Help with expressing sadness on my characters

Heyo, this is my first post so I’m kind of lost here. English is not my first language so I still struggle when it comes to expressing certain emotions in my novel. I don’t want to be repetitive or fall into cliches, but I seem to do it often.

I’d love if you guys could help me with examples of characters showing sadness or sorrow, but without being overly dramatic. Be it when talking with each other, displaying empathy or feeling pity. I’ve tried things like “her eyes saddened, she pouted, she gave him a pitiful look, etc” but I know these are mediocre examples.

Tl;dr: I need examples that can express a character’s sadness effectively. E.g: in my novel, a little girl tells a stranger about her tragic past and he feels bad for her. How could I express that by showing not telling?

Thank you in advance.

Perhaps, you should focus more on what the characters are doing or what’s happening rather than describing their actual feelings while it is/they are.

‘She said with misty eyes.’
‘A tear trailed down her cheek.’
‘Her voice trembled as she spoke.’
‘A sob threatening to disrupt her account.’

Maybe chuck in a few silences and pauses in there.

‘She hesitated to continue.’
‘…reluctant to continue.’
‘He listened intently in silence.’

Just the first stuff that popped into my head.


Instead of saying ‘her eyes saddened,’ maybe you can use ‘her eyes softened’
or if talking about someone who is being empathetic with someone when they are hearing their story, phrases like

‘she gasped quietly,’
‘she took a sharp intake of breath’
‘it was hard for her to keep her own tears at bay’

or descriptions that aren’t about what the person looks like, but how they feel internally, like

‘his heart broke for her’
‘his heart clenched at the thought of her being hurt’
‘his heart felt heavy’
‘his heart seemed to fall to his feet’


A way for me to try and express sadness when it comes to the characters I write, I put myself in their shoes. Imagine how you’d feel if you lost a loved one or if your significant other breaks your heart. How would you show it? What physical action would you take? Example: quivering lip, clenched fists, a heavy head with our gaze pointed to the ground (which the last can point to a feeling of shame). These are what I like to think of as sublte expression when we try to hide our pain from others but fail to hide it from the reader (which is the goal). I’m sure if any of those things were to happen to you you wouldn’t just tell the reader, but show. Don’t worry too much about sounding repeatative at first, just get the emotion down on paper. And sometime cliches work because everyone tries to avoid it, which can lead the reader to forget about it until they see it. And then they’ll respond with a pleasent “oh”. :grin:


Just use synonyms sad sadness

Pity - compassion tenderness empathy
Sad - Sorry depressed dreadful
Unhappy- unfortunate dissatisfied
Empathy - sympathy pity

But mostly show don’t tell I personally would be uncomfortable with a stranger telling me all their problems upon meeting not prompted so for me it would be like.

Wry felt trapped, she knew socially she should try to console this stranger but deep within her she was looking for an escape.

“Um…” She cautiously spoke.

“Im sorry that happened to you” she winced trying to muster up as much empathy as she could.

I’ll give it ten minutes she thought to herself That should be enough time so it doesn’t seem like im running from her.

But for people who are good with emotions it’s usually like a light touch softening eyes, an empathetic sigh gestures more than words.

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All these posts above are really good examples, but one thing I might add, is depending on your character, the way they show sadness is different. What is the stranger like? Is he a hardworking man? Does he care about children? Depending on his personality, he won’t react some of the ways people have said above. As important as it is to express these feelings and reactions, you need to remember to do it in a way where they don’t break character, or even just try not to be repepitive, don’t have every character express sadness in the same way.

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Hi there - so I see you are using a different style of narrating which Im familiar with I use the same method so maybe I can help you here. Its not all about using large words you just need to be descriptive about how she is feeling. So here goes.

She looked at the stranger, a faraway look in her eyes that was partly replaced by tears as she began to relate the tragic events of her past. She wa sso wrapped up in her own thoughts and memories that she was neither worried nor concerned that she was being so open about her life to a mere stranger.

