by Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold
This is the ending:
He stands there, the soldier, in a uniform so floral and pale pink that many armies would have rebelled to wear it. The Pink Knight is not so tall, but tall enough, and the yellow highlights of the startling tunic match the highlights in his hair. He carries a curious weapon, this soldier, a long thorn like a wooden needle, the end beaded with blood so bright red as to be almost purple.
The tourists come to look, sometimes even to pray, for that blood is always pure and fresh. The soldier does not move. He simply smiles as he stares into an eternity only he can see. Even in the desert, the horizon is finite, but his eyes are on distant stars and a sleepy ember that is invisible to those around him.
In his desert there is peace. The hawks hunt elsewhere. The coyotes pass silent under the mistress-moon who rules their night. Even the cactus thorns have softened a bit, so that rabbits and children might pass near the soldier.
This is the middle:
The battle was lengthy and ugly, as such things always were. There were few cannons fired, and little enough destruction, but that did not lessen the panicked sprints from cover to more cover, the agonized cough from a wound, the hard breathing in shallow trenches as night fell and dust ground into lips and tongues so long without water they had become foul leather.
The combatants had begun their fight clothed in shadow and sand, feinting and fencing across the low hills and the dry creek beds. But it became clear this would only lead to an endless war of attrition, land and pride bought bone by bone from dying boys with their mothers' names trapped within their mouths.
So the Pink Knight was summoned, begged by both sides to enter the war on their behalf. Disdaining any oath of fealty, he rode to the field of battle, dismounted without armor or lance, unlimbered his wooden sword, and walked among the combatants, looking for something he refused to describe.