We Were Fearless
We Were Fearless Story 1, Book 1
There was a tree in front of my childhood home with leaves shaped like butterflies. They fluttered like real insects in the hot breeze that blew every summer, it was like watching a cloud of green wings dancing over you when you lay down in its shade. It was a common tree, though, like the “Aratilis” that grew in almost every neighborhood yard. If the Aratilis trees attracted children because of their tiny colorful fruit that looked liked miniature Christmas ornaments, the Butterfly tree in my yard had a different purpose. We sat in its shade reading comic books when the sun was overhead and at its hottest, but as soon as the light started turning a deep gold we’d be climbing up its creaky branches to get a view of “No Man’s Land.” In truth, No Man’s Land was just a wide open field in the middle of our village known among us as the “Open Space,” it was mostly dust during the summer but turned into mud and a forest of giant Cogon grass that towered over our heads during the rainy season. The lush green grass would eventually turn to brown as summer approached every year, but it would take some time before they would fall to the ground and become a carpet of rotting leaves and dust. In that intervening time, the field turned into a mysterious place where we could hide and play in the maze-like paths where we disappeared into for hours, lost to the outside world.
The history and myth of “the open space” unfolded before us, those whose families had moved into the village when it was still being constructed. Roads were still being paved and the entire village was filled with the skeleton of houses being built and backyards that connected to each other if you knew how to navigate them. It was treacherous, of course, with gaping holes that could swallow a person filled with steel bars that poked up towards the sky. Back then, the field was actually a deep hole in the ground with a spring at it’s bottom. It was almost like a canyon surrounded by a ridge of what seemed like hills to us at that age. I remember that it took a long time for an endless stream of dump trucks to haul earth that they used to fill the canyon. There was two rainy seasons when they were still dumping earth into it and they had to stop until the rain went away because the hole would flood and it would become a lake that appeared in season. Eventually, though, the giant hole was filled and the only thing that remained were the very top of its ridges. It was these hills that we would spy on from the butterfly tree in my yard.
Across the undulating tops of the Cogon maze peeked the top of the hill with the rock fortress and a tattered flag. This was the prize for all those that had been conscripted into tribes by virtue of residence on a particular street. Those of us who lived in the periphery of the open field had an advantage, but it didn’t mean that we could just walk across the Cogon maze and take the fort whenever we wanted. You’d never belong to a tribe if you thought it was that easy. It never was, and not just because we were all equally ferocious creatures who refused to eat vegetables and baked under the sun riding bicycles against our parents’ wishes. It was a genuine challenge to claim the rock fort in the middle of the open field because we were all dangerously armed with wooden spears, swords, bows and arrows. In those days, you brought an army to the playground. We would approach from the western corner of the open space, stealthily running across the street from the gates of our homes before jumping into the thick Cogon that veiled a make-believe medieval kingdom.
You could hear the voices of those that were already engaged in combat for the fort long before you reach the far end of the Cogon field, you would hear them screaming at the top of their lungs amid the dull clank of primitive wooden weaponry. It was good that we had memorized the Cogon maze and knew all the best places to approach the hill. We could see the ramparts of the rock fort while safely hidden behind the Cogon grass, and we waited for the perfect time to emerge with loud screams and war-faces. The first thing we did was rain down arrows on the defenders, and they weren’t toys bought from stores but homemade bamboo bows with nylon strings and sticks for arrows. We were probably insane to use them, but all the tribes we’re armed in that way and we often went home with tiny holes on our skin where the stick-arrows found their mark. In hindsight, we were lucky none of us was poked in the eye. We just laughed in the face of danger because we didn’t know any better and, also, because it was war.
After the rain of arrows came the spears, used to push against charging defenders before finally ending up in a melee with swords. Dust swirled over the battlefield and we could feel the sand between our teeth as we bared them against the enemy. We fought hard going up the hill, slipping and sliding on loose rock while dodging arrows and wrestling ourselves away from desperate hands that continually tried to push us down the slope, all the way back into the Cogon forest and defeat. From a distance, it would have been hard to see who was winning the battle, but among the tribe of make-believe knights and warriors it was actually a waiting game, and a test of will. The swords, spears, and arrows served only as ritual props, tools for going through the motions of striking each other’s weapon until someone loses the will to continue and capitulates. And somebody did, though, it was only with a bad footing on the unstable hillside that the leader of the defending tribe slipped and fell to the ground. He became the break in the fence through which our victorious army poured through the knee-high fortification of rocks and finally claimed victory on the hill.
There was no celebration, though, just a casual raising of swords and handshakes between friends on the highest spot in the open field, looking down on grassy territory deservedly-gained and the defeated enemy walking away without looking back. There was no prize for this rite of passage, it was something that we did to stake our claim being a tribe of friends, to establish our respective roles within our tribe, and for the opportunity to demonstrate the ability to lead others in a daring summer adventure. It was that war that defined what many of us would be in life: leaders, followers, undecided, or just happy. It didn’t really matter, actually, it was just a stupid summer when we braved a hail of arrows for a field of Cogon grass that later went up in flames and we watched our kingdom burn. We were kings, though, none of us were gods over each other. We were leaders, but not because we craved power or influence. We fought for each other instead of one another. We were all explorers and warriors at some point in our lives, we conquered kingdoms, but then we grew up and decided that it was too childish to be legendary.