Elijah and Xavier are forever changed by their experiences in the war. They are physically weakened and broken, but their psyches are more damaged.
Elijah and Xavier are Cree Native Americans who join the army to fight the Germans, and end up fighting closer to home in Canada than they thought. They expected to be heroes, and they are excellent snipers, but there is nothing heroic about their experiences.
The letter said that Elijah had been wounded, that he had only one leg now, that he had tried to rescue another solider, was given a medal for bravery. (p. 5)
Niska, Xavier’s aunt, picks them up. To her, Eliajah is an “old man” and Xavier is a “ghost” of her nephew (p. 6). She realizes that it is their spirits more than their physical injuries that are the problem. Niska tries to heal him with the traditional Cree “three day road” in a canoe trip, telling him stories of their people.