Scars on the Heart
A story inspired by The Vision of Escaflowne
By Sarah Dove
There was a lot to decide; a lot to determine. They talked about some of it over dinner that night: Millerna, Allen, Gadeth, Serena, Dryden, Cid and Van, although these last two seemed fairly subdued by everything that had happened and did not speak much. Millerna and Allen announced their intention to get married; they would combine the wedding with Millerna's coronation as Queen. Of course everyone congratulated them, Dryden as loudly as anyone. He continued to talk and joke in a lively way all through dinner, except that he scarcely touched any food after that. Everyone noticed, and he knew they had noticed. The atmosphere was becoming positively painful. Serena cast about for anything to say; it was hard to concentrate, because Gadeth was pressing his foot against hers under the table and looking innocent.
'I still don't understand,' she blurted out, 'what was wrong with Princess Elise. I mean, what was troubling her.'
Millerna's face fell a little. 'Well,' she said, 'I've been finding that out today, and I asked Dryden to look some things up for me. I've told him everything I learned; why don't you tell the story, Dryden?' She took a sip of her drink rather fast, and Allen moved his chair closer to hers, to hold her hand.
'Yes. Ahem,' said Dryden. 'This is not an easy story to tell; it's not one I really understand. The people involved are no longer with us, and perhaps it would be better if it passed with them.
'In her early teens, Elise went into a depression. No-one was really sure what it was about. Her mother had died when she was younger, but she'd seemed to grieve normally and get over it. She just seemed to turn in on herself. She'd write screeds in a diary and then tear pages out and burn them. And after a while she began to hurt herself. She'd make herself sick after meals, so her food couldn't do her any good. She'd hold her hand over a candle flame as long as she could. You remember those gold things she wore over her ears? I always thought they were just unusual jewellery, quite classy. But it appears that at one time, she decided her ears were too big, and tried to lop them with the schoolroom scissors. They weren't sharp enough and just sort of chewed up the cartilage. So the gold bits were to hide the scars.
'They kept her by herself a lot, so people wouldn't find out she'd gotten strange. And I suppose that made it worse. She moved on to a kind of seizure ... she'd just go stiff and stop breathing. In one of the surviving diary entries, she talks about dreams where she got out of her body. She thought she went flying, and wrote about wanting to get out and fly forever.
'Now, in Asturia, succession normally passes to the eldest son or daughter. And Elise was the eldest. But she was getting so strange, so self-destructive, that they had her removed from the succession, legally declared unfit by reason of insanity. All done very quietly, making Marlene next in line. And when Marlene died, Millerna. Once again, congratulations. These changes aren't made lightly and they're irrevocable. The problem was, Elise didn't stay mad. Just as no-one understood why she'd gone that way in the first place, no-one was clear on why she came back. The strange behaviour just faded away, and all that was left was that sort of sad air she had. And when she understood what had happened, it broke her heart ... her birth meant so much to her, and she really had wanted to be a good Queen.
'To try to make it up to her, King Aston made her his right-hand woman, so to speak. He gave her duties and responsibilities he wouldn't have given anyone else; made her special. But it seems like the pressure, with the knowledge that she never could be Queen, was more than she could bear. When he decided he wanted to reap the benefits of Zaibach's technology, he made her his liaison to the sorcerers, and I suppose what she heard from them put the lid on it. If there was anyone who would have wanted to change her fate, it was Elise. She had an old Zaibach dossier on Dilandau in her room. Perhaps she hoped she could become a different person too.'
Van was looking embarrassed at hearing another family's secrets. Cid's expression almost made Serena want to laugh; he looked as though he was thinking 'Bloody typical.' Millerna sat with her chin in her hand, her other hand holding Allen's. She was not crying; there was a quiet sorrow in her eyes, and for a minute she looked very like Elise.
Cid came to say goodbye the next morning; he was leaving with Van.
'I'm going to see what they're doing to rebuild in Fanelia,' he told Serena as they walked in the garden. 'There's probably going to be a treaty soon, Fanelia, Freid and Asturia all together. And we'll try to get other countries to join. If we're all strong together, Basram may not be as much of a threat. And they're planning expeditions into Zaibach, to recover its science; not the fate stuff, no-one wants to touch that. But there was a lot more, wasn't there? And we want to use it to make people's lives better.'