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If the pov character is the one that’s sad, don’t show the sadness. Your job is to make the reader sad, feel sorry for the character. Expressing pouting or tears will not achieve that.

For example, I have a scene where it’s Jack’s twelfth birthday and he wants to celebrate it somehow. So he keeps looking for fun things to do with others but each attempt fails. In the end, he ends up alone.

I was going to show him breaking down in tears. It was unfair. He only wanted to celebrate his birthday as all children do, but then I decided to do something else.

Excerpt from I’ll party if I want to

Jack sat down on the floor cross-legged and started drawing small shapes with his frost. He made them rise and watched the frost fairies zoom around the room. He kept drawing and making them come alive until the room was so full of them, he couldn’t see any furniture. This was his party and they were his guests.

He imagined them socialize, laugh and play. They started a frostball fight and then ganged up and attacked him all at once with tiny balls which landed on him gently like snowflakes. They danced in sync to the music in his head and arranged in a line, following each other, tripping over each other’s wings.

Then, they gathered around him and showered him with hugs, gifts, and kisses. Then, they built a giant - for them - cake just for him, gathered around him, holding hands and sang a birthday song together.

He could almost hear it when the fairies collided with each other and fell apart. One after the other like dominos, they started to disintegrate until the last one was gone and fell to the floor with a snowy poof.

There was no cake, singing or dancing. There was only frost laying flat on the grey-tiled floor.

So for your example - give the reader the information they need to feel the sadness of your character. Why is the story she’s saying sad?

If she’s the pov character, you could add thoughts she doesn’t say that add even more emotional turmoil.
If the pov is of the listening party, you could add what this story reminds them of or put it in contrast with a memory of a total opposite.

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I think I’m caught up in the “what not to do” instead of “what to do” here. :sweat:

But everyone’s examples here are really helpful, as you said, I should try to stop worrying so much about the cliches and just express those emotions the best way I can.

You’re right, either for good or for bad, I have too many characters and everyone will express their emotions differently.

My main problem with this particular character is that he’s kind of a psychopath, he doesn’t feel emotions but is really good at faking them. So that’s an extra pain for me :confounded:

That was an interesting read, and I agree with you. I can’t force feelings on the reader if they don’t care enough about the character. I want(hope) to believe my main character is good enough for the reader to care, but this particular character who pretends to care and sympathize with her is an awful man, a psychopath who is really good at faking emotions, so that’s an extra problem for me… :pouting_cat:

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When her dad returned home on Saturday night, Ada hadn’t dared gone upstairs. She’d sent Tom a warning message, but had no idea if he received it and had no idea if that’s where her dad went. But if he was angry enough to beat the crap out of Tom, Ada didn’t want to fall victim to it too.

Not that he would have hurt her, she just wanted to avoid seeing the look on his face, full of disappointment. Ada didn’t want to feel like she was no longer his little girl, so she stayed in her room in the walkout basement.

She was tempted to sneak out several times that night, but her car was still in the ditch and she wasn’t about to steal her mom’s car. She didn’t know where she wanted to go, just needed to get away.

Stuck at home, Ada stayed awake all night, then sat on the dock to watch the sun rise in the morning. By then she felt drained of tears and energy. Wrapped in a blanket, she let her anger and pain drift off of her and into the water and welcomed the numbness to take over.

As the sky was taken over by shades of pinks and golds, Ada couldn’t help but feel taunted by the pastel colors hovering over her sadness. Normally the colors would have brought her joy, but not that morning. The colors only got bolder as the minutes ticked by, casting the deep shades against the waters surface and surrounding her with a beauty she couldn’t feel.

As with the sky, the birds waking up to sing their song almost sounded as if they were mocking her. The wildlife waking up filled her ears and she breathed in the Earth’s smell, wishing it would bring some sort of peace into her new day.

