All children prayed.
Minah — Wilheminah, after her grandmother, though she only heard that name from her father — had never much thought about who she called out to when she was afraid or sad. The first time she remembered it happening had been in the garden, its old stone walls so crumbled that her father had given up and planted a sign in the tarragon that read ‘Deer Seasoning’. Curled up in the grass in the summer sunshine, she’d woken from a doze to find her arms and chest covered in a swarm of wicked yellow hornets, creeping across her linen smock.
Please, she thought, frozen.
Please, and the grass around her grew warm, hot, beneath a bright sun that shone so fiercely she had to close her eyes against the light. So bright all she could see was greenish red through the skin of her eyelids.
A puff of cool wind brushed across her face, moth wings of comfort, and she opened her eyes.
The hornets were gone.
The garden felt cold and strange. Minah scrambled to her feet, fleeing to the safest place she knew — to the study at the front of the old manor, where her father spent most of his days immersed in books and scrolls. Through the worn wooden gate, skipping the cobbles that had popped free of the path and rolled to and fro in search of ankles to twist, and into the house.
“Adda, where are you?” He always answered.
As she burst into her father’s study, she stopped. There were men there. Strange men, wearing clothes stitched in bright colors but spattered in mud. Road men.
“How many lost?” Her father asked, his hands pressed flat on the desk as he stood behind it, his head bowed.
“All, Your Majesty.” The tallest of the men was dark as a wet river rock.
“You should say Highness,” Minah said, and felt a little thrill of fear and pride both as the river man turned to look at her. “My adda is a prince.”
“No longer, I am afraid,” answered the river man.
“Minah, go to your room.” Her father spoke quietly, but it was his army voice, the one she was never supposed to disobey. She scuffed her feet along the wooden floor as she retreated to the hall, cuddling up against the plaster wall just beyond the door to listen.
“You can’t mean to bring her to court, Your Majesty.”
“She is my daughter. My only child.”
“She’s an orc. An abomination.”
Minah’s breath sucked in. He wasn’t supposed to say that. None of them were supposed to say that. Her adda had beaten a groom who’d said that word, that orc word, had pounded him with his fists until there was blood on the path and everywhere.
“She is my daughter.” Her father repeated.
None of the other men spoke again.
“The lines are broken, my king.” The messenger was very young, barely shaving; he knelt on the mosaic floor before the throne of the king, his muscles trembling from exhaustion. Sweat stuck his hair to his head in the shape of the helmet he’d hastily pulled off.
Five years younger than she, and /he/ was allowed to join the troops of the kingdom’s army in their last attempt to hold the western front against the green horde that even now gathered to crush them.
He, however, was not the sole heir to the kingdom.
He was also not half orcish, and therefore suspect; as if her blood would make her turn against her home. As if blood would yield betrayal, when fifteen years of court intrigue and attempts on her life had not.
“And –” The messenger’s breath caught and he reached back to the sheathed sword he carried across his back, stepping forward and to set the sword carefully below the king’s dais. The scabbard bore elaborate geometric shapes of the sun and moon. “The holy general is fallen. He and the Sun Guard held the line to give the rest of the survivors time to flee.”
There was a collective indrawn breath across the room.
Not a soul moved.
Her father had aged so much in the years since they had come to Sunheld. The man who had spent hours digging with her in the herb garden had grayed and faded, from the black of his hair to the warmth and gold of his skin. Now he was cast in pewter, hair gone to silver, complexion pale.
Pick it up.
The whisper was clear as if someone had whispered in her ear, and she stiffened, glancing left and right. No one stood near her; she stood with the wall at her back and a good three strides in any direction from the nearest other soul.
No one liked to stand near an assassin’s target, after all.
Pick it up.
Warm air and the scent of grass in summer, and as she looked up, the glittering shards of Sunheld’s famous stained glass window seemed to brighten.
The sword lay near to her, its hilt just touching the mosaic hand of the Sun Mother. Light glimmered on it, catching the gold leaf of the scabbard and throwing reflections into her eyes.
Her feet felt light as spiderwebs caught in a spring breeze, lighter, and she was kneeling to take the sword in hand before she even finished a breath.
Beloved daughter, be whole. Be my hands.
You are loved.
The sunlight grew even brighter, wrong entirely for the hour and the time of year, and yet within its golden sphere she felt at once as warm as she ever had within the garden of her childhood, the green of her skin gilded with pure light. The hilt of the sword fit her hand as if had been weighed and measured especially for her.
Rise, paladin of Sola. Rise, beloved daughter.
Wilheminah, daughter of the king, stood.
Prompt: A dependable half-orc paladin from a royal lineage, who mediates before dawn. Written for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge.