“Close your eyes,” she said, brushing his eyelids closed with delicate fingers.
Smells from the palm of her hand, the smoke of their burning home, the thick mud of the embankment they had scrambled up in desperate flight.
“Can you remember?” she said. “Can you remember what it was like before the war?”
He tried to open his eyes, tried to see her face once more, but she kept her fingers poised, their touch barely felt. Could he remember a time before the war? Before son had rebelled against father and war had come to a city that had once held nations in thrall?
Her hand fell limp, but he held it there still, held it to his face and kissed her fingers. With an effort that tore at his being he opened his eyes to see her lying before him, her yellow hair thick with mud and clinging to her cheek. He smoothed her hair with a shaking hand and closed eyes that stared into a sky streaked with foul magic.
“I am the city,” she had once said. Only in the end had she agreed to flee with him, and then it was too late. The armies of the Wronged Son were at the walls and the city was aflame with shimmering fires and magics that burned.
“I am the city.” And he was her, for we are what we love, and what was there to love in a world where his wife and his son were no more?
He kissed her brow, his tears caught in the mud thick on his cheeks. He closed his eyes against the vile colours whispering across the night sky, closed his eyes against the sight of his silent wife.
“I remember,” he whispered, taking her hand once more. “I remember what it was like before the war.”
Remember. Remember for her. Even as baleful lights seared his eyelids and cannons blasted his ears. Remember.
She loved the city, he knew. She loved the city and she loved the people and she loved the red geronants that soared through the blue skies and the yellow antrophahs that shivered through the white-fringed lakes. She loved, and he had loved her for the love she shared. He had loved her even as he had begged her to leave when the Wronged Son had appeared on the blue mountains with his cannons of black and his rows of men with spike and spear and pennant.
He loved her and when she had wept as the guns began to fire and the walls had begun to fall, he had held her and wept with her.
He remembered begging her to flee the city with him once more.
“I am the city,” she had said, “and this city is me. I was born where the crooked spire twists into the clouds, and my father worked where the talking ships from the rainbow seas come to dock, and I met you where the deodaras turn the meadows yellow. And our child,” she had held his cheek, stopping him from turning away from her. “Our child was born in the house near the weeping willow. Those four walls, that tree, heard his first cries, heard his first laugh. He is here still, with us.”
She had wiped his tears away with a cool finger as the cannons roared and the magics blazed with deadly silence.
In the end she had agreed to flee with him, but it was too late. The Wronged Son had already marched from the mountains, and the walls were already beginning to fall. She had stumbled in his arms as the shrapnel pierced her side, but still she struggled to stay with him, her face pale. She bit her lip against the pain.
The river had been clogged with the dead and the dying, and they had scrambled through mud and blood. She had fallen to her knees, gasping. “It’s no use,” she had said. “I can’t.” She fell on her back, and his hands were bloodied as they tried to close the wound.
“I remember, too,” she had whispered. “I remember before the war. I remember our wedding day. You found a flower and placed it in my hair and told me you would love me always.”
He had wept then. Unashamed tears as he held her hand. “I should have made you flee,” he said.
She had smiled then, a sad smile. The Wronged Son and his magics and cannons had brought sadness to the world.
“How could I leave him?” Even now the tears stung her eyes. “Our son, he is still there, buried beneath the weeping willow. How could I leave our son? I would listen to him, sometimes.” Her voice was quiet, hesitant with pain. “When the wind would whisper through the branches, sometimes I would hear his voice. Who will listen to him now I am gone?”
She had closed her eyes then, and the screams of the dying filled the air all around them and the ground shook under the rage of the Wronged Son’s cannons.
“I remember,” he whispered, kissing her cheek. “I remember our son.” Ten years since the plague had taken Marcus, but still he could remember his voice, his laughter, his tears.
“I am the city,” she had once said. And he knew then what she had meant. We are what we love. He had seen her once, sitting beneath the weeping willow, her eyes closed as the breeze had rustled the leaves above. She had smiled then and his heart ached at the memory.
He kissed her and squeezed her hand, her fingers cool and loose in his own. He turned back and saw the city burning, the magics lighting the night into blazing day, the smoke coiling into the unnatural brightness.
He could be with his wife and his son again. All he had to do was to return to the city they had loved.
Return to Sharanih.
Mark Rookyard lives in Yorkshire, England. He likes running long distances and writing short stories.