Author’s note: I apologize for all the feels! But worry not, as your suffering will all end soon!
The Queen Alenaire spent the twelve years in her kingdom by making many social, economical and political reforms throughout the country, as the noble houses meekly complied to all of her wishes (as they were afraid of the dragons breathing down their necks), and the council of elders was finally abolished. Another council was erected, formed by young civilians throughout the country, who passed the requirements and exam she had painstakingly created for the sole purpose of becoming a government official that helped the country prosper. The kingdom was finally at peace, with dragons roaming happily around the capital, becoming tourist attractions from far away villages.
Casualties from the war fronts were sent back to the capital in order to be healed by the priests, and the Queen Alenaire herself would come to visit the hospice with her son Callel, healing as many people as they could everyday. Callel had awakened his power of healing a few years back, and since all of the great Knights were in the war, his mother Alenaire herself, declared that she would teach him everything she knew. As the days passed, Callel was always by his mother’s side as he was taught swordsmanship and everything that he had to do once he became king.
Seiran became a well known beast master throughout the kingdom, as he was revered by commoners and feared by the nobles. He became the head of the council, also acting as the Royal chamberlain. He was efficient in his work, and was oftentimes praised. One could almost see a tail wagging behind him in glee.
Seiran had also spread throughout the kingdom of the Queen Alenaire being a goddess, weaving a ludicrous tale about how she was the daughter of the netherworld and also the niece of the Jade Emperor of Heaven. This goddess helped the poor and wielded a sword of justice that could cut through dissenters.
In the hearts of the commoners, this Queen who, although was a foreigner to the country, had fought on behalf of their enrichment, became a true goddess in their hearts. Because the war did not come through the borders because of the dragons, the kingdom was at peace, and they were able to till the lands without fear of enemy encroachment. All sorts of jobs were opened to the public, and as literacy rate improved by the erected schools, more commoners were able to acquire jobs that the upper echelons of society had only previous access to.
With the slaves’ emancipation, they were given a small land of their own from their previous owners assets as a compensation for maltreatment, and they finally felt like true human beings, as the iron shackles around their ankles and wrists were finally unlocked. Alenaire wanted to cry as well upon seeing the slaves cry in the middle of the streets, the dark imprints of the shackles still on their skin. But they were now free, and it was all that mattered to them. The kingdom (aside from the nobles) rejoiced, chanting the name of their Queen who they were willing to blindly follow in worship.
“Do you miss father, mother?” Callel asked during dinnertime. He elegantly sliced his steak into half as he looked on inquiringly at his mother.
“Of course I do,” Alenaire said. “And I miss my family in Alastriona as well. Once the war is over, I will bring you to them to visit. I want you to meet my silly older brother Alasdair and my knight Luce when I was the princess.”
“Luce?” Callel tapped the side of his goblet in thought. “I think I have heard of that name being mentioned by father before.”
Alenaire stiffened, her knife stopping in midair just as she was about to slather butter over her bread. “Oh?”
“I was too young to remember what he said, but I do remember the name,” Callel replied innocently, not noticing his mother’s distress.
Alenaire decided to change the subject. “Once the war is over, I should find you a suitable fiancée.”
“Can I not choose who I want to marry?” Callel asked. “There is this nice girl in the council who I am attracted to…” Callel blushed, blotches of red appearing on his cheeks.
Alenaire did not know what to say. Now that she was actually the Queen, and her words were law, she could practically say anything and it would be done. Her father had given her away due to strengthening bonds, and now that the whole central continent was united through marriage ties, she could not think of any other country to find.
Alenaire smiled at her son. “I wish for you to have the freedom I could not have.”
“So your marriage to father was one that was arranged?” Callel had actually thought that they both loved each other, and thus marriage happened, but he had never thought it would be like this. “Did you love someone else?”
Alenaire nodded imperceptibly, afraid that her son would scorn her for her honest reply. “Yes…”
“It’s okay mother.” Callel patted her hand across the table, his smile one of childish naivety. “There is no cost in loving someone. That is your freedom.” Callel gripped her slender hand in his. “I will never think less of you merely for the fact you had loved someone other than father. Love is not something to be looked down upon, after all.”
Alenaire blinked back the tears in her eyes as she gripped Callel’s hand in turn. “Your heart is so pure, it bothers me.”
Callel laughed out loud. “I only have one teacher, and that is you.”