'I hope you can,' Serena said. 'I don't know how well that will work out.'
'We'll just make it work out,' Cid said. He was confident and cheerful this morning. 'And if you're worried, you'll just have to get involved and help us. You know more about it than anyone. And you're going to be the new King's sister. They'll probably make you the Duchess of Something. That'll give you some influence.'
'That sounds good. Can you see Gadeth as a Duke?'
'You're not getting married too, are you?'
'I think we might eventually. Think of it as gaining an uncle.'
'I don't want to find out anyone else is related to me and I didn't know.'
'Keep your fingers crossed.'
Cid looked up at her. 'I think things are going to be all right. I know you're worried about people using things from Zaibach, but I keep thinking about something Hitomi said to me ... that people can make their dreams come true by believing in them. If we believe in a good future, we'll make it happen. Okay?'
'Okay.' It was hard to disagree with him; she wanted him to be right. 'I never really knew Hitomi. I wish I had.'
'Well, maybe she'll come back. I'm wishing for it.'
'Cid!' Van was calling from an archway. 'We're leaving. Come on.'
Cid turned to Serena; she bobbed down to hug him properly. 'I'll come and see you,' she promised as his short arms squeezed her. 'You can show me what you're doing with your country. I know you'll be great.'
'And I know you'll be the first Duchess who wears trousers all the time,' he said. 'G'bye.' He ran off to join Van. Serena waved goodbye to them both; Van half-waved back. She still wasn't sure what to do about him, but she had a whole life in which to work it out. As the two boy-rulers walked through the archway, they passed Dryden coming the other way. He was carrying a bulky pack and looked his old scruffy self again. Serena waited for him to reach her.
'I'm heading out again,' he said. 'On the road again, and all that. People need stuff and I'm going to sell it to them. When I've sold them all the stuff they need it's time to make them think they need new stuff. So I'm going around and saying my goodbyes.' He held out his hand for Serena to shake. She took it and held it.
'Are you going to be all right?' she asked. 'When they made the announcement last night, you looked'
'Listen, I'm used to it,' he assured her. 'I knew when I gave her back her ring what would happen. For a while I kept hoping that she'd stay free, that she'd wait for me, but it seems it just isn't meant to happen. It's a shame ... she's a wonderful woman ... but she's found the right man for her. If we weren't meant to be together, well, the right one for me must still be out there somewhere. Right?' He didn't look entirely convinced himself, but again, Serena wanted him to be right.
'Gadeth and I are going down to the sea for a while,' she said, 'for a holiday, to get all this out of our systems. To his uncle's house. You should come out and join us, after a couple of weeks, I mean,' she added, and blushed.
'I don't want to be the gooseberry,' Dryden said. 'Which I know I would be.' He smiled a little.
'Come anyway. It's a beautiful place. While we were there a pod of dolphins came right into the bay while we were swimming. Gadeth says there are even mermaids sometimes.'
'Mermaids?' Dryden repeated, and raised an eyebrow. 'I might drop by. Just to see the mermaids. But I really have to go. Trade waits for no man. So take care of yourself ... and of course, take care of Gadeth.' He waved to someone behind her and walked away.
'You'd better take care of me,' said Gadeth, picking her up from behind, hugging her round the waist, swinging her round. 'Keep me safe, keep me right, right?'
The hilltop cemetery above Pallas is a quiet and peaceful place. When the wind blows from the sea, you can smell salt, hear seagulls. Puffball flowers grow among the graves and their soft seedheads spiral down over the city when the wind blows from the land. There's a lot of space that has not been filled. If you walk past the last markers, back towards the trees, and if you look around carefully, you may find a shady place where a plain block of white stone stands. Most people don't know it is there; if they did they would probably say it was in bad taste. But it was paid for by a very rich woman, and the bad taste of the very rich is merely eccentricity. Cut into the top of the block are these words:
This stone stands in memory of the Dragonslayers of Zaibach, and for all the youth lost to war. They will not grow old.
Down the front face runs a list of their names. It is not a long list; it stops before the bottom of the slab. Fifteen boys and one beastman. But if you know to look at the very bottom of the stone, if you know to press down the grass at the base, you'll see one more piece of carving.
Here rests Dilandau Albatou.
Serena Schezar has gone home.