The Child of War

An old king was sitting at dinner with friends and dignitaries when a five year old child ran in, the great grandson of the king.

The child's nanny came running after the child, bowing and apologizing.

The child had jumped up on the king's lap, as the king held up a hand to stop the nanny.

The king's ambassador leaned in to the king and said, "Your majesty, we have dignitaries from far away.  Certainly the child can come back later."

The king considered this, and then tapped the side of his glass for silence.

Every eye turned to the great king and were silent out of deep respect.

The king began addressing the guests, "If you would all be so kind as to listen, I will tell you all the story about how I won the great war many years ago.  I will tell you my secret, finally, after all of these years."

The guests bowed there heads, as to hear the king give a speech was a sign of great admiration and respect from him.  The five year old loved to hear his great grandfather tell the old tales and had not heard this one.  He smiled and waited with all of his attention.

"Many years ago," the king began, "when I was a boy as old as this, I met a great man who had traveled to our city from a foreign land.  His name was Legio.  Today, we call him the Abasatana."

The guests exchanged glances.  The Abasatana had left the land a few years after the war and was suspected to have died of old age in the mountains.  They did not know that the king had met him as a child.

"I was a happy little boy," the king said with a smile and inward look of memory. "My grandfather was the king at that time and my father was the prince.

"When I first saw him, Legio, he was reading stories to children who were older than me just outside the court.

"He told stories of beasts, and travelers, and pilgrims.  He told of wars and great miracles and achievements.  He told of happy times and sad times.

"And when he spoke, you were drawn in to the stories, and felt like you were there.

"He had just finished telling one last story when he stood up and told everyone that it was time to head home for their parents' suppers.

"But I ran up to him as he walked away and pulled on his robe.  I was a boy who did not know the meaning of courtesies.

"He looked down at me with these eyes that smiled and saw me in a way that I'd never seen an adult see me.  When he looked at me, he looked at me as a man would look at another man, his equal.

"He said to me, 'Young master, what is it that I may do for you?' 

"And I told him, 'I am no young master, I am the future king in this land.  Tell me, are your stories true?'

"He pondered this for a moment, and said, 'The hearing of all stories is true, and the telling of all stories is true.  But what is said, and what is heard, is a thing for the mind to sit and ponder on if there is a lesson to be learned.'

"At the time, I did not know if he had answered me or not.  And being full of myself, I asked him if he would tell stories about me someday.

"'Ah yes,' he smiled, 'I am almost certain of it!'

"I asked him to tell me my story now, not realizing that one must first live a story before it can be told.  But Legio led me over to a couple of stones, and we sat down as he told me the story of a king to be.

"He told me of a child that would spend his life looking upon his city, and everyday, imagine how it would fall to ruin.  This child would see many armies and multitudes of men and weapons.  The child would see the city fall each time to a different army, a different mistake, and a new weakness.

"This child would talk with the guards and the soldiers, the captains and the leaders.  He would ask about these armies, mistakes, and weaknesses.

"This child would talk with the ambassadors and ask about the nations around him, what they wanted, how they treated their neighbors, and how they fought wars.

"This study is all that would consume the child for the next thirty years of his life.

"I was very curious, and asked him, 'And how does the story end?'

"Legio looked at me earnestly, and said, 'That I cannot say, but I promise to tell you when I see you again'."

The old king looked down, with a sad expression on his face.  When he looked up, there were tears in his eyes.

"I took the lesson to heart.  And by the time I was twenty, the same year my father died from being thrown from a horse, I had become familiar with every military tactic in my city and of my army. Only two years later, my grandfather died, and I was crowned the new king.

"As the new king, I made changes to the military and our city to strengthen it.  I made allies of honorable neighbors, and kept all in good relations.

"Our city lived in prosperity for thirteen years.  We were so prosperous, in fact, that allies often turned to us to help settle disputes.

"And then the year of my thirty fifth birthday came, and an army that we'd never heard of before swept down out of the north, conquering all of our neighbors.  They were three times the size of any army ever seen, used weapons nobody had ever seen, and swept through our allies like a river through a valley.

"We called up the allies to the south to take positions on either side of us. And as the army swept towards our city, our allies, directed by generals that I'd personally trained, lead them around behind the enemy.

"The enemy battered against our city walls, which they found no weaknesses in to exploit.

"As the armies of my allies swept back down, the invaders were crushed between them and our walls, with no way to retreat."

The king looked to his right, and looked at the large tapestry that hung on the wall that was created to honor the victory in the war.

"I was called one of the most brilliant war tacticians in history.  And it is my flanking maneuver that has continually been called ingenious.

"They do not realize that the war was won, thirty years prior, by the Abasatana's story.  He could not see the future.  But he knew the value of thinking far into the future and of planning.

"His brilliance was not in the teaching, but to whom he taught it.  For, if he'd taught it to my grandfather, or my father, each may have only made slight preparations, for they already had their own plans.  But for a city to decisively win a war some thirty years away, he had to teach war to a child who would dedicate his life to winning it."

The king fell silent, and as the king looked to his great grandson in his lap, he ruffled his hair.  Every eye in the hall fell on the small child.

"What great plan are you to set in motion, my child," asked the king.  The child giggled and buried his head in the king's robes, shy from the attention.

"Before he disappeared, the Abasatana came to pay his respects in this court.  As he walked in, I leaped from my throne and ran to him.  I held his frail body in my arms.

"He laughed and embraced me back, saying, 'Young master, have you finished the story yet?'

"And as I stood back from him, smiling at this great man, I told him, 'Yes.  I believe I've just written the last line.'"