I remember the first time I rode into battle, although in the hundred years that has passed it has dimmed slightly. But I haven't forgotten the thrill of adrenaline, the dusty air whipping through my hair, the battle cry ripping instinctively out of my throat. I knew I could be going to my death – how I laugh now, to think that death was the worst of my worries – but somehow I was past fear. I did not think of my mother; I did not say a prayer. I simply trained my eyes on the flag in front of me and took solace in knowing I would die an honorable death, a death for my country.
I remember the first time I killed a man. How strange the inhuman power of my grip was upon his fragile neck. The burning in my throat that was too much to bear. How his eyes widened as he looked at me, at first in awe at my glittering skin, and then in horror as my intentions became clear. I made the job quick, for every ounce of his suffering wounded me a thousand times over. I remember the lingering warmth of his skin as I brushed my lips to his neck, filled with horror and disgust yet unable to stop.
And I remember the first time I saw Alice. The most precious, the most vivid memory of all.
I remember how her legs dangled off the stool, too short to touch the ground, how her thin little hands were clasped together in her lap, her eyes round with a wonder almost childlike in its innocence. How she leapt off the stool as soon as I walked in, with the silence and grace of a gazelle, making only a whisper on the wooden floor. How her eyes were pitch black but somehow still gentle, and her skin so delicate and white that I dropped my gaze to the ground, shamed of my scars in front of such unmarred perfection. And the disbelief as she took a small, silent step closer, to me – a monster.
I saw what she was feeling – it washed over me like a tidal wave, sure and strong, and so surprising I stopped dead in my tracks, overcome with emotion and shock at seeing such trusting love. Then, looking down, I realized something.
My hands had never shaken in war, but they were shaking now.