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One boy's war



JGJ Fairhurst

Gary Tate sat on the end wall of Maxwell Street, watching the parade of Olbaid soldiers march on their way to war. Battalion after battalion passed by his dangling feet towards the city gates and in all probability, their deaths. The battalions were each spearheaded by their own flag bearer and drummer. Banners ruffled over the heads of the soldiers on the breeze while the drums sounded thier marching rhythm. Army captain’s cantered on horseback alongside the marching men, occasionally calling out formation orders. Gary was too young to be considered for subscription into the army nonetheless, the sight of so many men funnelling to war caused him to fidget. He was too young for the moment, but rumour was this war had more than enough patience for him to grow into a man. A blurry spot in his vision forced him to remove his glasses and give them a rub on his shirt tail. Even with partial sight, Gary could not miss the lumbering shape walking along the wall towards him. It was Eddie Crookshank. Gary knew Eddie didn’t like him, and that was fine, but why Eddie persisted in regularly interacting baffled him. The big blurry shape that was Eddie plopped down beside him on the wall in far too close proximity. Eddie let out a mocking laugh. “Erd’ you talking to your friends last night, erd’ you say somink’ real stupid.” Gary didn’t inquire as to the stupid thing he said. Instead, he squinted at the sea of heads sweeping past his legs toward the city gates.

“Ow’s the pen mightier than the sword then?” Gary could feel Eddie stare at him but remained more interested in breathing on his grubby spectacle lens than providing an answer. Impatient, Eddie added. “It don’t make no sense.” The two boys perched as the Olbaid army marched onwards and passed. Thousands of armed men in lines, ten bodies wide walked on cobbled stone streets towards the city gates and the conflict’s frontlines. Every single foot all lifted and landed in unison, The cycle of footfalls repeated continuously, perfectly in a never ending torrent of bodies. As boots met cobbles and swords clinked chainmail covered legs, Eddie continued to stare at the mute Gary and point a finger at the passing army. “If the pen’s mightier than the sword then ow’ come these soldiers are marching to war with swords eld’ in sword belts and not books eld’ in satchels?” Gary still offered no answer. He held his spectacles up to the sun and screwed one eye closed, the stubborn smudge had faded but was not entirely gone. “You don’t know do ya? It’s a saying you erd’ and thought it’d make you sound clever if you repeated it.”

Wives and mothers of army infantry lined each side of the road as the men passed through. The women’s heads jerked and bobbed as they scanned the multitude of faces, hoping to lay eyes on a loved one. It was all too obvious even to someone as young as Gary that it was most likely be the last time they ever did. Occasionally a mother would find a son and a wife would spot her husband. Some women beseeched their loved ones to reconsider going to war like the choice was theirs; others offered word of support and forced smiles through thinly veiled fear. As their loved ones passed the wives and mother’s public outcries became private, muffled sobs. The women sought and offered sanctuary in each others arms.

Gary took the whole thing in through narrowed eyes as his thumb and forefingers rubbed feverishly on his smudged spectacle lens. Eddie continued to pound the same drum. “Ya know, no one eva says that the sword is mightier that the pen because its too bleedin’ obvious. Just like no one says a pig is evier’ than a chicken. Some fings are so obvious they just don’t need pointing out.” Once again, Gary held up his glasses to the sun and peered at them, this time the smudge was gone.

The infantry leaving for the front lines eventually subsided. The last battalion of soldiers passed under the seated boys causing the two lines of worried women to close in behind and follow the men. Some of the women waved tear stained handkerchiefs in farewell while others huddled in groups and spoke of the empire’s unification wars from a generation past. Gary knew of the unification wars from his grandad. Even though Olbaid was victorious, none of the tales he heard where or valour and triumph. Instead, death and loss were the reoccurring themes in his grandad’s stories. He was one of the few boys in the city with a living Grandfather, a direct consequence of those wars. This put him in a unique position. While others kids his age heard dressed up stories and glamorised propaganda, he was privy to a first hand recollection of the war. Gary found nothing glamorous in his grandad’s accounts of lost limbs and lost lives. There was no triumph in the infection and disease that ate through friend and foe alike in the trenches and battlefields.

