I stood on the hill overlooking the valley, my mind almost but not quite refusing to take in what it saw. I wished it wouldn't, wished I hadn't become inured to sights like this one over the ten years I'd been involved in this war. The young recruit who'd come up the hill with me had taken one look and turned away, gagging. What did it say about the man I'd become, that I could look on a sight like this one and remain -- outwardly, at least -- completely impassive?
The village, which only a few days previous had been a calm haven in the midst of the war tearing our country apart, was destroyed. The buildings were all burnt, charred foundations and the odd fallen cross-beam all that remained. A pile of bodies, also burnt, filled what once had been the town square. Even without going closer, I knew the rest of the details. The pile of bodies would all be men, the women and children and old folk would have been left where they fell. The women and possibly some of the children would have been raped.
And we -- who had never intended this war, who at the beginning had only been in search of some small political reforms -- we would have to descend the hill, go into that village with its reek of burnt flesh and pain, and do what we could to give the dead as dignified an afterlife as possible. This valley would not feel the same for many years to come.
I could only pray that none of the men who followed me had come from this valley. It was a hard enough task when the faces you tried not to look at were anonymous and identical. It would be almost impossible if you knew those people, had grown up with them and loved them. And on top of all that, to know that it was your own countrymen who had done this to them. Your own people, possibly from just the next town over, who somehow hated you enough to do this. How could you understand that? How could you live with that knowledge? And above all, how could you not want to retaliate, blood for blood?