Hello hello, mellons! I’m back! Sorry for disappearing on all of you. I’ve been struggling to come up with anything to post about. But a writing group with a few of my writerly friends and I did a writing prompt called “broken,” and I decided to write this. I know it’s pretty loose as far as that word goes, but hey, “shattered” is basically the same thing, and hopefully at least some of my readers will be heartbroken.
I completely accept that some of you may hate me after this. If you don’t, I probably haven’t done my job right.
Once I was a princess. Once I had a mother and a father who loved me, friends who played with me, and tutors who bored me to death. Once I had a normal, happy life, or as normal as the life of a princess could ever be.
That life was stolen from me. In a matter of hours, enemies had ransacked our city, slaughtered our people, and destroyed the life I knew.
In my old life’s place, I was given a tower. I was given a single room high above dense forest, with only a dragon for company. Her name was Xenatlanextra, and she was a mother to me when I did not have one. She was my world. She was the one that kept me sane, the one that made me laugh, the one that dried my tears. She called me little one, and she let me lean against her jaw and nestle into her as I went to sleep, listening to her tell stories or hum the deep, rumbling songs of her kind. Then, just as I was on the threshold of sleep, she would whisper the words, “I love you,” and before I was too far gone, I would murmur back, “I love you too.”
I always thought I knew just how much that was worth. I thought I knew how fortunate I was to have her. If I had known then, though… If I had known then, I might have tried a little harder. How could I? How could I have known things would end the way they did? I keep telling myself I couldn’t have known. But when I’m completely honest with myself, I know I should have.
I should have known my parents’ enemies would come for me.
I don’t know how they slipped past Xena. Maybe we both just got too comfortable, so settled in our peaceful lives that we didn’t think an attack could happen. We were caught unaware as we sat in our usual spot, her head rested on my balcony, me curled up next to her, getting close to sleep. Then thousands of men came pouring out of the woods. At once, Xena roared, ordering me into hiding, and rushed out to meet the onslaught, fire pouring from her mouth.
Her smoke filled the air so quickly I was choking in moments. I crawled inside, away from the battle raging far below me. I crawled inside and underneath the bed, snatching up a blanket to wrap my head in, trying to block out the sounds of the battle taking place below me. I don’t know how long that fight raged on for. It felt like hours, but was probably much less. No one could stand against my Xena for long. Any battle with her, I knew, must be lost quickly.
I hadn’t thought it possible for them to win.
Then she screamed.
I should have stayed where I was, I knew. I should have stayed hidden, like she told me, but how could I? How, when I heard such an awful, agonized sound had come out of her? It was so loud that it shook the ground, but more than that, it shattered me to the core. Before I knew what I was doing, I had ripped the blanket off my head and stumbled out to the balcony, choking on smoke and ash. I pressed my middle so hard into the balcony railing that I knew there would be bruises to show for it.
I tried to cry her name, but all that came out was a barely audible gasp. My eyes landed on a wound in her neck. It was small, but blood gushed from it and soaked the burning ground. She was losing too much blood, and we both knew it. I could see it in her eyes when she turned to me. I could see the pain. I could see the sorrow. I could see the guilt.
It was only a matter of time after that. With an enormous effort, she beat her great, crimson wings, raising herself into the air, caught me up in one of her claws, and bore me aloft.
She flew as far as she could, trying to fulfill her vows to my parents, trying to keep me safe. I was surprised by how far she made it, but in retrospect, I know I shouldn’t have been. She was always strong.
Her strength only gave out when she reached the mountains. She swooped into a deep valley and dropped me on a relatively level patch of earth, only to glide a little further on and crash into the hard ground, sending rocks and boulders scattering.
I barely remember what happened next. I don’t remember running across the uneven terrain to get to her. I don’t remember getting all these cuts and bruises on my legs and arms. All I remember is skidding to a halt by her side, placing my skinned palms on her cheek, saying her name again and again, trying to help, but knowing there was nothing I could do.
Then, just like a hundred times before, she shushed me. She did it so gently it sounded as if she wasn’t bleeding out, as if the lights in her eyes weren’t dimming with every passing second. “It’s all right, little one. It’s all right…”
“How can this be okay?” I wailed. “This is my fault!”
“No, no, this isn’t your fault. I– I should have known this was going to happen. I shouldn’t have fought. I should have just taken you and gotten away, and–” A deep groan tore out of her throat. It was a sound I had never heard before, but I knew what it was.
She was crying.
“I’m sorry, little one. I’ve failed you. I broke my promise and now you’re on your own. I’m sorry.”
More groans rose out of her and more of my tears fell. I wanted to comfort her, but I knew she wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t convince her this wasn’t her fault, just like she couldn’t convince me it wasn’t mine.
That was when I knew it was my turn. It was my turn to sing her to sleep.
My thin voice warbled out the words to an old lullaby I knew by heart. If I could have, I would have sung the songs she sang to me, but her voice was so deep and mine so small I couldn’t hope to reach any of the notes.
So I did the best I could. I sang and I sang and I rubbed my hands across her smooth, shining scales for the last time. I pretended I didn’t notice the ever-growing pool of red, just focused on her eyes. I watched as they unfocused and drifted, as her eyelids blinked more and more slowly.
I don’t know how I knew it was the last time when they began to drift downward again, but I did. I broke off my song, which was really little more than me choking out the words.
“I love you, Xena.” I pressed my tear-stained cheek to hers, my arms stretched across as much of her cheek as I could reach. “I love you!”
But I had waited too long.
She was gone.