The sky is turned the color of cold iron. The light has faded; still must we work, and so the Warden bids us kindle the torches we save for the night-hours.
I walk down the corridor with a single torch of my own, feeding flames to the sconces one by one. They tell us that the first wounded will arrive soon; after that, my labors will not be so easy as this.
Come now, Ioreth said this morning. For we must not spend ourselves in fear, nor trouble ourselves into uselessnessóno, but seek solace where we may find it, so we might offer comfort in our turn when the time comes. Ioreth. After all these years it takes not a great effort to half-ignore her unending homely prattle, but always does she speak true, in the end. And today, no different.
The fire warms my face and hands, and I remember. Aye, Ioreth, but what meant you by comfort? Surely not the comfort sought by the men who came to the lower circles where I spent my girlhood: worn fingers grasping for whatever warm piece of flesh they could take in an ill-lighted room. Cold comfort, coin-bartered comfort, respite in distraction.
I am no longer a giver of such reprieve; I left the taverns years ago. Today I kept my eyes fixed on the tender blades of grass in the gardens, the solid winding of clean linen through my fingers, the faces of the children who yet remain with us while their parents soldier or flee, that all of this might make gentle my hands and my voice, and strengthen my resolve. For we must not spend ourselves in fear, and indeed we cannot, even if we wished it. For a body cannot spend every waking moment in terror, nor every slumbering second in nightmares. There is tedium to fill the spaces between, tedium and labor and waiting, above all else; the small trappings of life that we keep with us, so long as life itself endures.
The hallway swims with light and shadow. Soon the men will come to us, and we will hasten to their aid and lay our hands on them and do what we must do to keep death at bay. Help I can offer, and comfort, and even solace. Whether or not the same is true for hope, I will see by and by.
Soon the corridor is fully lit, and I rest at its ending for a moment. A bit absurdly, I admire my handiwork, as if these busy fires were some craft of my own devising. I turn to go, still bearing my own light before me; there is much to be done.
A/N: Thanks to Aeneid for allowing me to steal her characterization of Iorlas for "The Guardsman."