She wondered if Tom was up, unable to sleep just like her, regretting how things had gone. Maybe her dad had caused him enough pain where he’d only slept a little, discomfort keeping him tossing and turning throughout the night. Or maybe the asshole slept peacefully all night, unaffected by what he’d done to her life.

“You’re up early,” her father’s voice snuck up behind her.

Normally it would have caused her to jump, but she was too tired and her body just failed to react.

She watched him with tired eyes as he set down two coffee mugs before sitting down next to her on the dock. He looked as tired as she felt, staring down at the water with a distant gaze and heavy eyelids.

“Never went to sleep.”


Ada wiped her face off with her blanket. Most of the tears were gone by then, but a few fell whenever a memory of him entered her mind. “I’m sorry that I disappointed you.” Her voice shook as she looked over toward her dad, her gaze misty from her next collection of tears.

Her dad gave her a long look, then brought the coffee mug to his lips. “I ain’t disappointed in you,” he told her before taking a drink.

“Are you mad?”

“Little bit. Reckon I’ll get over that pretty quick, though.” Her father set down his cup and grabbed the second one he’d brought for her.

Ada accepted the cup between her palms, not realizing how cold she was until the hot mug warmed her hands. “Did you go to his apartment last night?”


Her insides twisted into tiny, tight knots. As angry as she was at Tom, he didn’t deserve her father’s wrath. Him breaking her heart was on him, but the kiss itself was her doing. She’d pushed him to confess his feelings and then seduced him. If it was up to Tom, Ada wasn’t certain if anything would have happened between them, minus one perfect kiss.

And now her parents knew. All of it.

“Did you hurt him?”

“Little bit,” he admitted. “Not as much as I intended to when I went over there.”

Ada’s head rose from her coffee cup, nerves building higher. Somehow hearing of her father’s control was more worrisome than if he’d just beaten the crap out of him. Restraint meant something happened. “Did you two talk?”


It was like talking to Tom with his plethora of vague answers that told her nothing. Ada checked her father’s knuckles, but they weren’t bloody or bruised.

It almost pissed her off that Tom broke her heart the night before and her dad showed little to no hostility toward him, nor was he seeming to have hostility about Tom having her heart in the first place. “What did you talk to him about?”

“That’s something you’ll have to ask him.”

Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Ada assumed her dad wouldn’t want her to ever see or speak to Tom again. Her father’s mood and tone of voice did not match the situation. He’d discovered that his daughter had kissed her teacher who was fifteen years her senior, yet there was no sort of real reaction. It wouldn’t surprise her as much coming from her mom, but she expected an epic reaction from her dad and he wasn’t delivering.

“I’m not talking to him. That’s why I’m asking you.”

“Well too damn bad. You want answers, you’ll have to go somewhere else.”

Ada couldn’t bare the thought of going to Tom for the answers. She’d rather not have the answers at all then get them from him. “Keep your secret for all I care. I’m done with him,” Ada whispered into her cup before taking a drink.

“If you was done with Tom this easy, you wouldn’t have started nothin’ in the first place.”

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As Ada’s eyes traveled across the table to Stevie, she saw something in her that could only be described as fear. Ada didn’t remember having that much fear. Of course, she was told with Peter so she was eased into it with her parent’s caution.

“So, that’s what happened to Grandma Rose?” her sister asked.

Stevie had a much better memory of their grandmother, though none of them saw her very often. The few memories Ada did have of Grandma Rose terrified her as a child. She remembered her grandmother sitting outside of her apartment with her mom while Ada played in the park area across the street with her dad. She was coming down the slide when she began to hear her grandmother’s screams, apparently becoming confused about where she was and what she was doing.

Maybe no one explained what was happening to her very well or maybe she was simply too young to understand. All she was told was that the woman sitting in the wheel chair screaming was not the woman her parents wanted Ada to remember. She only saw her once after that, saying goodbye to the broken empty shell that used to be her grandmother.

