A need, at times, to be together and talk,
And then the finding we can walk
More firmly through dark narrow places,
And meet more easily nightmare faces
—From an untitled Haladin poem (author unknown)
Evil things lurk in the dark; I can feel their eyes on me, on us. Those behind us, enmeshed in the protective circle of warriors, radiate a chilling, biting fear, a fear which I must admit I share.
“Breathe,” a familiar voice instructs.
“Yes, my lady.” A touch on my back and there is relief. This, however, is short-lived; dread grows I feel the familiar presence move away. Suddenly, I realize this is a different fear to that of lurking malice and—
“Duck, my lady!”
My warning, it appears, is in time; a huge, many-legged shape is intercepted by a silver sword. Warriors immediately ring it, but two more creatures scuttle out of the dark.
Some are shielding the civilians still, I know; I need not spare them thought. My sword moves as an extension of my hand, and I can feel the other women fighting around me. By some accident, I am fighting back-to back with my lady; we fend off pincers until an opening appears and—
My lady runs between the monstrous legs and attacks the soft underbelly while a group of five distracts the creature. A few slow, agonizing moments; then the creature groans, and flails, and we leap out of the way as the great body falls.
A breath, and I look around; one more has been brought down, and the last is dying. There is nothing more to do here; the evil crawls back to the shadows, waiting for another chance.
“There is nothing more to do here,” my lady says. Her voice carries. “Well done, my warriors.”
The others nod in acknowledgement and move back to the group. This is nothing out of the ordinary. We must cover as much ground as possible before the little protection the few rays of sunlight which penetrate the black clouds offer disappears.
I move towards our leader. “My lady. You did well.”
“As did you,” my lady says. Her voice is strong, and no other would catch the wavering tone, but she is my love—not physically, neither of us desire that, but in the ways of the heart—and I recognize it for what it is.
“You are wounded!”
“It is a small cut, beloved,” my lady murmurs. “I will see to it before we start moving.” Once, long ago, she would have protested the need for even this. Now, we have learned, the hard way, that pride is not worth the cost of a wound untreated.
When my lady hesitates, I add, “It will take less time this way.”
“As you wish.”
That is not the whole truth; both of us know this. My lady acquiesces because it gives me comfort to do what I can to save her pain. She is ever a leader; she gives and gives for her people, and this is one more giving. And yet it is more. Her fingers brush my cheek as I kneel to dress the wound (shallow, as she said). An unspoken message: you are as much comfort to me as I am to you.