The Prince and the Queen
The hooded cloak coiled around Akataras while he walked, white as the snow that fell from above. The black of mourning had not slipped from the elf's shoulders for long, before he had once again clad himself in light. Familiar pains were easier to bear perhaps, or he had found a new road, paved on the lives he had buried, that led to a more clear path.
His path was clear, but his mind and heart were not. His long and ragged brown hair was not in the style of one whose mind was settled, or heart healed. The white furs, silks and leathers he wore only warded against the frost outside, not within. The exhaustion in his eyes betrayed him, for they were as cold and as the snow beneath his feet.
He looked toward the road ahead with tired turquoise eyes, but did not truly see it. They gleamed in the moonlight and revealed more than the traveller had ever dared to share. As if he feared the moon and starlight could see his deepest secrets, he pulled his hood tight to shield against their gaze.
Until his mask was once again in place, he could let none see him, not for what he truly was. Only one had earned that right, and she was lost. As distant as the night sky above. He was given a second chance to be more than the mask he wore, but fate forced him to surrender it once more. Perhaps because the loss was so fresh in his heart and mind was why he first wondered if he had gone mad; when he saw her.
There she was, amidst the cold in a pale green dress. An elven beauty he had not thought to see in that night. He had lost them all, there could not be another; and it could not be her, but there she stood, as certain as a sunrise. Her hair was blonde, golden and long, too long to be her, not that one. Even still, hope flickered in the heart of the walking elf when he saw her, though he knew it could not be true.
He told himself this, many times, but he wanted to be wrong beyond all measure. Against reason and sense, his footsteps hastened. He crushed the snow underneath as if it were his only obstacle. For a single moment, he had forgotten what the true barrier was. What his heart wanted to believe, his mind knew was untrue, and the illusion crumbled as easily as snow underfoot.
His steps ceased. In the winter night he looked at her, he saw who she truly was and he did not know her. Though she was not who had wished for in the cold, he could not deny her beauty. Despite her actual identity, her very presence was enough to lift his wounded spirit.
Though he had run toward her, she did not glance toward Akataras. After he had stopped running, and the faint light of hope had blinked out, he saw her for who she truly was. Her hair that he had thought the same, was instead only similar, a darker blonde than he had known. Even her shape and skin differed, as was clear from so close. Akataras stood not more than a few metres away from her yet still she did not look at him.
She crouched amongst the snow, a pail in her hand and seemed to be sifting through the frost, the same way one would draw water from a lake. When she stood, it was clear that it was filled with water, but the snow around her was disturbed only by the wind. She tucked a strand of hair behind one of her ears and looked at where Akataras stood. Her eyes were the same colour as his, but they did not meet as they would if they had seen each other.
Akataras took a step forward and she looked away from him. He made to speak, but a thought occurred to him, and his tongue stilled before any words could escape. He walked forward till he stood right next to her, but they faced opposite directions. She did not react. The brown-haired elf glanced to his side to the blonde beside him, his eyes traced the shape of her face and form. Not even a murmur from her, nor a blink or a sigh. She could not see him, or know he was there.
She turned and walked away from him, but left no footprints in the snow. For a moment, she flickered, like the fluttering of a fragile flame. When this happened, Akataras assumed she was a spirit of some kind and moved to catch up to her, his curiosity piqued. When he walked at her side, she flickered once again and a sudden change occurred to her dress. It became tattered, distressed and bloodied in an instant. In her arms, she no longer carried a bucket, but instead a small bundle of rags, made of her dress. A child was wrapped within them and clutched close to her breast.
“Not him.” A voice said, but her lips did not move. “You will not have him.” The same voice said, faint, distant, but louder, as if it was carried by the wind. A flame-like heat rose and flowed from her. Though Akataras could feel the heat, the snow remained untouched.
Akataras had little time to observe this occurrence before it happened again. Her presence flitted and her dress changed, her attire less modest and a paler green with white highlights. It seemed like an outfit a dancer would wear. She did not carry the child in her arms this time and her hair was darker in colour, there were even markings on her skin that were not there before. A warm smile had appeared on her face.
Translucent black shapes flashed into existence around her. They were humanoid in form, but featureless and they flickered much like the woman herself did before. The apparitions moved around and carried out actions typical of camp members. They made motions but what they were interacting with could not be seen. They even spoke to one another, though everything they said was unclear, an indistinct murmur. All except for one single word, a name.
It was repeated constantly, and always when one of the wandering shadows spoke to the elven woman. It did not take Akataras very long to discern why. He did not dwell on the name long however. When he looked at Azyriel, one thing above all else was apparent to him. She seemed content, more than that even, happy.
He had realised that she was no mere spirit, not even an inhabitant of the same world. Azyriel was something very rare, or at least, the echo of her was. The true Azyriel was elsewhere, in her own world, far away from Akataras' own. Across that distance however, the two travellers shared a connection that allowed the echo to occur. Tragedy.
Whether the events had already occurred or were going to occur for Azyriel did not matter. The pains and burdens she would bear were great enough to resonate with Akataras' own. He did not know just how similar their roads were, and in truth, he did not know her at all.
Her pain, her experiences, if they had come to pass already, or if they were to happen at all. They were a weight so heavy that the world itself creaked under their burden, and that sound rang out beyond the confines of shores and skies. That toll became a song, and like any lament, there are always those it will connect to, more so than others.
He had lost a lover to fate, and had marched the road of vengeance, bloody and cruel that it was. It granted him no solace and over time, his rage quieted, but his pain did not fade. Eventually, he fell from grace and only when he had fallen did he find her again, only to lose her once more. Though he had forsaken mourning, that did not mean he had surpassed his grief.
Perhaps that is what drew the song of another to him in that night. The weight upon his shoulders could not be borne alone, not twice. He had already chosen his road ahead, though his encounter with the echo of Azyriel served a purpose. His resolve could not be broken, but he lacked something crucial that threatened to shatter his spirit.
He watched Azyriel and one thing stood out above all others when she moved from shadow to shadow. It was not her grace, not her beauty, nor the similar fire in her eyes that Akataras possessed himself. It was her smile.
She would suffer greatly, lose people dear to her and gain someone she would die to protect. Azyriel would pass through the flames of perdition and blaze a path in her wake. Yet after it all, after the storm had passed and the ashes settled. She would be happy.
To know such grief and still be able to smile like that, Akataras had not thought it possible. He was ice, unmoving, cold, and could only crumble. If he did shift, it was only slowly and over a great deal of time. He stood for a while, and continued to watch Azyriel's echo until it finally faded. He had seen only flashes, of anger, sorrow, rage and despair, but the echoes that lingered longest, were of joy.
After the last echo fell silent, a thought occurred to Akataras. Under the distant stars and the falling snow, he smiled. He hoped to meet Azyriel one day, for though she did not know it, he had a debt to repay. He set his eyes on the road ahead, and did not look back.
Once again, he had found warmth in the cold.