Tori’s heavy boots clicked together as she marched out into the bright sunlight. A lineup in the town square. Row 2. Three teenagers shook, their agitation evident in the trembling of their hands and the tense set of shoulders that did not quite fill out their armor. Yet more young ones filed into the rows, feet scraping into line, hands clinging tightly to the edges of leather gear. One girl’s thumb tatted a rhythm against the pommel of her sword. It was a shortsword, just small enough to fit in the hand of a young teen. TapTapTap! TapTapTap! TapTapTap!
Waves of young and old arranged themselves, men and women stepping forth confidently around the halting stumbles of children. Straps were cut as frail minutemen tethered themselves to leather padding, while greasy men clapped fitted plates onto their chests before stepping in line. Rancid sweat trickled to Tori’s nose, lost in the scuffle of uncertainty.
Beside Tori, a man took his place, the deep lines of his visage twisted by some unnamed emotion. The broad-shouldered man beyond him leaned into the isle to meet Tori’s eyes, wiggling his eyebrows back and forth in apparent eagerness. For her part, Tori stood at attention, observing the spectacle with her shoulders back and eyes forward.
Gavin watched the novelty below him, young boys struggling with buckles and unfamiliar ties. As if on cue, seventeen children drifted in, running slowly on swift feet as they melded into the crowded lines. No heavy plates or bulky leathers for them. Daggers were sucked up by the crowd, making their way into sanguine hands.
As ever before, the scene expanded until all within were but dots, tiny sharp pinpricks in a battlefield of thick wool. Lines abruptly stiffened, bodies moving forth in blended lines, widening to arms reach as they were drawn out of town.
Tori coughed, face throbbing with the effort. A little titter-tat rung in her skull as she wheezed, plates biting into her chest each time it jerked outward. Abruptly the titter-tat ended. A gasp pulled Tori up into a sitting position as her chest was freed. Eyes skittering down, she took in the little boy…no, Eyal. The child sitting there with his fingers bleeding against her plate armor was a local boy named Eyal. Her shoulders dipped as she curled to her feet, mouth straightening as she braced herself to help other survivors. Eyal remained, eyes pinched tightly closed as he clutched the piece of plate armor he had removed.
Gavin slowly fell to the ground, hands palming the open earth to absorb its stability. The cries of injured soldiers drifted up and back on the wind, calling out from somewhere behind him as he watched the aftermath below. Finally heeding their call, he pushed himself backwards, feet flying as he searched for himself among the voices.
“You need to use both hands.”
A mother and son casually complete their chores, milking the new dairy cow as a tiny girl looks on, feet swinging back and forth as she repeatedly pats the cow’s face in the same spot.
“Mommy, where is Aunt Tori? She said we could play.” Young Lula giggled at the cow’s expression, touching her hand again to the large creature’s face.
“Aunt Tori is at war, you know that.”
“But that was three years ago.” Lula’s tiny boots tapped against the crate she sat on.
“Not everybody comes back from war, hun.”
“Eyal did.” Little feet tapped. Tat-tat-tat, Tat-tat-tat. Tat-tat-tat.
A gust of wind caught the barn door as a slight figure slipped through it, ripping the door from scarred hands. Sanya watched her eldest child, Eyal, run off and disappear around the corner as the big door slowly creaked closed.
Caressing her precious daughter’s face, she sighed, “No, he didn’t.”
As mother and daughter began milking the cow again, the barn door finally met the doorframe, unable to close completely in the wind. Bang!Bang!Bang! Bang!Bang!Bang! Bang!Bang!Bang!
Today is Veterans Day in the United States of America. I am not an expert on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but wanted to remind people that sometimes people come back from war, and are still mentally stuck. While the boy, Eyal, reacted to the tapping noise that followed him back, our real life veterans often have shell shock and react to loud noises or have other triggers. Today, and every other day, we remember that this is the result of real trauma which they endured for our sake.
For the veterans out there, thank you for your service, and for the fight some of you are still fighting.