I am a survivor. I have survived one of the greatest horrors history can offer. You may look upon me, and judge me as an old, crazy man who has no idea what he speaks of. You may say I have been on the wall too long, or that the cold has gotten to me. But it has not, I tell you! I am not insane or crazy like our emperor Caligula! I am not some soothsayer from a far away land trying to turn you away from the gods into the darkness! No! I am not! For what I have witnessed is brutal, and what I have seen is just as horrible as when a lion stalks a man in the arena. I have seen what happens in the forests of Britannia at night, when all of you pampered city folk are tucked away in your beds, dreaming of beautiful accessories and lovely home estates and marvelous villas. You people do not know the horrors of what us soldiers have to face on a daily basis! You do not understand the legends that surround the lands we march on! You do not understand the dreams of darkness we suffer through every night due to the curses placed upon us by tribal elders and magicians! You do not know the pain we have to endure so you fancy folk can sit down and enjoy the sunset, without having to fear what is lurking in the darkest shadows. You do not understand! You do not understand!
Perhaps I am crazy, or perhaps my experiences have plagued my mind with their horridness. Every night I dream of those poor men who died all alone in those dark, damp forests that none of you have set foot in, or would ever dare for the love of Venus herself! I hear their crying voices every time I am alone in my chambers. I see the horror on their faces every time I close my eyes. I hear the howl of the wolves when I am lost in a crowd. I am constantly pursued by the wolves, and the men who fell to them. Am I deserter, you ask? Perhaps I am, but I was so young and afraid at the time. Memories of war are scaring, and they never leave the old man's eyes. What is this? Another question? Ah, you are curious to know what happened, are you? You city people are all the same. Always ready for a chilling tale to laugh at and mock, while many of us sit and cry in the darkness of our souls. Fine, fine. As you wish. But I hope the gods have mercy on your soft soul, to pull you through this horror you are about to witness.
It was about sixty-five years ago, when I was a young lad. Tall, lean, handsome, I was the perfect soldier. I talented with the sword, bold with the mind, and hard at the heart. I was one of the most popular, and all of the soldiers, both new and veteran, looked up at me in awe at my bravery. I was only a young teen. I was so inexperienced. One night, while I sat with my best friend Marcus, the alarm went off. The trumpeter was blowing with all his breath the mighty instrument that shook the ground. The general shouted a command, and the two of us jumped to our feet. We had been waiting for months for this chance, our chance, to prove our worth in battle. We had a lust for war, healthy in a young male. We were ready.
He told us about a village not too far from our camp, where a group of barbaric tribal members were rebelling against the empire. As soldiers on the frontier, it was our duty to silence these men who tried to ruin the lives of you softies living inside the border walls. He told us we were to march immediately, through a forest which was called "Lecha Toko Bruha," by the locals, but was more properly known as "The Wolf's Lair." As we marched out of the open gates, I had no fear of the dark mass of trees that loomed ahead. Around me, the older men of the legion began to quake in their hob nailed boots, muttering prayers of protection and words of wisdom to the newer recruits. Some rubbed religious and good luck charms, some sang under their breath calming tunes, and a few stared stone eyed ahead, as if waiting for their untimely demise. Like most of the young boys, I was not afraid of any of it, and dismissed it as simply superstitious nonsense. But Marcus felt otherwise.
He told me he was frightened, and I threw my head back and laughed, believing it was a joke. But when I turned to face him, I saw that he was sincere. His eyes were as wide as the moon was full, and their brown depths were full of a certain fear I had never seen. Marcus was normally a very brave man, with a good heart, I might add. He was, of course, nervous before a battle, like all the other soldiers, but he was normally the one who took the younger, less experienced recruits under his wing on missions and in battle. I also knew he was very superstitious, and that he was a native here, who had enlisted in the army when his widowed mother was forced into poverty by tax collectors. He knew of all the stories and legends of the area, and had warned me never to set foot in the forest after dark. Of course, orders were orders, so we had no choice. But poor Lucius jumped at every sound, and held his shield defensively as he passed even the smallest shadow. Slowly, we entered the forest. A few of the older men were solemnly silent, hiding their fears for the sake of the younger men in the legion, who laughed and made jokes to help lift the weight fear places on one's shoulders.
Marcus, who was beside me, began muttering something in his native tongue, which attracted my curiosity. When I asked him about it, he looked at me with urgent eyes, and said the pack was to follow. I did not know what he meant, and went to ask why. But as soon as I opened my mouth, a blood curdling howl rang through the trees. The older men cried out please and curses, while the young soldiers grew silent, the realization of their plight sinking in. Beside me, Lucius began panicking, and a swirl of words like the wind came from his mouth, none of them comprehensible. Suddenly, from behind us, there was a scream, and then sudden, deafening silence. All of stood in a large group, huddled together like pitiful rabbits from a hungry fox. Not a word was spoken, and our breath intertwined into a cloud of steam above us. "The wolves have caught their prey," An old centurion next to me whispered, a sad look in his eyes. "One of our boys has gone down," Just then, the general yelled the order to keep going, and everyone quickly picked up their pace, and fell in line with the standard formation.
We continued on for some while, and every now and then another scream would be heard. Sometimes behind, sometimes in front, and a few times beside us as the wolves took down more victims. The experienced soldiers ordered all the younger ones into a tight circle, trying in vain to protect them from the unseen enemy. Marcus and I were on the edge of the circle, for our defenders had been picked off one by one. Occasionally, I would spot a pair of glowing red eyes, and shout and bang my sword against my shield to frighten it off, but it only enraged them. As we continued walking, I sensed Marcus stiffen. He froze, and I did too. I turned to him, worried. I asked what was wrong, and he told me he felt like he was being watched. I glanced around us, but saw nothing. I told him we should keep moving, and then turned to one of the centurions to ask if we could walk closer amidst the now small group. But as soon as I turned my back, fate struck. I head Marcus cry out, and I immediately whirled around. I yelled his name aloud, and saw him get dragged off into the darkness by a pair of glowing red eyes with a seemingly invisible body. I gave chase. But after a few miles of running, I lost their trail. Distraught and alone, I walked with my sword drawn until I exited the forest.
Now you understand why I am upset and why I feel like I have lost everything. Every night, Marcus' and the other's dreams haunt me, and I will never be able to erase the image of his terrified face as he was taken away by death to a place of doom. I will never go into the forest again. Now, it is getting late, and I believe your home lies just behind those darkened trees….