Flodden Field, September 1513
Light invaded the darkness. The pain pulsed to the beat of the drum inside his head. The outside world tried to force itself upon him but he resisted. He tried to drift back to the place of oblivion but it was not to be. He sniffed the air. What was that smell? Blood? His stomach heaved at its sourness. The noise in his head was outranked by other sounds. Screaming. Moans of pain and despair.
Michael opened his eyes slowly. The sun hung in front of him. The ground beneath him was hard and uneven. He could no longer embrace the emptiness. Michael flexed his limbs and was surprised to find no pain. That came in an engulfing wave as he pushed himself to a sitting position, forcing him to snap shut his eyes and cling to the earth with unsteady hands. He waited until it subsided and the world again assaulted his senses. He could once more smell the blood and hear the cries of agony. He felt a sticky cold liquid beneath his hands and forced his eyes open.
The man before him appeared to be kneeling in prayer, his head bowed in perfect stillness. As he focused, Michael saw the hilt of a sword over the man’s shoulder, the rest of it having sliced through his body with the point pinning him to the ground. Michael jerked backwards. He lifted his hands to wipe his eyes. They were covered in blood.
Then Michael remembered. A terrible, profound, grief overwhelmed him. Robbie was dead. Sadness erupted from his heart and overflowed in hot blinding tears. Still he sat there, without will or need to move, such was the weight of his sorrow.
The cries stirred him from his hell and he focused again on the world around him. For a moment he hoped it was but a dream, a nightmare, and that it would soon be over. He knew it was not. He stood up and slowly wiped his hands against his legs as he stared at the scene before him. Bodies lay as far as the eye could see, among a jumble of swords and shields. He had to find Robbie. He would not leave him in this field of death. He would find him and take him home.
Panic gripped Michael when he realized this was not the place he had last seen his brother and held him as he died. Robbie had managed a brief smile, despite the pain of the awful wound to his gut, and then he was gone. Michael tried to shut out the memories of what followed but the images of what he had done came flooding back. He took a few steps forward, sank to his knees and vomited.
When the nausea passed, he set about finding Robbie’s body. He stepped over the dead, the almost dead, as he searched. There were so many. They lay crumpled on the ground, body upon body. He saw others walking among them. Perhaps they had seen Robbie. He made his way to the man walking away from him. He shouted out but the man kept going. He raced after him, stepping over, on, bodies and slipping on the blood. When Michael at last reached the man, he put his hand on his shoulder. The man stopped and slowly turned. Michael froze, his breath trapped in his lungs. An axe was lodged in the man’s stomach. His guts had slithered out of his body and dangled to his thighs. Michael forced himself to look at the man’s face. Dried blood and dirt were caked on his skin and his unblinking eyes stared straight ahead. When they came to rest on Michael, the man held out his hands. His silent mouthing of the words “help me” tore at Michael’s heart. He could not help this man. He was already dead. Michael continued to stare at the walking corpse. How could this be? How could this dead man be on his feet?
Michael turned and ran, stumbling and then getting up and running again. When he eventually stopped, he looked back at the way he had come. From the distance he could see many men roaming among the bodies. Were they ghosts also? He thought they must be.
A wave of shock hit him. Was he dead too?