The sky was weeping tears of ash
At dawn on Darling’s Day.
The stones of Heaven high above
Looked down with not a glimpse of love
As we walked with heads and voices raised
Our hearts gave lie our steely gaze
All ‘neath the world’s dark eaves.
There in darkness full we marched
Marched e’en unto our fate
We knew our duty, yea, our will
We never asked a thing
I fancied Oræl strode the land
I fancied then I saw his hand
And darkling, spread his wings.
Then! We saw it, blinding bright
In burning rage, a nest
Awaiting judgement one and all
T’was a mess large o’ dragons possessed
O’ fiery, fiery breath, it was!
And in their eyes a judgement, yea,
A judgement, and our deaths.
Darling’s Day was when I met
The darkest truth of all.
And what I saw, it broke my heart
I fell beneath the pall
I begged to all the powers above
I pleaded as I felt my love
Wither, curl, and fall.
On Darling’s Day all that was fine
Within us passed away
Our quest for freedom came to lie
Angels fled on broken wings
Fire ate the trees that sing
Life, it is a broken thing
This I learned
On Darling’s Day.
– Darling’s Day, from The Book of Sloane
I wrote about the Battle of Darling’s Day, at least in passing, in my book Greyblade. It was essentially the first of the culminating battles of the Last War of Independence in 2583 AD, when the human race turned prototype weapons powered by the trapped souls of the dead on every non-human in sight. There weren’t many actual enemies by that stage but xenophobic humanity convinced themselves that their former allies, and surrendered non-combatants, were enemies – and slaughtered them all. It spelled the end of the Dragons, the Ogres, and the Burning Knights at least, and many others that went unmentioned. It wasn’t the final battle of the war, but it was the point of no return.
Why I named it Darling’s Day is funny, on the face of it. The name will always immediately call to my mind the obsequious, cowardly, pencil-pushing character in the TV series Blackadder. The interesting thing about his character was, while he typified everything contemptible in the human race, by the end of the series he also shows everything mad and horrifying about war, and shows a glimmer of the soul of humanity that I have a hard time finding on a good day.
Captain Darling spends the entire series sneering down his nose at the soldiers on the front line, particularly his rival Captain Blackadder. He questions Blackadder’s courage, loyalty, and morality at every turn (often quite rightly), from his safe place back at headquarters. Their mutual loathing, not to mention his name itself, is played for laughs. However, when Darling is shipped to the front by the foaming madman in charge, he is greeted with gallows empathy. He realises Blackadder was right to want to get away. They all realise he didn’t want to come and they don’t blame him. They welcome him as a fellow victim of the insanity. And then they all get fucking butchered.
The comedy turns to tragedy really fucking hard, as you realise that this humourous look at the First World War was actually about a real war that really happened, and millions were slaughtered. All the stupid pranks, the rivalry, the dislike, none of it mattered. In the final seconds of the series, they are all just meat in the grinder and while there’s nothing funny about it at all, there is something darkly glorious in there. If you blink away the tears and look closely enough.
Anyway, that’s why I named the most tragic and senseless moment in future history in homage to this character. The poem itself? Its chaotic jumbled structure and wording is very deliberate, but it’s a bit of a longer story.