She was barely a mite of a thing. Standing on the edge of the torn battlefield, the child looked even smaller. Bloodstained grasses scraped her bare feet and the hem of her coarse dress.
I didn’t see her at first. I might have missed her completely but for the tawny hair that blew over her shoulder as she took the first step from the safety of the trees. It twisted like a banner in defiance against death.
Dust, ashes, and Elyon himself. What was a child doing in this mess of fragmented nations and proud lords?
I’d been sent to escort a hero from the lands of the living. Hundreds of men had died already in this battle. Thousands. I’d lost count an hour before. There’d been plenty of heroic deeds, but no soul marked as the hero I was to aid.
I wasn’t even supposed to be here. I escorted the more common, precious souls. The mothers who died in childbirth. The fathers who rushed into burning buildings to find the children I’d already whispered away.
I never asked to be on a battlefield with blood and grime and severed limbs on all sides. I wasn’t Death. I was only her assistant, comforting those who I could.
The child took another wavering step. I squeezed my eyes shut. She’d be trampled in moments. Someone, see her. Pull her back to shelter. Please, for the love of pity.
Except no one sees a child when the stakes of each action are life or death. Soldiers swept around her like a wave around stone, ebbing and surging, and somehow she still stood. She didn’t cry. Didn’t smile. Just looked, with that pale face and those wide eyes.
No, not looking. Searching. It was a wonder she even saw in the haze of smoke and dust and parched, burnt air.
That’s when I noticed the light on her fingers. It was only a flicker of silver, with a hint of green. Maybe that’s why I saw it.
Men raged and fought over money and land while a power none of them could purchase stood among them in bare feet and dusty rags. A child holding more strength than the armies combined, yet small as a star-blossom growing among the giant trampling feet of men.
She froze, one hand tangled in a strand of her hair. Her gaze locked on a single soldier who staggered back as a bolt slammed into his shield. He kept his feet easily. A simple footman. Burley and covered with leather armor. A thick shield hung from one hand, a mace from the other. He was only another man, fighting for what he couldn’t understand. Another life about to be cut short.
The child dashed toward him.
No one saw her. Only cowards turned from battle and today there were no cowards.
A second arrow followed the first, thudding against the man’s shield, then a third, piercing through to his arm. He swayed, like so many others had that day. I only remember because of the girl.
The fourth arrow lodged in the man’s chest. He crashed to his knee and wrenched it out with a scream.
And somehow, as he fell, the girl was there. Her tiny hand clung to his shoulder as if she could keep him upright. Light sprang from her fingers, spreading across the man.
In the light were pictures.
I could see her huddled alone in the gutter of an abandoned village a week earlier as soldiers marched past. On and on and on, until one man paused—Elyon bless you, soldier. He’d swept her into his arms. Fed her. Tended her. Left her safe at the camp when he marched out before dawn to fight.
He’d forgotten about the child he’d saved. It was one rescue of many. Another life pulled from the shadows before he met death himself.
Except she hadn’t forgotten him.
The soldier faced Death on the battlefield, face twisted in pain, but Death turned away.
The light from the child’s hand flickered out. She crumpled to her knees. Such a small thing in her rescuer’s shadow. He didn’t see her huddled behind him. All he saw was the blood on his hands. He felt the healed skin where a mortal wound should have been.
He’d heard of miracles on the battlefield, I imagine. But as the enemy charged and he stumbled to his feet, he didn’t know he left the miracle behind; a miracle drained of the power she’d used to save his life.
He never knew what he abandoned when he charged to the rescue of his own commander.
The archer who loosed another bolt as the soldier sprinted into the fray only knew he missed the man who’d survived his earlier blows. He didn’t know his bolt lodged in the stomach of a child as she crumpled soundlessly to the blood-soaked turf.
I sprang forward, barely conscious of any urging. A child. A hero.
The one I was sent to escort.
My cheeks were damp as I sank to my knees beside the crumpled form. She was the husk of a flower now, nothing more. Silver wrapped the battle, shielding it from sight until only I and the child remained.
She opened her eyes on this side of the rift. In the battlefield, the child had breathed her last.
“Hello,” I whispered.
Her small brow furrowed. “Who are you?” The voice was thin, sounding of birds and silver bells.
“A friend.” I held out one hand. “I was waiting for you.”
She wavered, then her fingers brushed mine. They were cold.
She blinked once. “Why?”
My hand closed over hers and I drew her close. “Because. Elyon remembered you.”
She crumpled into my hold. I swept her up, holding her close as I turned away from the invisible battle.
In my arms, she trembled. But when I looked down she was smiling.