulling at my hair.
“I’m just waiting for some kind of… I don’t know.” I sighed. “Do I just lie here and die?”
“You’re already dead, we’ve been over this,” he chided me. “You lie here, you turn into some smelly goo, then dust, and over time the core essence of your soul will dissipate into the greater essence of Earth, like a drop of rain returning to the ocean. You’ll slowly lose your sense of self, but it doesn’t matter because you only ever rented it in the first place.”
“Is that right?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “We corvids have a way of knowing these things.”
“Sounds quite pleasant,” I mused. “Well, the last part does anyway. The part about goo sounds awful”
“Yeah I’m not gonna sugar coat it mate, you’ve got a rough few hours ahead of you.”
He finally started in on my eyes. Nothing hurt, but there was still a kind of deep plucking sensation. I could feel the kinetics of my eye popping but only as a sort of distant physical reality, like the prick of a needle on numbed skin. My vision in that field went black, and I was left staring at the raven’s belly with the remaining eye.
“Can you leave me one?” I asked. “So, I can see.”
“Uhhh, I don’t know. I’m feeling a bit peckish,” he told me.
“Ha,” I cried. “Good one.”
“Oh, alright then,” he said. “I’ve been telling that joke for years and no one laughs. I guess I’ll leave you one. But that means I’m off now. Your belly's wide open now and there are bigger birds up there who’ll smell it and come swooping in. I haven’t got long left. Well, unless…”
“Unless what?” I asked.
“Unless you could roll over?”
“No,” I groaned. “No, I won’t do that. Is that man still alive? The one with the tremendously large moustache?”
The raven looked up, bobbing his head from side to side.
“Yes, he is,” he told me.
“I’ll trade you my eye if you kill him.”
“How am I gonna do that mate? Get a lot of raven related murders in Britain, do you?”
“I don’t know,” I moaned. “Drop a rock on him.”
“Oh yeah, yeah. Good one. Us ravens and all our fucking rocks. Often does the plucky Englishman wake up to the rolling green hills of his fair nation to see the sky dotted with the ever-famous rock-lugging-raven. Oh yes, look at the Englishman marvel at the elegant black corvid as it flutters off into the azure sky carrying a rock the size of a carriage to build a nest…”
“Alright, alright,” I snapped. “I get it. There must be something you can do?”
“Well…” he pined. “Are you sure you’ll let me have your last eye? If I arrange his untimely demise, so to speak?”
“Yes, please just kill the prick.”
“He’s on his stomach,” the raven said. “Britches blown clean off… If I start in, get a little bit of blood going, won’t be long before the others join me, all those other, bigger, birds I mentioend. It’ll be awfully painful.”
I grinned from ear to ear.
“Go on then,” I said with a wink. “My eye for his life. Make it hurt.”
“Given where I’m going,” the raven told me. “I don’t think there’s any other way.”
“Bottoms up,” I cried before he gobbled up my last eye.
“That’s a good one,” I heard him say. “I’ll remember that."
"Keep it, it's yours," I groaned.
"Anyway," he said as he hopped off my below onto the dusty blood-stained floor. "Cheerio. It’s been nice chatting. Enjoy eternity.”
And with that he was gone leaving me alone with the sounds of distant gunfire and the desperate sobs of a dying man too weak to fend off a raven with a strange fixation on his rear end.