The Greater Good
Midwinter Down was bustling, much as it always had.
Chickens gabbled and goats bleated, people talked, laughed, and argued. The market thrived as people brought their wares from the surrounding villages and hamlets, surprised to find a garrison of hungry Northern Druids ready to buy their wares. Word of the Fort’s defeat had yet to reach every quarter.
Andra’s soldiers patrolled not only the walls of the fort but also the streets. They marched in pairs, their weapons checked and ready. Dispersing groups of natives, and breaking up arguments.
The town was hers.
She knew that within weeks, if not days, the rest of the land of Midwinter would come under the control of her soldiers. Then they would have the numbers to march on the Elves.
That day could not come soon enough.
But she had a different matter to attend to now.
A matter she wanted to be done with as quickly as possible. To linger upon it would be cruel.
“Sister?” she called. But the round-hipped Southern Druid didn’t turn. Andra hurried up to her and tapped her arm. “Sister?” she repeated.
The woman looked to her, surprised for a moment, before commanding the children to halt. “Yes, General?” the woman replied. Her accent was thick and there was a reticence on her lips. It would take more than brute strength to win the hearts as well as the strongholds of their Southern siblings.
“I’d like to… erm,” for a moment, Andra didn’t have the words to express her duty. There was little chance of honesty and it was rarely in Andra’s nature to outright lie. “I’m taking one of the children,” she said, matter-of-factly. There was no deception to those words and the woman was hardly in a position to disagree, even if she did raise her brows in suspicion.
“Which one?” The woman asked although Andra felt sure that the question ‘What for?’ was the first that had come to the woman’s mind.
The gaggle of little ones looked up at her with their round baby eyes. There was a sense of excitement as if each of them was eager to be picked by the warrior. Each one wanted the special treatment, they were eager, excited. But it took only a cursory glance to spot the one she was there for. Leaning heavily with her wonky feet, the child had lank hair in need of a good wash, bright blue eyes and a ready smile. She clutched a beaten old doll to her chest and Andra presumed it was the child’s only possession.
“That one.” Andra nodded to the girl without looking back at the nursemaid.
“That’s Cara. Greet the General, Cara.”
The child managed an awkward curtsy as she hid her giggles behind her doll. Andra put her hand out and the child waddled over to take it as the others tutted and nudged her, their jealously all to easily roused.
“Bring her back afore sundown, mind. They’ve lessons on the morrow.”
“She’ll not be coming back.” Andra glanced at the woman but quickly looked away lest her eyes betray her intent. The tiny, warm, and uncertain fingers clutched her own calloused hand. She gripped the little hand tightly and led the girl away.
There was nothing could be done about the child while they were both within the walls of Midwinter Down. It was too messy, too obvious. There were too many questions that would be asked.
But as she made her way to the exit, the open gates of the fort seemed to somehow judge her. As if she were stealing the child away from the warmth and safety of a Mother’s embrace. Andra couldn’t look at the guards as she and her charge made their painfully slow journey out.
Standing at the precipice, overlooking the low valleys, and rolling hills of Midwinter, Andra wondered how the child might survive on her own.
If she gave the girl a pack of food and a dagger then pointed her off toward the sunset then it would give the child a chance.
She looked down at the tiny face peering up at her, filled with eager curiosity. Even on her best leg, she was no taller than Andra’s waist. Her arms were thin, her little hands had no strength, and her foot made speed nearly impossible.
When the food pack ran out the child would simply starve, or as the winter drew in she would die of the cold. That was assuming she had not already become the meal of some wandering beast or fallen prey to a pack of bandits.
By setting her loose, Andra would only condemn the child to a slow and painful death. It would be the cruelest fate. It would be the cowards way out.
Andra was a warrior. Her duty was to stain her own hands with blood for the greater good of the Druids. This child would not be the first to die by her hand and she would not be the last.
The least Andra could do would be to make it quick. Show the child mercy.
“Where are we going?” The girl spoke with a Southern accent that sounded strange and sweet coming from such small lips. Her face was stained a little with dirt on one cheek, and her eyes looked to Andra with the simple conviction of one who has nothing but complete trust.
Andra’s jaw tightened. She was momentarily mute and her sudden silence must have been strange to the child and the guards at the gate who were not too far from being within earshot. She knelt and wiped the dirt from the child’s face. But it took a few more minutes and all of Andra’s strength to dig within herself and find enough voice with which to speak.
“Would you like to see some pups?” she asked.
“Oh yes, please!”
The child clutched her ragdoll tighter in excitement and the heart of the General of the Dragon army snapped in two.