#FFC52 The first proper noun on page 33 of Champion Standing is Liao. The final edit of CS is done and I was rereading it from cover to cover when you posted the challenge. The final word count for CS after edits was 49,588. I was short of the required 50k to be eligible for the ABNA and Nebula awards. This flash finished at 533 words, so it immediately went into the novel.
Liao forced the world around him to recede into the darkness of the surrounding woods. He closed his eyes and began relaxation exercises he learned as a child. Here and now, the young warrior was alone in the world. He was one with the world. He was the world. Nothing else existed at this time and in this place but himself. He opened his eyes to the gentle songs of the forest. A cricket sang hauntingly at the edge of his clearing. The creatures of the night serenaded him in a majestic cacophony of sound that only creation could compose. As he listened to the otherworldly songs of the night his mind drifted back to another place and another time.
They sat there, just the two of them, in silence for the longest time before either of them spoke, but even before the bearded man sitting in the field by his side said anything, Liao recognized his surroundings. It was a strange sensation, seeing him this way. It was if he was there, a child again, living out the endless eternity of childhood once again, and yet seeing it as an adult observer through the eyes of many years of experience. This man that was his father, and yet not. Together they sat, silently looking at the stars that shone overhead.
Perhaps, Liao thought to himself, the man who was the observer, perhaps that is what has brought this memory to the surface: the similarity of the two nights and the two cloudless, moonless skies. He watched the older man, both as observer and as participant, waited for the older man to speak the words he remembered so well, and yet was about to hear for the first time.
“I’m dying, Liao.”
The warrior who was the child watched as the tears began to well up in the eyes of the child he had been. He watched as his father swallowed the trembling, crying child in his strong but tender arms. “Yes, Liao,” the man gently answered, “I leave you to bring honor to our family.”
The child who would one day be a warrior stiffened slightly in the arms of his father, pulling his head far enough back from the man to look into his eyes. “I will look after mother for you.” He spoke with the frightened voice of a child, yet with the strength and resolution of the man he would become.
His father said nothing. He nodded as if in affirmation of what the child had said, a tear forming in his own eye.
They sat there in silence, the two of them until the first rays of dawn greeted them.
After his father died, life was not easy for Liao or his mother, but they managed to overcome all the obstacles that life threw their way. There would be many nights when Liao would sit, gazing at the stars working out the difficulties of life, but none so poignant as this first one.
Liao looked back fondly at those difficult times, realizing again how great the influence of that gruff old man had been in his life, and seeing for maybe the first time the tenderness that was ever so carefully hidden beneath the gruff exterior of the man he called Father.