the simple arithmetic of lives in function
// determine the equation.
One day, he’s gone.
She chooses not to think about it. Too much.
// minus his presence.
Elincia remembers through what isn’t there.
Walking to meetings, a silent presence behind her, tense and stoic and I don’t belong here –
( - with the blue blood of nobility, he doesn’t say – )
- Standing in the garden, feeling the silent shadow in the distance –
- His sword protecting her back as they parried through golden armor and living stone –
On the first day, she has a strange feeling, and turns around to – oh.
// minus her freedom.
Elincia is Crimea’s Queen. She knows this, she knows it very well, and others believe she knows it so well that they remind her of it with every passing breath.
“Please convene the meeting.” “An envoy is here to see you.” “If Your Majesty wills it, we can begin right away.”
(You can’t go and find him. You can only refuse the offer. You are not simply a girl ignorant of the world’s ways, one who only needs to care about herself.
You can’t leave.)
She sits higher on her throne, pretends she can’t feel the circlet of a thousand stones.
Knows, actually – gold is heavier still.
// minus the misunderstandings.
She also knows that everyone thinks she’s fragile sometimes. A paper-doll queen.
She also thought that this sentiment was quashed long ago, after the first round of the last war.
(She’s not a mere lovelorn girl with a heart easily broken. She’s not a mere little slip of a thing quivering as her parents’ bodies fall to the ground.
Hasn’t she proved this enough?)
Still she holds her head up high, and her circlet never was brighter, despite.
// minus his sword.
It’s on a diplomatic excursion to Begnion that she meets the once-a-child ruler again.
“Empress Sanaki,” she says.
(How they’ve both grown and stayed the same.)
They exchange a few pleasantries and she doesn’t really notice the words.
“I have also come to return something,” she says, hands settling on the wrapped object at her side.
Sanaki raises an eyebrow.
“It’s precious to Begnion, isn’t it?” she asks, unfurling the cloth and letting the hilt catch the light.
The empress shakes her head. “Even if it were, everyone thinks of it as his weapon now. Crimea can keep it. The old history means nothing.”
“No,” she says. “I couldn’t – keep it.”
Elincia places the bundle in Sanaki’s outstretched arms, doesn’t think about her cool, unreadable expression.
“I’m surprised that he didn’t take it with him, anyway,” the empress muses.
Crimea’s queen isn’t; she understands why.
// plus another.
Geoffrey doesn’t talk to her about it.
She avoids him, for fear of what it couldn’t mean.
// know the limit.
Upon her return from Begnion, Lucia meets her.
“You shouldn’t go on like this.”
She feigns ignorance.
Do you presume to know what I’m thinking? she questions, emotions flickering, knowing all the times she’s seen it in the eyes of so many.
Lucia looks stung.
Did she say it out loud?
Her friend looks down. “No. Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”
“But I’m still sorry. You shouldn’t have to worry like this. Don’t worry about me like this.”
Sharpened sapphire in her eyes. “That’s an order I can’t obey, Your Majesty.”
“Then I’m sorry still.”
// know the domain.
After reconstruction and under her guidance, Crimea prospers. Her subjects love her. The remaining aristocracy loves her, or at the very least begrudgingly admires her work. She slowly begins to affect permanent change from border to border – eradicating hunger, easing sickness, helping the unfortunate, defending the defenseless.
She does not thirst for the expansion of her nation’s borders. But sometimes she wishes things. That there’s a place in the land where his name isn’t known. That there’s a place in the land that needs his help, can give him a sense of adventure, discovery, belonging.
But no land’s big enough for that. At least, none in Tellius.
Eventually, she stops wishing for impossible things.
(Though once, when she was young, being recognized for her birthright seemed impossible as well –
No. That was then, and this is now.)
// know the range.
And time heals all wounds. Answers most questions.
Bastian keeps on jesting, Lucia stops worrying, Geoffrey starts smiling.
Life has always been living, not dying, not warring or fighting. Although there might be strands of memory, tinges of regret, remnants of what-might-have-beens, they are not her tomorrows any more.
(But it doesn’t mean that she forgets.)
// solve the equation.
It has been years and years and years. Queen Elincia is not quite old, but not quite young. Time will begin to show its signs, has done its work.
(helped fade the regret.)
Anyone who said she couldn’t do it on her own was wrong; anyone who said she needed a king to help her was wrong.
Anyone who said she couldn’t do it at all: wrong.
But Elincia doesn’t think about that, because the smiles of her people overshadow anything else. Instead she is happy, satisfied with what things have become.
// check the solution.
(Sometimes she feels like she’s flying.
She is moving through clouds, breezing past oceans, sailing the skies. This is the great land beyond the desert. This is the realm of all things unknown.
She feels rough leather under her palm, and doesn’t have to look up to know.
(Maybe life could have gone this way.
Maybe if –
Then she wakes up, and the moon always seems to be waning in her eyes.
Unknown memories were never meant to be so bittersweet.)
// finalize the remainder; add one impossible wish.
She may have her guards, her friends, her courtiers. But she always sleeps lightly now, always. Even if she hasn’t had to fight in years, hasn’t had to watch out for the proverbial dagger in the dark.
So when her eyes rapidly flicker open and a surge of adrenaline settles on her shoulders, it takes her a moment to adjust and realize:
(Part of her knows.)
“I – Who – “
Her breath catches. She doesn’t dare to breathe, because breathing is drawing in real gasps of air and real is awake and this, this is not real. This can’t be real. She hasn’t had a dream like this in years.
Wake up, she thinks, chest constricting. Just wake up.
He steps out of the shadows and the last of her breath is gone.
He looks – like himself. Blue hair, rugged leather, an aging expression and a face anything but. He doesn’t look exactly like the he that she vaguely remembers, the image that she’s tried so hard to keep in the back of her mind. In fact, he only seems more real –
- I want to believe –
- but it wouldn’t have been the first time that she’s tricked herself so.
“Why?” she manages.
He looks at her.
“You left…for distant lands,” she finishes at a loss.
“I did. And I saw them.”
“You left for good,” she says; to kill the dream, to wake herself up.
Under the moonlight, he seems to be evaluating her. “No one ever said that.”
She is confused.
“I said I was leaving on a journey.” He pauses. “Not forever.”
She won’t think. Won’t. Won’t say it.
(Yet will – she wonders now, and even in dreams, if she can get her answer – )
“Then why are you back? Why, after – when you left?”
His eyes are piercing shades of blue, and she can see his hand tense, almost into a fist.
“There were some things over there I just couldn’t find.”
(She doesn’t want to believe. All these years of moving on and making her peace – no, she doesn’t want to.)
“I don’t believe,” she whispers. “This is a dream.”
He says nothing and the moonlight doesn’t flicker; it’s more realistic than her dreams have ever been.
Long-dead hopes begin to stir dangerously near her heart, and her fingers unconsciously reach up as if to still the beating.
“I…” He fumbles for words. “I can’t promise I’ll stay this time.”
“I know.” All the things she’s tied to that he determinedly cut off – oh, she knows.
But she smiles, and closes her eyes, seeing through colored dreams and daring reality to challenge what’s real.
(She’s made her choice.)
For sometimes, never again doesn’t always mean never.