For a million men may fall,
And the world can remain,
But the smallest of wars,
The whole world can change.
Sayid clambered nervously over the trench wall. He had been trained and tutored in the art of war, taught the principles of survival, but it wasn’t hypothetical anymore. It was real. His friends and comrades were lined up on both sides of him, staring their fate square in the face. The frontline appeared to stretch for miles, and the enemy borders lined the horizon, the sun rising slowly from where the enemy were preparing. The sky was a blood red mist, hanging low over the men’s heads, taunting them. Two trees, leafless and lifeless stood just metres apart in the middle of no-man’s land. They roughly marked where the two conflicting armies met, where men from both sides fell mercilessly at the strikes of their enemy. The ground was a matted maroon, broken soil mixed with rivers of dark red blood.
It was an unforgiving time, pre adolescent boys forced into the folds of war, fighting for their lives, for a freedom they would never experience. Sayid was just one of thousands to tread upon the frontline, just another number that would, at some point, be referred to in the future as a tragic loss in the history of this land. He knew all too well that the only reason he was on this team was because of where he happened to have been born. His fate had been aligned for him as he grew, a tiny embryo in the depths of his mother’s womb.
Each and every man stood tensely on their border, awaiting the screech of the whistle that would inform them it was time to attack, time to defend. The desolate land stretched out far in front of them, taunting them. It would eventually destroy them, steal their lives away, and set them free. If any man survived this attack they would be front runner in the next. Sometimes, for Sayid, it seemed that it would be better for him, for them all, if the earth swallowed them up, rescued them from the torture of war.
The boy on the right of Sayid trembled, he was what was referred to as a ‘twitcher’. Every soldier was nervous of course, it was only natural, but twitchers were the worst of all. They sat in their bunks, rocking backwards and forwards, often ranting of family they had waiting for them in their homes. Sayid had seen this boy several times, crying in his bunk, constantly screaming for his mother, he was, after all, still no more than a child. It was not an unusual sight to see a boy soldier beaten by the sights, sounds and smells of war, but this particular boy seemed much so sadder than the others. Sayid thought he had heard the officers call him Salim. Sayid remembered his grandmother teaching him names and their meanings when he was just a boy. Salim, she had told him, meant sane, unimpaired. That did not seem to reflect upon the personality of this young twitcher. He was terrified, his fear held him back from his duties. He barely looked thirteen. Still a young boy, he was from a small village where most of the inhabitants were family. He was clearly petrified of what loomed ahead of him. Then there were the ‘hardy’ soldiers, they were predominantly the men and boys who had no one waiting for them on the other side of the war. They had lost all their loved ones well before the war and were somewhat loveless. They fought for the sake of fighting and nothing more. War ripped the souls out of every man enrolled in the force. It ripped out their souls and crushed them beneath its heavy foot, one by one, but the hardy soldiers had already lost their souls.
The whistle screamed at them to run, it was their time to follow those who had gone before them, they had to follow suit, just as every other boy and man had done in the weeks and months prior to the moment they had to put their mortality to the test. For two epic long seconds every man stood still, paralyzed. It was a moment of sheer terror, there was not a man who was not afraid, not even the hardy soldiers could withstand the horror that their hearts succumbed to. Beating rapidly and rhythmically, the men took their first step forward, in complete unison. The cavalry came from behind and rode off in front, spears held stealthily in the right hands of the seated soldiers. Horses of black, white and brown hurtled forwards as they came into contact with the horses of the opposing army. Spears struck those of the enemy, metal on metal, as the horsemen collided, clashing, battling, wrestling for whatever freedom they could lay their hands on. But no matter how hard they fought, freedom was something that neither army could achieve for themselves, freedom was for those who already had their freedom in place.
The foot soldiers marched forwards, some ran, some staggered behind, attempting to get lost in the confusion, running backwards, back into the trenches of their own men, where it was safe. They were only a few miles from their loved ones, but the closer they were to death, the further they were from home. Sayid knew this, Sayid had known from the moment he left, he would not make it back those few miles to home. He wished if he could only flee the war, he would be even nearer to his home, he could build a new home if he wished, he could go anywhere, do anything. But where he was, scurrying through no-man’s land, heavy metal weighing down his entire body, he was trapped in the evil cycle of war. The only escape he had was to keep moving forwards, steadily approaching the enemy lines.
Sayid saw Salim, still to his right, lagging behind him slightly. He was in no hurry. Salim still had dreams of being reunited with his family, Sayid had given up hope. Some of the men in front had already encountered the enemy, swords flailing. Bodies fell like flies, limbs hit the ground with a huge thud. Salim apparently, to the surprise of those around him, built up some courage, a burst of energy, maybe even of patriotism, he ran forwards, faster than any of the other foot soldiers, perhaps even as fast as a horse. Sayid saw Salim swoop at a soldier in bright red armour, the colour of the enemy. Red liquid dripped from point of Salim’s sword. Suddenly, a strike to Salim’s head, and he fell, limp and wilted to the ground. Salim’s body returned to the earth for good. A scene played out within Sayid’s mind, a young general would knock solemnly at Salim’s home, an old woman would answer, and the general would give the news of the tragic loss. Her eldest son was dead, lost to what would then be called a war of peace. The old woman would hold her composure until the general excused himself, then her tears would endlessly flow. Her sorrow would be felt for an eternity.
Right and left, front and back, Sayid could see the soldiers falling, falling from both sides. Friend and enemy joined in death, falling together. Sayid edged ever closer to the frontline of his enemy, gaining pace as he moved. He thought that if only he could reach the enemy trenches, the war would somehow be put to an end. He travelled ever forwards. Just short of the low barbed wire fences in front of his enemy’s trenches, he came face to face with an adversary. The bright red of his armour pained Sayid’s eyes. They stared into each other, studying each and every line of the others face. It was uncanny how similar they looked beneath the guards that covered them from head to toe. For a moment, Sayid felt a pang of sympathy for the poor young boy stood in front of him, and he almost thought it was reflected in the other boy’s eyes, but before he could recall the situation in which he had been placed, he felt the sharp pain of a blade planted in his stomach. He gazed down as the blood poured from his open wound, gasping at the pain. Sayid cried out in agony as he dropped slowly to the ground, almost as if it were in slow motion. He lay silently on his side as blood trickled down his chin to the crushed, muddy, blood filled ground below him. He looked up and saw two red grey clouds part above his head, revealing a beautiful blue sky as the life drained from his defeated eyes.