Morning. Early morning. The young boy pushed the tiller through the hard, northern land. He and his father had been at it for three days now, preparing their fields for the planting. This year had been a good harvest but like always, it had to start again with hard work to have a good harvest. The boy’s sandy-colored mop was tussled with bits of dirt and root, his eyes brown and his skin tanned from the sun. His hands had held many tools in his short time on the land leaving them callused and strong. Barely the age of nine, this boy seemed quiet. He was a watcher. His name is Homestead Burgh.
Homestead grew up unlike the others. Whereas the other boys learned to shoot, he learned stories. His father, once a man of war, bet his entire survival on old songs and the stories he and his fellow men told in the cold nights of reprieve. He told Homestead that the bravest of the men wasn’t the one who could shoot twenty men but instead the man who could inspire twenty men with words, make them forget where they were and laugh or cry again. The war had made everyone bitter, cold and indifferent. Homestead’s father retained his love for life through stories and songs. When he returned from the war he was different, the same but different. Shouts and cries in the night as his dreams strangled him. The soft hushes of Homestead’s mother as she soothed Homestead’s father back to sleep. It was a scary time.Homestead knew just how much the war had affected his father one fall day a year ago.
The other boys of the village were firing at paper tacked onto hay bales not too far from the farm, Homestead with the majority of his chores done, headed over to watch. He was fascinated, watching as each boy took a turn loading the cheap, rusted long-barreled weapon and then took aim. They would all hold their breath behind the boy until suddenly, the air around them seemed to shake with the sudden impact of the weapon. Some were rewarded with a hole in the paper tacked on the hay bale, others not, those that hit the paper were questioned and praised eagerly. It had been maybe an hour when Homestead felt someone close in and sit quietly beside him. Without looking, Homestead knew it was his father. The familiar scent of earth with a touch of grease. At all other times it was comforting, now it was all but.
“Fascinating, isn’t it?” He said the words in a nonchalant yet admiring tone. Homestead turned to look at him, wide-eyed and afraid of punishment and nodded. He placed a hand on the back of the young boy’s neck and gently shook him, nodding his head towards the boy up next to shoot. “Watch. He’s good.”
This boy, about the age of 13, took his time loading the rifle his hands moving with the efficiency of experience. He held up the rifle, relaxed for but a moment and then fired, the noise ripping through the air and echoing for what sounded like miles; the paper ripped in the middle and sunk into the hay bale. Someone would have to pull it out. A large cheer erupted from the crowd of boys and even some from the congregation of girls standing far off watching from the fence that bordered the hayfield.