It wasn’t until her sister asked another question that Ada realized her mind was drifting in and out of the room, only catching some of what was being said. “Is that what’s going to happen to you?”

Ada gripped onto the archway and let the tears fall to her cheeks. She pictured her and her mother in place of every memory she had of her grandmother.

Her mother laying in a bed and staring at the ceiling, muttering something Ada could not understand.

Her mother becoming skin and bones, barely able to lift her hand enough to swat the food away that Ada tried to feed her.

Her mother being fed through a tube when she was no longer able to swallow.

Her mother’s bed covered in her urine because she wouldn’t allow Ada to move her.

Her mother sitting in a wheel chair staring ahead at nothing for hours on end.

Her mother no longer able to tell Ada she loved her. No longer able to remember that love or remember her.

And that was what broke her, what brought Ada to uncontrollable tears as she slid herself down the archway.

Here was her reality. Her mother’s future. Her future.

Stevie wrapped her arms around Ada and held her as they both cried.

Breaking wasn’t hard now that she’d finally succumbed to it. It came to her easily and with unrelenting power over her. The pain in her chest. The struggling breaths. Her mind filled with an unsympathetic clarity.

Ada had lived these last three weeks in blissful denial, in a haze she’d managed to disappear in. The only struggle she had after hearing it was telling Tom, but she was too consumed by his breakdown she hadn’t really had one of her own.

Now the denial and haze were both gone. Reality had slammed into her like a train crash, playing those images in her mind over and over again.

She took deep breaths, the heavy air of the room closing in on her. “I think I need to go outside and get some air.”

Stevie let Ada go and leaned against the wall while Ada fled out the back door.

As soon as the screen door slammed shut behind her, Ada gasped, taking in the fresh air. She’d tried to pretend none of this was happening for three weeks, tried to put it in the shadows of her mind, far in the background where it couldn’t break her. Now here it was, catching up to her all at once.

She took in another breath, yet even the fresh air felt as if it was polluting her insides.

She imagined her mother walking with her down a sidewalk, laughing and enjoying the day. Then she looks into a store window and when she looks back at Ada, her face is no longer recognizable. She’s a stranger to her in the blink of an eye.

Ada pinched her eyelids shuts, trying to force the images out. It didn’t work. It remained in her mind. Her mother not knowing where she was or who Ada was. Her mother begging someone to help her find her way, but the words stumble over each other or she forgets the right words to say.

The person her mother was in this moment would slowly begin to fade away. And if Ada carried the gene, watching her mother’s world begin to crumble would be a preview of what was to happen inside of her own body and mind.

She shook her head and went down to the river. Unlike that morning when nature taunted her, this time she needed it to calm her nerves. So she closed her eyes and concentrated on the trickling of the water and the buzzing sound of the dragonflies wings.

She needed to be brought back.

She needed to find her strength again.

She needed to remember that she couldn’t allow the future to weigh her down.

The feel of the cold water burned at her skin, shocking her back into the moment and the world around her as she engulfed herself in it.

This was was real. The cold was real and the sliminess of the algae on the rocks beneath her bare feet was real. This was life in that moment, not her mother’s future or her future and not the images that began to drift out of her mind and into the water, disappearing as the water traveled down the river.

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“What time is it?” Ada asked as she hesitantly sat up before running her fingers through the hair that most definitely did not feel as flawless as in her dream.

“About four in the morning.” Tom’s voice came out shaky as he looked down at the phone in his hand. “There’s-.”

When Tom failed to push the words out, Ada’s body and mind started to wake up. “What the hell happened?”

A heavy breath escaped his lips before his hand reached out to turn on the light on the bedside table. “Your dad called my cell. There’s been an accident.”

Everyone she loved began to flash through her brain in her most perfect memory of them and a panic rushed through her brain having no idea what memory to concentrate on.

“Britt was driving home from a graduation party and she was drunk and… I don’t know all the details, but your mom and dad are at the hospital right now with her mom.”

