There is a soldier in a distant outpost, at the far reaches of the kingdom and word hasn’t got through to him yet that the war is over.
After all these years.
He’s been the embodiment of dedication. Drawing out maps and battle plans, sharpening weapons, stocking provisions, strengthening the battlements, ever honing his target practice. He’s been doing this for years. A worker. So good at what he does that he is what he does. All passion, decisiveness and purpose. And now a messenger, after months of travelling has arrived to tell him that the war he thought he was still fighting, has been over for years. He will wonder, of course, what it was all for.
The soldier sits; crumpled, blank and deflated, looking out over the valley with the messenger by his side. "But what will I ....do?" he asks.
After all this time.
"Go home," says the messenger, kindly. "Find your family. Go back to your farm. Drink cider. Lie in the sunshine. You don't have to do anything. The war is over."
In the early hours of the next grey dawn the messenger finds the soldier up high in the lookout, still on sentry duty. Still alert and scanning the horizon, primed by the existence of a low background hum of anxiety, like tinnitus. It's been a part of him for so long now that he no longer hears it. Life without it is unimaginable.
Later, they sit opposite each other by the fire, a hare roasting on a stick. "Take off your uniform," says the messenger.
"Take it off".
"What? No. I can't."
The messenger pulls out a fresh pile of civilian clothes from a sack, "Go on."
And even though the messenger does everything in his power to avoid this, the soldier can't help but notice the feeling that he's done something wrong. It quavers somewhere underneath the shock; a single fish below a frozen lake. After all these years. What was it for? The soldier finds his hand shaking while he undoes the buttons of his tunic and changes his clothes. His voice about to crack. He doesn't do this. He does standing up straight, "Yes Sir!", efficiency, precision, neat lines and strength.
"Good. Now burn it."
"What? No. I'm a soldier." They say nothing for a moment. Both watching the smoke from the fire change direction. Silence for all but the crackling and spitting of logs. "If I don't fight, I don't know who I am any more."
"Who you really are has just come all this way to find you," says the messenger quietly. Travel weariness washing over him like a wave, brass buttons resisting and chevrons blazing while he feeds the rest of the soldier's uniform to the flames.
The war is over.