The smell of dampness and dirt hit Iric’s nostrils with the force of a poltergeist. The first spade-full was the hardest, or so they say.
Iric kept digging, pulling up dirt and rocks and roots. He stopped from time to time only to wipe the sweat from his brow with a green handkerchief—a gift from Missus Berg. With each strike he came closer to the cradle of the earth, that special place six feet down that so gracefully accepted the dead.
Asger Berg had been a proper watchman, Iric had been told. The man had retired long before Iric enlisted. But he had heard stories, tales of kindness and courage. A veteran of The Skirmishes, he was respected by everyone, even Vott. That seemed near miraculous to Iric.
Iric glanced around at the gravestones, which stood watch over this sacred duty. He wondered if he would end up in this field one day; he wondered what condition he would be in if he did. It was a hall of heroes, but long forgotten by the city over which they stood watch.
Iric set the spade down and stretched his back. He wandered through the graveyard, placing his hands on the cold stones to reassure the spirits of his sincerity. He stopped before one and knelt to read it. Vadik Brandr, beloved father and husband. Who were you Vadik? How long have you lain here?
Asger Berg had died an old man, safe in his bed. Many of the men and women in the ground here hadn’t been so lucky. Iric’s heart pendulumed between pride and fear. He had survived many close calls thus far, but could he keep it up?
Iric returned to his duty. He tossed out the final bits of dirt. His arms ached. His body ached. The sun was setting; they would bring the coffin soon.
It would be lowered by ropes, deep into the pit. Asger’s widow would toss a handful of dirt down onto the box, marking her final words for her husband. There would be tears and wailing. There would be stern and resolute faces, young watchmen who refused to reveal their inner turmoil. Iric would be one of them.
Iric wondered if was better to die young, so many people were still alive to throw you your final dirt, parents and siblings and friends. Or was it better to die old, to save them the pain, to take upon yourself the burden of separation.
Iric heard the funeral line approaching. He tried to rub the dirt from his filthy hands but it stuck in the cracks of his skin, under the nails. Perhaps that was fitting.
He threw his pristinely polished breastplate over his soiled shirt and stood to attention.
A response to the Daily Prompt: Filthy