Ada’s most perfect memory of Britt came when they were about twelve and a boy had been making fun of her at lunch for being so fat. It was right around the time where the opposite sex was starting to be more admired and people were dating for a couple of days before breaking up and moving to the next person. People rarely went on actual dates, just said they were dating and held hands between classes.

Britt, being the most sought after girl in their class, went over to him flirtatiously, then smashed his face in his food. She was Ada’s hero that day.

“Ada, did you hear me?”

She shook her head, causing the memory to shatter into a million pieces and scatter into the air above her. When the pieces fell, she felt the sharp edges of them stab at her skin.


She wasn’t sure how long she’d been in a daze for, but Tom was fully dressed by the time she noticed the clothes on her lap.

This didn’t make sense.

Britt never drove drunk.

Because Ada was always the one who cut herself off early to drive them home. And Ada was here and Britt was-. “Tell me she’s okay.” It wasn’t a question, but a demand for reassurance.

A reassurance, by the look on Tom’s face as he paused from shoving their things back in their shopping bags, that he couldn’t give. “She’s in surgery right now. That’s all your dad would tell me over the phone. Please, Ada, get dressed.”

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“How bad is it?” Ada asked, having no idea if she was ready for the answer.

Tom wasn’t looking at her. That’s all Ada could see right then. Not the passing street lights. Not the empty highway. Not the light coming from the radio. Not the sun rising in the horizon. All she could see was his gaze move from the road in front of him to the side, away from her.

“I think we should wait until-”

“Say it,” Ada demanded. Maybe she wasn’t ready for the answer, but she needed to hear it all the same.

Finally Tom looked at her, and it was then she almost wished he hadn’t. His expression was empty, showing no signs of hope or relief. His gray eyes that were on fire for her the night before now appeared dull, almost vacant. “It’s a spinal cord injury.” His voice was shaky, barely seeming to get out the words that caused Ada’s world to crash down on her once again. “It was lower in the lumbar area, which I guess is better than the alternative, but… They don’t know if it will be complete or incomplete.”

Ada had no idea what the hell that meant. While she may have been a good student, science was not her strongest subject and medicine wasn’t exactly a subject available. Whatever he was talking about was something she couldn’t comprehend. “I’m not a fucking doctor, Tom, so how about you complete that sentence for me.”

Tom pushed out a breath and his hands appeared to tighten on the wheel. “They don’t know if she’ll have any function from the waist down or not.”

Whether or not she would be completely paralyzed or only mostly paralyzed. That’s what he meant. Ada tried her best to control her breathing, trying to gain some measure of control where there was none to be had. But dizziness was taking over her and her stomach felt like it was falling down a steep cliff. “Pull over.”


She didn’t know if he hadn’t heard her or didn’t understand why, so Ada repeated herself. “Pull over!”

Ada’s eyes were closed now, but she could feel the speed of the vehicle slow, further churning her stomach. As soon as she felt it stop, she opened the car door and practically fell out as dinner from the night before built up in her throat. She’d barely gotten herself upright before she coughed and choked out the contents of her stomach. Tears from her eyes fell and mixed with the sweat glistening her skin as she sunk to her knees, the gravel cutting into her skin.

A warm hand moved her hair to the side, not seeming to care that the strand was already covered in her vomit. Ada lurched forward one more time as the last of it escaped her. Her stomach contracted again, but nothing more came out. She spat a few times, trying to relieve her mouth of the acidic taste. Ada attempted to take in a long breath to calm her nerves, but it only burned her sensitive throat.

There was no sleeve on her tee shirt to wipe away the drool and whatever the hell else that was that dangled like a string out of her mouth or the snot dripping onto her bottom lip. As if he were a mind reader, she watched as Tom wiped off her face with wadded up black fabric. She turned to look at him, noticing then that it was his shirt and Tom was standing there in the early morning cold bare chested.

