Vignette:Mouths to Feed

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Mouths to Feed
Saint Thomas' Cathedral, Gilioto Tomaso, Kingdom of Veikaia
February 14th, 1978

urprisingly, there had been nights in Alva that were colder than this.

Even inside the cathedral, he could feel the thud of artillery far off in the distance. The stained glass, somehow untouched by the chaos of conflict, cast a rainbow-coloured glow within the open halls of the cathedral as the morning sun danced along his pale white winter parka. A light mist blanketed the hall coming from the tired breaths of civilians huddled inside for shelter, be it from the elements or from the bombs.

Something tugs at his sleeve. Someone small. Looking down, it’s a child, probably no more than six years of age. He has his hands outstretched as if he’s asking for something.

“What do you want? Food?” His little cheeks are pale and bony.

He gestures toward his open mouth before switching to his abdomen. He’s famished.

A pitiful sigh escapes him as he rummages through his pockets for anything of nutritional value. The only thing he finds is a half-eaten bar of chocolate; it’s not exactly the best food for an emaciated child, but the cooks are still sleeping soundly and the field kitchens outside are empty and quiet. Removing a piece of stray lint from the packaging, he crouches down to meet the kid’s eyes with an apologetic smile.

“I’ll get you some better food later, okay?” He ruffles the boy’s hair as he stuffs the chocolate bar in his pocket, gently tapping it to make sure it stays in there.

The little boy grasps at his sleeve again, dragging him down the rows of pews lining the cathedral; he finds it hard not to pull himself away from his tiny hands. Glancing to his left and right, he catches a closer look at the people taking shelter. Most, if not all of them, wear a gaunt expression; the winter had not been kind to them, and neither was the war. Their clothing had been damaged in one way or another; overcoats had missing buttons, pants had tears, and anything that could stain had been stained with mud.

The boy makes a sudden turn at the frontmost pew, and so does he. The two come to a stop at what seems at first glance to be a heap of heavy clothing; upon closer inspection, there’s someone underneath that overcoat. With a gentle shake from the boy, the figure arises from her slumber and the heavy wool that sheaths her from the outside crumples onto the cold stone floor. Looking back at the boy, he does the same “I’m hungry” gesture with the addition of pointing at her.

With a despondent sigh, he crouches down and gets up close to the boy. “The next one is for your sister, alright? Not you.”

He can’t seem to hate the smile that’s formed on his wee little face.

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