A man; injured and despairing. His body broken, his mind weak, and his spirit flagging. He stumbles along, eyes on his feet. Outside of his vision, a sound is produced. It startles him into raising his head a few inches, just as his foot meets a rock, and down he goes. Now flat on his face, he whimpers. Pain shoots through his body and he gives up all hope. There is no way he can rise again, his strength is gone.
Above him, a voice of thunder rolls. "Why do you lay there? Rise and face me."
Gathering the last of his energy, the man raises his head just a little bit. Hovering over him is a mountain of a man carrying a large sword. This swordsman is clothed in garments of deepest blood red, dark hair shorn short against his scalp. The sword is grasped in callused hands, and leveled at the fallen man's throat; he swallows convulsively at the sight of it. "Rise, fallen one."
The man looks at his tattered clothing, his muddy hands; then back to the hovering figure. "I have not the strength to rise. Do with me what you will."
Shining steel leaves his line of sight and there is a shuffling of feet. "Your humility becomes you, wanderer." The woman's voice is soft and warm, almost comforting. The man's head snaps up in shock. Crouched beside him is a woman of delicate beauty. Her dark hair is pulled back in a loose braid, her clothing purest white and richest blue silk. Her kind eyes a sharp contrast to the man still hovering over them. "Take my hand and be strengthened, or accept the sword and be free of pain. What will you choose?" Her voice rings through his head, pounding in his temples.
A choice. His choice. To take her hand, live, but feel pain and fear and sadness. Or to accept the sword and give in to the painlessness of death. The hand of mercy or the sword of justice? Which would he choose after all? Reaching out with his gnarled hands, the man brushes his fingers over the steel blade, curious. But understanding pierces him, and he realizes that it would be too easy. That the path before him must be difficult if he wants to become strong again, if he can rely on his own strength.
Grasping the woman's hand, he pulls himself to his feet. He sways, and almost falls, but she supports him as he takes an agonizing step along her path. Then another. The weight of fatigue lifts from his shoulders, and with each step he walks taller. Finally he walks by her side, calmly moving forward, navigating the rocks and ruts along the path with a sure stride. He has made the right decision after all. Mercy has saved him.