“I’m sorry,” Ada spoke, the snot making it’s way into her throat. She wasn’t sure what she was apologizing for exactly; her tone she used in the car or messing up his shirt.

He smiled at her calmly, tossing his vomit and snot covered shirt on the ground. Tom stood upright and extended his hand to her, then lifted her limp body from the gravel.

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“I’m going to go ahead and assume he knows,” Adam said before he leaned against the other side of the counter.

“Not the details, but he knows I was in love with you.”

Adam’s head dropped and hands clasped together against the countertop. “Past tense.”

Mia saw him catch that and hoped like hell it would sink in. “The guy I loved is past tense. Who you are now is a stranger and not a very likable one.”

He’d told her only a few hours earlier that he would rather she dump salt on an empty wound than to open up a fresh one and as much as it pained her to do so and as shitty as the timing was, he asked for it.

Adam sat down on the stool next to him, unclenched his fists and rested the palms of his hands on the counter. "You see hate when you look at me, Mia, and you’re right. It’s been there for half your life, but it isn’t hate for you. The only thing I’ve ever felt for you is love and it’s the only thing I’ll ever feel for you. The person I hate is myself. Whenever I’m around you, I wish I could not want you. I wish I could see something other than this future I can never have. To look at you and only feel the sort of love I felt for you when you were a child, but you’re right. I can’t have that back and I hate myself for it.

“And that hate becomes so strong and unbearable that I push you away because it’s the only thing I can do to force it into the background and push myself forward. I promise you though, when I’m an old man I will beg for your forgiveness because I know how much this hurts you and I know that keeping you at arms length will be the biggest regret of my life. But it’s a regret I have to keep making.”

Adam walked around the counter, toward her, then stopped when he was only a foot away. His hand raised to touch her, but fell to his side before he reached her skin. “You said a lot of things before and had every right to say them, but the only part you were right about was that I still can’t choose you. Please don’t think that decision means that I’m not in love with you, because nothing is further from the truth.”

Mia had no clue she was crying until Adam finally allowed his hand to touch her cheek and his thumb wiped away the tears.

“My mini Mia munchkin head.” He whispered the words with the smallest of smiles on his face, but with so much sadness that caused only more tears to fall against her face. “Go home, build a life with Holden or whoever, and try to forget I ever existed.”

The pet name he had for her as a child would never again be uttered from his mouth. This wasn’t just distance, this was her Adam coming back to her to say goodbye.

The last words spoken between them.

The last time she’d see his face up close.

And the last time he would ever kiss her, where her salty tears mingled with the taste of coffee on his lips as they shook against her own. Adam’s poker face was gone and he would be lucky to get out of the room without breaking.

The moment Adam stepped away from her, Mia crumbled to the ground as her world crumbled around her. Every breath she took caught in her throat before it could reach her lungs and she was certain that any moment she’d lose consciousness.

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Those are a collections of examples I have in my books, the intensity varying.

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Psychopaths are fun.

I imagine him saying and doing what he thinks people do in this situation, the cliche things, rub the back, hand holding. “You poor thing. I feel your pain.”


Some examples from my works…
To Fall for an Angel

Extract one

Zorik clutched his chest as he staggered through the doorway, and then sighed as his gaze settled on a young girl bundled in a trembling ball on the steps. The wounded giant followed Ashley’s footprints to the veranda’s edge, and pushed several clumps of snow off the railing to cover the mess below.

‘You are not alone, little angel,’ Zorik whispered as he sat down next to Ashley. ‘You were not the only one who was scared.’

Ashley stayed silent with her head buried beneath her folded arms.

‘What you are feeling now we call combat nerves. They are never easy to deal with but eventually you learn what to expect.’ Zorik raised Ashley’s elbow, peered down at her moisture-streaked features and smiled. ‘I envy you. Crying is always difficult for me.’

‘You frightened me,’ Ashley whimpered. ‘When I heard the guns…and you didn’t answer…I thought you were gone.’

