Just Like You Protected Us...
Chapter 1: The First Day Without
I wanted to reach out to him. I wished with all of my heart that I were a braver woman, and that I could shout my feelings over the side of our airship as his silhouette become a speck upon the face of Gaia. I wept tears of confusion; I knew his reasons for staying behind were just - as I had once wept for the death of my mother, she who had killed thousands of innocent - but my heart was broken over the fact that while it was he alone on the ground, I was the one left behind.
Don't assume I blame him, or am angry, for I'm far from either.
I'd traveled the world by his side, experienced the ups and downs life had to offer all in his company, yet there would be one of us not returning to their home after our journey was finished.
Inside the airship, Vivi took my hand. His eyes lit up in a smile up at me. "He'll be back. I know he will."
I sobbed, openly, in front of all those aboard the ship. "I know, Vivi. But that doesn't make it any easier."
We dropped our favorite Black Mage off at the village of his brethren. He waved a happy goodbye, telling me that I was welcome to visit at any time. I extended my own invitation toward him, letting him know that Alexandria was always ready for him. Yet even as I spoke I knew the words were empty; Vivi had found his home. He might visit, but he knew where he belonged.
Freya requested to be taken to Lindblum. No one asked why, and no one would; Burmecia laid in ruins, and Cleyra was less than that. There was little home for her to return to. Still, I offered her at least a warm bed and a smiling face were she ever inclined to visit Alexandria. She patted my shoulder and merely disappeared into the city.
Amarant never asked to be let off the ship; he simply left when no one was paying attention. No one blamed him, however. Out of all of us, he was one no one expected a goodbye from.
Quina wasn't interested in staying with any of the original party if we were no longer traveling the world. Upset over the prospect of no more "yummy-yummies" the Qu took the Dragon's Gate to Lindblum's lower levels and returned to the swamp.
Eiko confronted me at long last.
"Am I supposed to go home, too?" I could hear the profound sorrow in her voice, something no one should hear from a six-year-old.
Regent Cid answered before I had time to speak. "If you'd like, Miss Eiko, there is room here in Lindblum."
Purple eyes grew wide. "I can stay here?"
Cid smiled and nodded, his great mustache bobbing up and down. "Of course."
And that was it.
I went home, with the captain of my knights and the general of my army, but feeling more alone than I had in my entire life.
Storytellers from far and wide flocked to the castle the moment I was inside. They pleaded and begged me for my tale; after all, word had quickly spread of the heroic queen who had laid all behind her to travel with the man she loved and save the world. Despite my exhaustion, I spun the story for them all. Beatrix and Steiner helped at times, filling in elements I wouldn't have previously known as I'd not been with them in times of separation.
The story was a epic one, if I might say so myself. I am a humble woman, never thinking more of myself than what is necessary, but by the time we'd told of how the thief had won the heart of a queen, of how Alexandria had nearly fallen into ruin alongside the rest of the world, of how merely a handful of people had carried the strength of all those in the world... The room was completely silent.
We did omit the part of the story in which I found out I was far from royal born – an orphan from a far away land – but I think it was a part best left out.
Several of my court maids were weeping. A few nobles wiped their eyes with crisp, white handkerchiefs.
I stood, and shed my storytelling persona. Along with it, I shed the traveler inside me.
It was time to be queen.
No one made a fuss when I politely excused myself.
I drew myself a hot bath in my private chambers, realizing that someone on the palace staff might have a heart attack if they witnessed the queen doing anything so mundane herself, but my muscles – though mostly my heart – ached too terribly for me to care.
Bathing used to relax me, banish all my troubles. But not today. I found myself too awestruck to think past a few moments. I washed my hair three times, simply because once I'd finished I wasn't completely sure I had actually done anything. It was as if my mind was beginning to crumble away...
I dried myself, curled into bed, and attempted to go to sleep. But the mattress was foreign on my bones, uncomfortable and strange, so I tore the bedding off and curled up on the floor.
And, though I had tried so dearly, I couldn't keep my tears from falling. I cried well into the night, clutching my pillow and wishing with all of my being that he was here.
I hadn't heard Beatrix enter my chamber. She knew, without second thought I'm sure, why I wept, and she stole me up from the floor, wrapped me in my bedding, and sat me atop the cushy mattress.
"You must be strong."
I sniffled, shaking my head like a stubborn child. "I know. Oh, Beatrix, I know. But how can I be strong when all of my strength is gone?" I needed a friend, not a guardian, and my general acquiesced; she held me by my shoulders and soothed me with comforting words.
Looking back, I understand how hard it must have been for her; the woman charged to protect the queen, yet rendered unable to do anything to protect me from myself. After all, how do you mend heartbreak when you're merely on the outside looking in?