Alenaire stood up from her chair to embrace Callel around his shoulders. “I cannot believe I have raised such a sweet potato. Your mother is so proud of this harvest.”
Callel laughed again as he patted his mother’s arms. “I thank the gods everyday for giving me a mother like you.”
“If you are being sweet to me because you want something, then forget it,” Alenaire teased, as the tears slipped down the corner of her eyes.
“Mother, your threatening words don’t mesh well with tears,” Callel chuckled as he patted his mother’s cheeks dry with a napkin.
In the Queen’s bedchamber, Alenaire was busy fixing her hair when she heard a tap on her window. She turned to see it was the carrier pigeon, and so she opened the window with anticipation. It had been months since the last letter her mother had sent her, and she wondered if it was a letter telling of the end of the war. She eagerly opened the pouch on the pigeon’s chest, and unfolded the letter it contained.
She read the contents.
The paper shook as her hands trembled, yet she continued to scan the words over and over again, thinking perhaps it was wrong. Thinking perhaps that it could not be. She read the lines over and over again, still unbelieving.
The pigeon who perched on the windowsill, tilted its head to the side, as if it did not want to witness a human’s breakdown before its eyes.
Callel was crowned the new king at the age of sixteen, and yet this ceremony was one of solemnity for the masses. The previous King Zephyr’s funeral was held before the coronation ceremony, and he was buried in the crypts under the cathedral. Although the central continent had won the war, there were too many casualties to even be happy about. No one had the heart to celebrate.
The people also heard of how the Queen Alenaire, who was now the Queen Dowager, had been bedridden for months, as her heart and soul seemed to be broken. As she was indisposed, she transferred the crown to her son who was already of mature age. The civilians did not mourn as much for the deceased King Zephyr as they did for the Queen who was still alive. They prayed for her to get better, despite knowing that many healers all over the kingdom had already tried to heal her, but it was not a flesh wound that was remediable.
“Master, if there is anything I can do for you, please don’t hesitate to tell me,” Seiran said as he stood by her bedside. “Please, eat master. Your son will visit you soon after he holds court, and he will be upset if he sees that you haven’t eaten your food again. Leica has prepared your food to be more palatable.”
Alenaire slowly sat up on her bed, lifting a thin hand over her face. “How have I turned into this?”
“Master…” Seiran’s voice broke upon seeing her tragic expression. “It has almost been a year, please be strong and overcome this.”
“I have been strong, Seiran.” Alenaire covered her eyes, feeling as if the world had turned grey. There were no more tears to be shed despite the deep sadness that burdened her chest. “I have been strong. All these years, I have been selfless. I have left my country, my home. I took the throne and changed this kingdom for the better, despite the severe opposition and the sleepless nights. Through it all, I was in a sense, independent. I was confident. I was confident because I knew they were there. Alive.” Her frail hands shook. “I used to look down on the previous king for neglecting his duties and failing the kingdom for the mere fact that his wife died, but who is laughing now?” She fisted her hands against her eyes. “I am the same as him.”
“Seiran?” She looked up at him as her frail hands fell away, revealing dark circles under her eyes that were prominent on her gaunt face. “I have never experienced this emotion before. It is as if I do not know what it means anymore to be happy. Seiran, tell me, what is this feeing of abject hopelessness I feel?”
“Master, don’t let this depression get the best of you.” Seiran knelt before the bed, gently holding her thin hand. If he were to even add a little bit of pressure, he was afraid it would snap. “I am here. Your son is here. Everyone is waiting for you to heal yourself.”
Alenaire twisted her lips into a bitter smile. “What good are my powers if I cannot even heal my own heart?”
“Unfortunately, master, that’s not part of the job description for healers…” Seiran joked, a corner of his lips lifting up into a smile.
“Can I be selfish just this once?” Alenaire’s voice was a thin thread in the air.
Seiran’s heart tightened against his chest, as he was afraid what kind of selfish act she wanted to commit.
“Allow me to sleep. I’m feeling tired again…” Alenaire closed her eyes and laid back down against her pillow.
“Master…if you always sleep so much…” But Seiran’s voice was drowned out as soon as Alenaire drifted off into sleep once again.
Callel came by everyday to check up on his mother. Because he was busy with work and paperwork, he brought his desk to her chambers so he was able to work while overseeing his mother. Seiran turned into one of his trusted advisers, and would oftentimes stay at Callel’s side during court because his master ordered him to. Callel was an intelligent boy, and because he had always been with his mother during court sessions, he easily adapted to court life, his political and business acumen at par with his grandfather, the King Altair.