Zorik’s mouth dropped open. ‘You are crying over me? Why?’

‘You look after me. You are my friend.’ Ashley sniffed. ‘You’re the first person who has been kind to me since I ran from Uric.’

Zorik sighed and looked away. ‘Ashley, I would not be a good friend for you. Rau and I are the same. I used to smuggle girls. Now, I’m an assassin. I killed Richmond, and I have killed many people before him. I am too dangerous–’

‘Stop-it!’ Ashley screamed. ‘You’re wrong. Rau is a monster. His men are worse. You are different.’ Ashley unfolded herself and rested against Zorik’s bulk. ‘I have seen you fight. You are cold and destructive. But you have not hurt me. You always protect me.’

Zorik bowed his head. ‘We should go inside. Night will be here soon. Your wounds need to be cleaned.’

Ashley reached up and pulled Zorik’s arm around her shoulders. ‘Why didn’t you run away?’

‘You stayed with me in the forest, and you watched over me at the farm,’ Zorik replied. ‘I could not face your family and tell them I abandoned you after you saved my life.’

Extract two

Zorik reached beneath his coat and placed his hand over Ashley’s. ‘The only important question is; how are you?’

Ashley sighed. ‘I’m very tired, and scared.’

‘I have been there,’ Zorik said as he squeezed her hand. ‘To tell parents their children will not come home is terrifying. Though, sometimes, you do rest a little easier afterwards.’

Ashley bowed her head. ‘Will you tell my mum and dad about Uric? I want to, but I don’t think I can.’

‘They already know,’ Zorik said. ‘Jacob and Karen would have–’

A faint gasp escaped Ashley’s throat and she shivered. The porcelain girl sniffed as tears trickled along her nose, splashing onto Zorik’s cheeks. Zorik removed Ashley’s hand from under his coat, reached up behind her and guided her down onto his chest.

‘I’m sorry,’ Ashley whimpered as she rested her head on her folded arms. ‘I’m always crying when no one else is.’

Zorik sighed and caressed Ashley’s plaited white hair. ‘Everyone here feels the same about Uric. Except we are accustomed to losing friends. When we meet the sniper again, his life will come to a spectacular and messy end.’

‘Don’t kill for Uric,’ Ashley said. ‘I want the sniper to answer for what he did. But you need another reason to hunt him.’

‘Well, the sniper had several soldiers to aim at yet he shot two kids, wounding one and killing the other,’ Zorik said. ‘He almost killed me and he made you cry. Why should he live?’

Ashley smiled and closed her eyes. ‘Is it so bad for someone to make me cry? That happened many times at school.’

‘Tears should never fall from an angel,’ Zorik replied.

One Army, Many Tribes

Extract one

‘I still don’t think asking Zorik to stay at home was right.’ Karen turned back to Julia’s grave. ‘He delivered Julia’s child, saved her girl’s life, and earned her respect.’

‘I have no doubt Julia forgives his absence,’ Ivanov said, ‘and she is able to rest knowing her little one has considerable protection.’

Karen’s form shuddered. ‘I forbid Zorik from hunting Rocco, too. Went against Ashley’s request. Could I give him any more reasons to hate me?’

‘The giant is not stupid.’ Ivanov gave a light cough. ‘About Rocco. Until he is found, Polanski is your shadow. No arguments.’

Karen spun around as Ivanov departed and her eyes fixed on Polanski. ‘Why?’

Polanski stepped up to Karen and traced her index finger down her employer’s moist raw cheek. ‘I know what you are thinking and feeling. If you don’t stop scrubbing your face, you will replace Julia’s blood with your own.’

Karen snarled and punched away Polanski’s arm. ‘Don’t touch me!’

Polanski tilted her head as tears trickled down Karen’s rain-streaked features. ‘No. You lost the right to give me orders.’

Karen scowled. ‘What?’