“You got nuffin to say av’ya?” pressed Eddie. Gary placed the legs of his spectacles behind his ears. He blinked twice and watched the parade of people slowly disappear into the distance. The noise of marching and horses hooves dimmed before being drowned out by the bustle of people around him returning to everyday life. Eventually, Gary looked at Eddie who was looking rather pleased with himself, presumably taking Gary’s silence as conceded defeat. “Imagine the Olbaid army getting to Miria and pullin’ out pens instead of swords. They’d be slaughtered dummy. It just don’t make no sense.” Gary watched market stalls be erected by store owners, keen to do business after a delay to the day’s trading. Men and women stood waiting to purchase goods, their schedules now running late. Gary noticed one man in particular looking vexed at the hold up. Like Gary, the man wore spectacles and glared at the stallholders setting up their pitch. The spectacle wearing man threw a frustrated hand in the air and the slow progress. With patience spent he declared aloud “I’ll be back later.” before starting down the street. Gary watched the man approach while Eddie continued his attempted ridicule. “Of all the dumb fings I’ve erd, that must be the dumbest. You aint aff made yourself look a right idiot sayin’ that.” Gary’s eyes followed the man as he passed by his and Eddie’s feet.

“Im about to teach you a lesson Eddie.” said Gary. Eddie scoffed and slapped his leg in exaggerated amusement. “Don’t make me laugh little boy.” Gary cupped a hand to his mouth and yelled at the spectacled man who passed. “Oi, four eyes!”

The flustered man spun and seen two boys staring at him then each other. The man grabbed the larger boy’s leg and yanked him down from the wall. “weren’t me mister!” pleaded Eddie. Eddie raised a shaking finger to Gary on the wall. “it were im.” Eddie looked up into the spectacled face of Gary. The aggravated man spent half a second apprising Gary on the wall before turning his attention back to Eddie. ”He’s wearing glasses, liar!” said the angry man before taking Eddie’s shirt in clenched fists. The man clipped Eddie hard enough to knock him to the ground. The angry man stood over Eddie, teeth gritted, fist clenched before letting out a huff and marching down the street.

Gary looked down from his seat on the wall at Eddie who lay curled up of the floor. “The saying is not supposed to taken at face value, Eddie.” Eddie’s face was buried in his hands. He opened his fingers just enough to see Gary point a finger in the direction of emperor Horim’s palace. “See, there are men inside there, with books in satchels. Safe, behind stone walls. These men ordered the soldiers who just passed to war.” Gary stopped and drummed his fingers on the wall trying to think of a simpler way to explain the meaning. “It means brain beats brawn, Eddie. It means I can shout at a man wearing glasses and you get clipped round the ear for it.”

Eddie lay motionless with his face hid behind his hands. Gary knew he was hiding tears, he’d been in the very same position at Eddie’s feet in the past. Eddie, who always had so much to say, remained mute. Gary lowered himself down from the wall and stood over Eddie. “It means you don’t get to pick on me or any of my friends anymore.” Gary stood for a few moments over the still, silent Eddie. The sting on Eddie’s face would soon fade and his wounded pride would rise with it. Gary knew he had to be quick. He leaned over Eddie, close as he dared. “It means you don’t come near me again, it means from now on, you stay out of my way and I’ll stay out of yours. None of the kids will hear about this as long as you keep away from them and me.” Gary straightened and began walking down the street in the same direction of the spectacled man, he hoped it was enough to put Eddie off a pursuit. Gary fought the urge to run, it was important he walked off with a calm assuredness. He was done talking, but not finished making his statement. After several minuets and streets, it became clear Eddie was not following.

Gary couldn’t be certain that Eddie would not come after him in the coming days but the prospect was suddenly not so big, Eddie was not so big. He would keep his promise not to tell the local kids of Eddie’s humbling, provided of course that Eddie remained humble. After witnessing the army march to war and realising before long his boots would tread the cobbles towards the city gates, nothing about Eddie seemed daunting anymore. With the army parade over, Gary headed home. Tonight it would be he who told his grandad a tale of war. A tale that involved some genuine triumph for once.

Copyright © JGJ Fairhurst 2016

One boy's war

Gary, a boy on the cusp of manhood watches the city's army march through the streets on their way to the front lines. He is suddenly struck with the inevitability of his own not so distant future. A short story based in the novel 'The children of Duty & Justice.'

  • Author: JGJ Fairhurst
  • Published: 2016-07-07 00:40:22
  • Words: 1713
One boy's war One boy's war