This was for a writing challenge where authors start off with one word, then pick another word that begins with the letter the last one ended with.
"Don't worry?" she squeaked, "You just told me that there are monsters, and demons, and bad things, and it's dark and I can't see, and we're out in the woods, and they're out in the woods--" I held a hand up to stop her.
"Were." I rubbed my hands in front of the flames as they ate at the logs. "They used to live around here. You didn't let me finish the story."
Elsie curled deeper into her blanket. "Well...finish it, then."
"Eat your breakfast."
Elsie scowled and bit into her sandwich, swallowing it with an exaggerated motion. I stifled a chuckle and fell into the pace of the story.
"Once, when the world was young and dim, many came before humans. Some were calm, or peaceful, or frightened. Deer and young foxes are the remnants of the fearful. You see the peaceful in the dogs you kept around your house, that quiet intelligence. The calm were free as the foxes and the deer, but would look you straight in the eye.
"Then there were the predators. They were not the oldest--could not be. To be a predator, one must hunt; the hunted must predate the predators." Elsie ate her sandwich without thinking, falling into the rhythm of the story as easily as I was. "And they were terrible. Vampires who would eat only humans, werewolves who went insane in full moon's light. Young girls, no older than yourself, would go missing, and none would know if it were vampire, werewolf, eloping, or kidnapping.
"But, brave as the flame and bright as the sun, there came a paladin. One who would stand, not because it was the proper thing to do, but simply because such a warrior could not do otherwise."
"And the warrior struck the creatures down!" Elsie cried, beaming.
I smiled. "No, Elsie."
"The paladin was a healer," I said. "Have I taught you to hate vampires?"
"No," she recited, eyes moving up and to the right, "The conscious ones can be good or bad as humans, and the unconscious ones are forces, and I should not hate them anymore than I should hate a stormcloud."
"The paladin had...blest hands," I murmured, remembering, looking at my own. "Many of the dark creatures were drawn to beauty, and the paladin was that. But more, a beautiful soul. People around her...wanted to be good. And the predators came out of the dark, at first to take a bite, then to feel the warmth. To bask. She healed, and before long, the healed were healing others. The warmth echoed." I closed my eyes, feeling the fire warm to my bones what had been ice for so long. So far fallen into the warmth, I started when Elsie complained.
"How come the girls are always the healers, and the boys get to fight? It's so stupid."
A smile that was neither good nor nice crossed my face. "Do you think every creature liked being warmed? The forces didn't. Some conscious ones didn't. The paladin was a warrior. The only difference between a warrior and a paladin is that a paladin is a warrior too."
A few silent minutes passed as the sun's light crept over the horizon and through the leaves. Elsie chewed silently. "You should be getting home," I said, pushing her pack over to her.
With the quiet scrutiny of a focused child, "Did you heal with her, or hunt?"
I smiled, and threw some ash on the fire and swung my pack over my back.