From the author: A poetic story of peace in the face of despair.
Peace herself gave in to despair. Nothing could stop this bloodshed. She mourned, hovering above the battlefield, watching the creatures below race at each other over and over, cut each other down. She'd seen war before, of course--it always gave way to her, though, or so she'd told herself. But what if it was the other way around? Perhaps she was the one who always gave way to the default of war and discord. Maybe Peace herself was the interloper, was mere illusion.
Sunlight flashed from iron weapons. The air filled with cries, the thud of blades on leather-covered wood. Elephants made mute by secret ceremonies charged among the fighters, trampling those of either side. What power could she have over flesh, what influence over blood? If only she had a body. If only form to interact and influence, to become like the corpses and blood-drenched ground. To become like the people below her.
At the thought, a strange sensation grew within her consciousness, a numbing coldness as she felt herself spread out into the air over the battlefield.
Celbhan was swinging a sword when the first snowflake struck his arm. All strength drained from his blow. His blade skidded lightly over his enemy's shield, slid to the side and dropped to the ground.
He prepared for the return strike that would end his life and send him to the lost homeland beyond the mountains. But the sword that hit him came with only a light tap, like a pine bough swinging back after someone passes by.
The foreign sword lay on top of his own, each equally harmless. Celbhan looked from them to his enemy. In all their fighting he'd never really looked into their eyes, only at their surface to guess where the next attack might come. Now he saw confusion, uncertainty. No hate, like he might have expected. None of the vile instincts Celbhan's leaders had attributed to these people.
Snow fell thicker, coating the nearest soldiers as they stood perplexed among the dead. Elephants suddenly trumpeted, and Celbhan had the strange sense that the snow had healed them in some way. Could snow reach in and erase the wounds which he himself had witnessed? The priests' knives had cut deep and run so red.
One sounded directly behind him, and Celbhan turned, afraid the beast would charge and trample him. The handlers looked at their empty hands where the guide ropes had been, but the elephant didn't charge. It merely turned and walked away from the battlefield, swaying its bulk as it avoided any living person in its path. The snow gathered thickly on its head, giving it a strange, unearthly aspect. No more a tool of war, it seemed a thing the priests might urge them to worship.
Some soldiers nearby did kneel down, facing the elephant, but Celbhan noticed the other creatures also leaving the battlefield, each carrying a crown of snow. It wasn't the animals themselves, he thought. No, it was the snow. The snow had ended their battle somehow, and nowhere inside him did he find the desire to resume fighting. Even if he had the strength--and he wasn't sure he did--he had no wish to take up his sword and attack.
The snow gathered in drifts as the wind picked up, covering the corpses of his former comrades, his former enemies.
"Come," he called out to those nearby. "We mustn't let their bodies lie like this. Before the ground freezes, let's dig their graves."
Then he took up his sword and carved the ground open beside a corpse. A farmer, he thought. What would it be like to be a farmer? Plowing and planting and harvesting, those were worthy things.
Others came beside him, digging a trench to bury the bodies. Were these to be the seeds they would sow? And what would grow from such a field?
More snow, he decided as he plowed. Let the snow grow here and spread wide, carried to every land and battlefield.
A new strain of cotton appeared, one that required little work to grow, and no slaves to harvest.
Wherever people cultivated it, they lost the desire for war. They didn't forget the battles of the past, didn't forget how to defend themselves from danger, but they forgot how to war.
Far from that battlefield where only distant rumors had reached, Dawra, a leader of her people, joined the neighboring women to gather in the harvest. It was their second year of the amazing crop that clothed all her people in beautiful clothes. When they finished, she kept one large basket behind before sending the others on their way. Hoisting it to her head, she carried the cotton up the highest hill in the region, just as she'd done last year. No rumors told her what to do, no edict or distant command. Yet she knew, had known as soon as the first plants appeared a year and a half earlier, exactly what was expected.
Her heart beat fast and her breath came in gasps when she reached the bare top of the hill, but she set the basket down carefully before collapsing to the earth. She stayed until the wind rose and the first seeds of cotton danced into the air. Then she descended to her people.
And the cotton, like a winter blizzard, like a blessing of peace, spread from land to land.
This story originally appeared in Spirit's Tincture.