She arrived late to the competition. It wasn’t intentional. Or perhaps on some level it was. The last battle was long and wearisome and had taken its toll. The scars she had were not by her hand, though she took them on without complaint. That was part of the rules, was it not? But after the 25-year battle, she hid, healing the wounds with salve given to her by the Earth, ensuring others wouldn’t be infected. But she was ready, knowing what she offered was valuable.
Her eyes, though battle worn, were intent and aware as she surveyed the gathering of competitors. She cringed at the sudden feeling of inadequacy. How could she possibly compete? She watched the leaders selectively sift through the crowd, letting strands of hair fall through their fingers, cupping faces more youthful than hers against their palms. The young ones were eager, wide-eyed, optimistic, less willing to cast doubt or question their leaders. They were desperate to blindly follow, compromise their values, and become something they were not, in order to serve them.
Oh, she had made that mistake so very long ago. Never again. Perhaps that was her downfall, her own boundaries getting in the way.
But she couldn’t deny the shift that was palpable in every fiber of her soul. The confidence she had in battle now whittled down to nothing as, one by one, the leaders passed her over. What could they possibly want with a veteran who saw life through narrowed eyes? They looked for trainability, not one so set in her ways. The sudden rejection left her vulnerable and weak, her ego judging her worthiness based on their approval.
It occurred to her that though her body was strong and her mind stronger yet, the young ones were skilled in ways she was not, for while she led her own battle, she’d neglected skills she rarely used, and those had eventually withered away. She argued that she had different skills, stronger skills, life skills, skills the newcomers had yet to discover. She held up the weapons that were well-honed, time-proven, and sharpened with age and wisdom. She insisted that her youth was a shadow behind her maturity and calm, and that she could fight alongside them.
But none of that mattered.
Was that punishment for the years that she refused to back down?
She stepped away from the crowd, her spine straight and jaw set. She fought against the tears that spilled from her heart as she saw her future denied by virtue of her past. It occurred to her that she had her place, but it was no longer on the front line. Times had changed, and she along with it. But she had no idea.
Until now…. until it was almost too late.