Polanski looked down Julia’s concealed form. ‘I have seen many times through my own scope what a sniper’s bullet can do to a human skull. Last night I thought this happened to a friend. I was about to help Julia into the Hind when the bullet struck her. For a while my body was frozen. Then the last image I saw on the roof top filled my mind and I almost lost my stomach. Later, Karl told me I was shivering and crying more than Julia’s child but I did not make any sounds.’

Karen sighed. ‘Polanski, I’m–’

‘A loss has not affected me like that for a long time,’ Polanski continued. ‘When I woke up this morning I realised that an unconfirmed kill had broken me…again. The image I saw, and I can still see now, was your face covered in what the bullet had left of Julia’s head. It was the most frightening thing I had seen on any battlefield. You had no right to scare a friend like that, not telling me you were okay, and you have no right to treat me as a toy soldier.’

Karen placed her hand on the Russian’s shoulder. ‘I am sorry, Polanski. I was selfish in thinking I was the only one affected. How do you get used to feeling like this?’

‘You don’t,’ Polanski replied as she looked up at Karen. ‘You just develop ways of hiding or delaying the effects.’

Karen bowed her head. ‘Do you still consider me a friend?’

‘Always,’ Polanski said. ‘But I take orders from Ivanov, not you.’

Extract two

Polanski stalked down the unlit hallway of Karen’s villa. She tucked her old shirt into her army track pants with one hand while her other hand probed the darkness, searching for the kitchen door. Polanski stepped through a doorway, flicked on the lights and smiled as her eyes focused on a young woman seated by the far end of the kitchen’s teak dining table.

‘You might think we’re your family, Karen,’ Polanski said. ‘But you don’t have to wait up for us.’

Karen glanced up and pulled the hem of her grey woollen jumper over her bare thighs, covering them from the steel frame of her chair. ‘Did I wake you?’

‘I couldn’t sleep,’ Polanski replied. ‘I came down for a drink. Care to join me?’

Karen sunken features twitched with a smile. ‘There is some wine in the fridge. Bottom shelf. A green bottle with no label.’

‘Let’s see…’ Polanski leant into the depths of the industrial fridge. ‘Ah, there you are…A white wine, smells very sweet.’

‘German Ice Wine,’ Karen said. ‘Made from frost-covered grapes picked before sunrise.’

‘And consumed before sunrise, too.’ Polanski sat beside Karen and poured the wine into two wide mugs. ‘Should I guess why you’re not asleep?’

‘Bad dreams,’ Karen replied. ‘As a child I slept under the kitchen table when nothing else worked.’

‘I think you are too tall to fit now,’ Polanski said as she clutched her wine-filled mug. ‘Were you sleeping before I came in?’

Karen shook her head. ‘I can’t work this out. I’ve been in a battle before. I’ve been to funerals of friends and family, but this feels different. Much worse.’

‘Have you witnessed a murder before?’ Polanski asked. ‘Julia was not killed like a fighter, with two sides shooting at each other. She was unarmed, she had no part in any battle, yet she was the intentional target for an assassin. Maybe this is different for you because Julia was murdered not killed.’

Karen looked down at her hands clasped around her mug began to shiver, causing faint ripples in the wine. ‘In the dreams I’m on the hospital roof, I hear a gunshot, then I’m covered in blood. But that’s wrong. There was no gunfire last night.’

Polanski nodded and placed a hand on Karen’s arm. ‘Your exhausted and complex mind is trying to match what it knows should have happened with what you experienced. Maybe the sniper had a suppressor. Maybe he was too far away to be heard over the Hind’s engines. We will never know and it doesn’t matter.’

Karen gulped down a mouthful of her wine. ‘So what should I do?’

‘Go back to your room and sleep,’ Polanski replied. ‘This isn’t like a cold. You don’t wake up one morning and feel fit and healthy again. Sometimes you will feel bad, however it won’t be every day.’ Polanski placed a light kiss beneath Karen’s ear. ‘And you will never be alone. I have had some experience with helping others to cope.’

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