Early morning fog lingered in a small clearing. The mountains on all horizons stopped the sun from burning it away. Ten boys, no older than seven, lined up shoulder to shoulder. They listened to the only adult there.
They were in Velon’s charge. He would take sad orphans into the wilderness and return with eager soldiers. He was not a recruiter, for this was not a decision. Velon merely got them ready for the trials ahead.
“Your mothers and fathers are gone. Taken by death,” Velon bellowed.
The children stood at attention. Some had tears, and others had anger. They all had shaved heads and the blood red coats of the military.
“Since they were taken by death, death is your new mother and father now,” Velon shouted, “It is both. You will pray to it before each battle. As we all do.”
There was an air of empathy and sadness, but it was drowned beneath his words.
“My words may seem harsh to you right now, but you will find that the quicker you adopt new parents, the better your life will become.”
A small boy with a sturdy frame stepped forward, “I will make you proud, sir!”
He was a younger one. His skin was tanned from outdoor work, and had scars on his forearms from reaping the skitchgrass.
Velon’s face changed to a smile. His long hair brushed against his upper back when he turned to see which child spoke.
The boy stood straight. His eyes were locked forward. His arms were rigid at his sides. If there was a plank of wood against his back it would have touched his heels, head, buttocks, and upper back.
“You have already made me proud,” Velon’s voice became melodious, “But what I speak of is a pride beyond men, beyond the army. When you drum, make the god of DEATH proud.”
The boy’s face reddened. He was not prepared to be wrong.
“Look at me, child,” Velon said.
The boy turned his head, with a pained face, ready to be humiliated.
“What is your name?” Velon asked.
He lowered himself to be at eye level.
To each side the young one, other orphans looked to him. They waited for him to speak.
“I…I don’t have one,” he said.
“Then make your own,” Velon said as he straightened up.
“Tell me your name,” Velon’s eyes squinted a bit.
“I am…a son of war,” the boy said.
“Don’t tell me! Tell the god of death!” Velon raised his hand like a conductor.
The boy looked upwards, and took a deep breath.
“I am a son of war!” he shouted.
The other boys held their breaths until Velon spoke.
“Good! Good! But that is not a name! That is what you ARE! But what is your name?”
The boy did not hesitate to answer, “I am War-Son!”
Velon gave him a quizzical look, and a smile crept across his face.
“Most are not so quick to answer,” He said, “Your name is who you are.”
He dropped to one knee in front of the child.
“I will not argue with your choice, War-Son,” he patted the small one’s shoulder.
Velon stood up, and pointed at War-Son, “This one has shed his past with ease. I suggest you do the same. All of you. If you have names, throw them away. They will only serve as a reminder of the pain you’re feeling right now. With my help, you will rise above this tragedy. I know this.”
War-Son looked up at his sergeant, and stepped back into formation. For the first time in years, he smiled.