Today was not a good day to be dead.
In fact, Matthias mused, any day was not a good day to be dead, seeing as the day hurt his sensitive eyes, and the ever-suspicious locals noted his differences more often under the nasty sun. Nevertheless, today was worse than usual, because today he had to go to war.
Checking the buckle on his belt, Matthias hefted his sword, taking some warm-up swipes in the pre-dawn light filtering through the camp before sheathing it. His bearskin cloak went over his back next, followed by the nice spiked spear he’d stolen from last night’s dinner. He checked his moustache for blood. Not that it would matter, later. But he had no need to give the others an excuse to butcher him, like they’d been muttering about doing when they’d caught him two nights before.
The girl had been lovely, a good feast in more ways than one, but he really shouldn’t have overstayed his welcome. It’s difficult to fight off five heavily armed warriors when you’re naked and blood sated and sleepy.
Now he had to fight for the King, or see his head on a spike. Well, not see, since then he’d be real-dead. But he was only fifty. He had years of immortality ahead of him. So today he’d fight.
Matthias kicked the pit where embers smoldered, waking Gurabad. The hulking veteran sat up with a start.
“Too much mead?” Matthias leaned away.
Barely twenty, but survivor of several battles, Gurabad was a stout Clovis follower. This, and his early adoption of Christianity, made him a favourite among the troops. But he was prone to boasting round the fire. Matthias’ stash of mead had been a welcome pleasure when he was divested of it.
He kicked the ashes again, eliciting moans from more sore heads. Serve them right.
“Time to wake, time to war,” he sang.
His own head was clear, the promise of battle beginning to warm his cold, dead body. He hated battles, in that he had to work not to be decapitated. There was also blood. Lots and lots of blood.
Blood that he had no time to stop and sample.
And then there was the dead thing. The damn victorious barbarians—and Romans, and Visigoths, and Franks, and Burgundians—liked to stab the defeated dead extra times, just to make sure. Once, he’d been knocked out beneath a corpse when the looting and afterstabbing began. Nowadays he did his best to leave the field before that happened. Though, after the battle had ended. He tried not to continue in conscription service as much as possible.
No matter where, no matter who, living men liked killing each other too damn much. It was enough to make him long for the old Empire. Back then, killing was an art. Now it was butchery.
Gurabad finally rose with a punch to Mattias’ stomach. He took it with good grace. These men might save his unlife today.
“Nice warmup,” he said, as Gurabad turned round for a piss.
The other warrior grunted. One of the youngsters broke up some brot, handing it out in Christian style. Matthias winced. Whatever happened to old-fashioned selfishness?
A new age was dawning under this damn religion. One with holy relics and demon slaying and even more superstition layered over the old Pagan beliefs. Then there were the monks, like Bruoder Angilbert who’d responded to Mattias’ monastic raid with scriptures and strange talk of himile—a heaven anyone could reach if they were ‘good’.
Drinking Brouder Angilbert’s blood probably didn’t count as good.
A buckler shoved in his face broke his musing.
“Don’t be a bāstard, today—you might live.” Gurabad chuckled beneath his own moustache.
Mattias snorted. They were meeting the forces of the two kings of Burgundy. Supposedly, Godigisel had allied with Clovis—the Frankish king whose forces had swept up Matthias—against his brother, Gundobad. Perhaps Clovis would succeed in his ambitious plan to extend Frankish territory. He’d caused enough upheaval, that was for sure.
It didn’t really matter to Mattias. He just wanted to get through the day. And the night. And then the next, and the next. For ever.
Who gave a damn about kings, when you had immortality?
“Time to move out.” Gurabad gave him a shove.
Gurabad didn’t care about Mattias’ nature, as long as he could fight. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad attitude to have.
Appraising the warrior from behind, Mattias straightened his own back. Hefted his new buckler. Might as well make a go of it.
Perhaps today was not a bad day to be dead, after all.
This story originally appeared on r/WritingPrompts – Smash ‘Em Up Sunday 6th Century CE. The weekly themed prompt, nicknamed SEUS, holds a number of word, phrase, and theme constraints, with an 800-word limit.