The Price of Small Joys
by Cassandra Khaw
"Was he worth it?"
She puts down the dao; traces the flat of the blade with a callused finger; feels the pitted steel, the runes brocading its surface; breathes out. This is not hers anymore. But its voice knifes through her gut, nonetheless, hot with accusation, the shriek of metal-on-metal, bitter as stomach acids.
"Were they worth it?"
She puts down the shield; puts down the battered, rusted armor, textureless from long use; puts down the visor half-eaten by a dragon's rage; puts down the helmet, the longbow, the quiver of rotting arrows.
"Was it all worth it?"
She pulls back the strings of her apron, twists them into a bow. She will never be graceful enough, never be pliable, never learn how to totter on stilettos without tumbling. Her skin will always bear a memory of iron, her smile a sharpness inexplicable in this manicured battlefield of confections and double-edged compliments. She will always smell of war.