I don’t know why this was the story that was conjured, but no other took its place. So this story it would be.
I could hear the panic well before it reached me. I pushed into the starving flame as did all the men. None eager to leave it for any news.
“Dead!” I heard yelled.
There was thrashing now. It was headed towards me.
“Take him to the Lieutenant!”
“The Lieutenant? No we deal with this now!”
“You break rank on me and I’ll put my blade in your chest!” The final growl let out just as someone crashed over the snow.
A messenger pulled himself off the ground in a hurry with panic in his eyes.
“What is it?” I did my best to growl with my hoarse voice.
“T-the boys d-dead,” his whole body shook with fear or the cold, likely both.
I didn’t have to ask, I knew there was only one boy here. The one we picked up weeks back from a razed village. The only survivor, just to die in the cold.
“The cold is an indifferent killer. Least he went softly,” I turned back to the fire’s weak tendrils, pushing the boy’s fate from mind.
“No sir, m-murdered,” his voiced broke.
I am a man first, and a soldier second. I couldn’t help but try and ignore the ping against my chest.
I couldn’t ask another question before the mob reached the small peaked snow hill. I stood only to see struggling against their grasp was Borin, my only son covered in blood.
They threw him down the slope where he hunched shaking at my feet. I knew the moment he was sent into my company I would regret it forever. Soldiers could only share sentimentality for war.
“Someone explain,” I ordered.
The mob bristled with people yelling insults and gripping their weapons ready to draw. Faithful stepped forward, it was always him though wasn’t it.
With a rueful frown he spoke, “Borin was found with the boy’s blood covering him. He was hunched over the corpse with a hold of his arm… eating it.”
I have seen cannibals. I have killed them without an ounce of regret. But, never have I seen a soldier of a company turn on another for food. Few times have I seen a soldier turn on another for any reason, outside a little dueling or wrestling.
I knelt down to Borin. I stroked his long matted hair as he turned to face me, not looking me in the eyes.
“The hunger, it, it didn’t just stay in my stomach. It took hold of my mind,” He stuttered and began to sob.
The crowd felt none of the sympathy I did. Rightfully so, this was objective. The law must be, otherwise it ceases to be.
Faithful stood in front of me now. I stood looking into his sorrowful eyes with my sorrowful own.
“I suggest he be hung,” he said quietly.
We both knew what his suggestion revealed. A merciful death. Some would send him out in the wilds to die, others would see him tortured for his crimes against humanity. Perhaps his death must be objective, but not the method.
I simply nodded my head. I ordered him to be taken and held until dawn. That night I visited him. He knew what he had done, madness left him at least temporarily. My son’s choices didn’t break my heart, it was my own inability to not raise him to be a stronger man.
I consoled him of his fate, at least there was hope of a quick punishment.
“I, I know I cannot return home. If my mind could leave me in such a way here it could leave me anywhere,” he began to cry again. “But, I simply hope my family is taken care of.”
I gripped his hand, “Of that you can be sure.”
Then I was gone. Leaving us both alone to grapple with his decision.
Borin was hung the next morning. With emotions tempered the men who attended did so somberly. He was still a brother to them, despite his weakness.
“Tell us again how father died, please Grand-father!”
“Well,” I said with a twinkle of a tear in my eye, “It was the most ferocious battle I’ve ever seen.”