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The attic was dark, dusty and musty. The children gathered there, brothers and sisters, huddled together as close as they could. They sat there for hours, not moving, not speaking, barely breathing. The eldest, who knew most about what they were hiding from, cried silently as she held her baby brother close.

In the village, heavy boots marched through the streets. Fists hammered on doors, and strong shoulders broke them down if they went unopened. Mud was marched across carpets, doors were opened, cupboards moved, cellars searched. Angry voices shouted, and were answered with tears and unanswered cries for help.

The children, hungry, thirsty and tired, stayed still in the attic, listening to the sounds of the soldiers searching their village. They heard fists on the door down below, heard the sound of splintering wood and heavy footsteps as their hunters entered the house. The eldest girl clasped her hands together in prayer and closed her eyes. Her brothers and sisters silently copied her.

The trapdoor opened, sending dust flying about the attic. The girl opened her eyes and flinched as a torch was shone straight into her face. After a couple of seconds the light was lowered, and as her eyes adjusted to the light she could see the face of the soldier sent to find them. He was a young man, probably only a few years older than she was. He looked at her in silence.

A harsh voice from below broke the peace. She couldn’t understand the words, but she understood the question. Was there anybody up there? She held her breath, looking at the soldier, putting her frail arms around her brothers and sisters. The soldier shouted back without taking his eyes off her.

One short word.

Heavy boots marched through the streets of the village. Fists hammered on doors, angry voices shouted, and in one attic a group of children cried silent tears of thanks for one soldier’s act of kindness.

© Kari Fay