Rumplestiltskin lingered on the edge of sanity. He had only his spinning to keep him anywhere grounded while he awaited news from the front. Every day he expected to hear the worst. Every day he imagined how, should the worst come, many parents would grieve for their lost young ones, but none would be so lost, so broken as him. There would be no glory in their death the way there might have been in his, if Milah and the rest of the town were to be believed.
The fateful noise of hoofbeats sounded outside the hut. He felt sick. He just might be sick. Might it be better to hole himself away and never know for sure what happened to Baelfire? No, not knowing would be worse, even if it let him indulge in fevered fantasies of his boy fleeing the battlefield and living among other runaway children as good-hearted bandits who fought for more commendable causes.
He grabbed his staff and slowly walked to the door. He pushed the flap open. There stood a procession led by a soldier on horseback. Mostly children, all bloody and battered. A rock seemed to lodge in Rumplestiltskin’s throat. He stepped into the sun and ran his eye over the group, fearful and pleading.