Little Soldier Boy
There comes a day when his worst fears are realised and he washes up stymied on the shores of regret, staggering and gasping for breath. It is then that he remembers what true panic feels like; to have the air knocked out of his lungs and the weight of four simple words bring him crashing to his knees:
Your son is dead.
He dumbly registers the voice of the messenger, hears the parchment crinkle in the young man's hands, but says nothing. A wash of ice and glass swim like acid through his veins, pumped by a hummingbird's wings hell-bent on destroying what's left of him. He becomes numb, tasting the bitter void on his tongue.
His son, his beloved soldier boy—
His men look to him for guidance, for orders. He does not see the pity in their eyes or hear the sympathy in their voices. Everything is far away, muted. He can only taste the bile at the back of his throat and feel the ghost wounds of an appendage torn from his body but never gone. Never gone.
Fear and loathing begin to spread like rumours and his mind suddenly kicks into gear, reeling at the implications. The what-ifs and could've-beens chase themselves inside his head, immobilising him. He staggers beneath their possibilities, remembering the first time he held his baby boy in his arms, felt his heart beat against his own—if only he could have held him one last time . . .
He turns away from his men; he has been defeated without his enemies delivering a single blow. This war has taken what's most precious to him. He has nothing left to give.
Lu Ten, his little soldier boy, is gone.