Sometimes, no matter how hard you fight, failure cannot be avoided.
Cold. So very, very cold. She trembled with it, it sank its sharp teeth into her aching fingers and its wicked claws tore at her cheeks. Her breath rose in wild spirals before her, but she did not see them. Her eyes were dull and distant, her face a mask of white, glazed pain. Her cheeks were hollow and shadows danced mockingly about her in the light of the dying winter sun.
She had failed.
In her arms lay the limp and bloostained wreck she had fought so hard to save. He had been discarded by the other healers, given up for dead and dumped beside the corpses. Her master had told her to ignore him, saying that the poor wretch had not long to live and that it was not worth her effort to help him. She had been furious – how could anyone be so cruel as to leave a man to die? She had been schooled to have compassion for all – why should she make an exception now, even if only for a common soldier? If he had been a lord it would have been another matter.
Ignoring the protests of her master and companions, she had gone down on her knees beside the fallen warrior and started her work. Death had pressed in all around them, his groping fingers reaching out to snatch at each feeble breath that left the soldier’s blood-smeared mouth and his cold breath sending icy shivers through the air. But she hadn’t given up. For hours on end, forehead slick with sweat and cheeks flushed with effort, she had used every lesson she had ever learned, every trick she knew and had prayed to every almighty power she could name. She had battled for the man’s life, a fire of determination blazing bright in her heart and eye aglow with ferocity.
However, as time wore on and the sun set, her strength had begun to wane. The fragile heartbeat beneath her hands grew weaker, and the figure of death looming over them became more and more solid as the shadows stole over the ground. Her companions watched her fight on, impassive to her agony. She was desperate, desperate that she could save him, desperate to believe that her fight had not been in vain. In the end, her strength drained and resources exhausted, she had simply held the broken body in her arms, tiny crystalline tears trickling down her hollow cheeks. She has sat there, waiting, until at last, after hours of pain, the dying soldier had breathed his last. The bloody hand gripping hers had slipped through her fingers, and a cold wave of grief crashed over her.
She had failed
She had failed her master, who had spent so long teaching her everything he knew. She had failed her mother, who had had such faith in her as to allow her to pursue this life. She had failed the friends and family of the dead man, whom she had seen standing together not far off, hoping and praying that she could save their companion. She had failed the man himself, for she had been his last hope of survival.
But most of all, she had failed herself. She had believed she could do something, she had hoped so much that she could snatch this one victory from death’s icy grip. But she hadn’t.
She had failed.