He had informed his mother’s family about what happened to her, but the royal family was busy with war reparations, and could not leave their kingdom for a few years, lest another attack would unsuspectingly strike while they were absent even just for a day. They could not take such a high risk, and expose the kingdom to another threat. As much as they wanted to visit Alenaire, their hearts were tied.
As Callel was writing on his desk beside his mother’s bed, he looked at his mother’s gaunt face, and her sunken eyes. However emaciated she was, in his eyes, she was still the most beautiful mother that he knew. Callel knew that she was depressed because of his father’s and the Knight Luce’s death, and as the son who could not really remember his father that well, he wanted his mother to get over his death quickly and smile at him once again.
Every time his mother took in food, it was a natural reaction for her to vomit out the contents of her stomach everytime, as she could not hold it down. She tried her hardest to get through it, but her body itself resisted. It was true that she desired to live past her sickness, in order to live for her son, but her body betrayed her heart.
Callel dropped the pen in his hand and rested his forehead against his fists.
“What’s wrong, Your Majesty?” Seiran asked worriedly as he stood by Callel’s chair.
“I just had an epiphany,” Callel said, as he abruptly stood up from his chair, walking briskly to his mother’s bed.
Seiran looked at him, puzzled.
“Mother, mother,” Callel squeezed his mother’s hands, and her bleary eyes slowly opened. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.” He held her hands against his forehead as he trembled with emotion. “I don’t want you to live as an empty shell of a person, mother. I don’t want an empty vessel.” He inhaled strongly as the tears choked his voice. “I don’t want you to live because you feel guilty of leaving me. I can take care of myself now. I’m brave enough. I have found who and what I love. It is time that you search for yours.” His tears drenched his mother’s hands, and she looked back at him with her eyes moist for the first time in many months.
“If death–” Callel bit his lips as a sob escaped his throat, “–is what makes you happy, then go. I won’t tether you. Nothing in this world will tether you anymore.” He looked up at the ceiling as he tried to dry his eyes, but the tears continued to cascade down his cheeks. “Just promise me, mother. Promise me one thing so I won’t regret letting you go.”
Alenaire blinked, and hot tears streaked down her face as she turned her head towards her son. Her voice was hoarse as she said, “I love you, Callel.”
Callel gritted his teeth in pain. “Mother, if there is to be a next life, promise me that you will live it the way you’ve always wanted.” Alenaire slowly lifted her arm, the movement lugubrious as she stroked her son’s soft hair. “Mother, mother…I love you too…please be happy…”
“My love,” Alenare placed her hands above her son’s, as she held on as tightly as her meager strength would allow, “Forgive me for being so weak.”
Callel shook his head fiercely, his hair whipping against his tear-stained cheeks. “You are the strongest woman I know, mother. You have taught me so much. You are the best teacher I’ve had…”
“Callel, my love, I am your only teacher,” Alenaire replied with amusement, the edge of her lips lifting to form a small smile. However small it was, it was still the first smile Callel had seen in months.
“Nonetheless!” Callel replied, abashed. He suddenly removed his shoes and curled against his mother’s small form on the bed. “Mommy, let me be a child again this once.”
Callel, who was many times bigger than his mother ever since she withered away, covered his mother with his arms as he placed her head on his shoulder. “Mommy…mommy…I’ll miss you.” As he kept repeating those words, he soon fell into deep slumber, the tears drying on his face.
Since Alenaire did not have the strength to lift her head anymore, she stared at the canopy and said Seiran’s name.
“Master?” Seiran walked to the side of her bed and peered at her face.
“Seiran, I don’t want to burden you anymore, but I have one last request,” Alenaire said.
“Anything, master. Tell me anything.” Seiran clenched his fists at the side, hoping that this would not be the last conversation they would have in this world. It was quite selfish of him to think that he wanted her all to himself, even if it was just one lifetime.
“Please take care of my son,” Alenaire said as the tears rolled down the sides of her face. She turned her head to look at his cerulean eyes, and she mustered a small smile.
“Your wish is my command, master.” Seiran bowed low, hiding the empty feeling in his eyes. If his master were to die now, he would have to live many more years without her. This was different from her second life, as the time he had lost only summed into a few weeks. This time, however, it was different. This time, he would lose her for years.
“Thank you, Seiran.” Alenaire lifted her hand, and Seiran took it in his as he kneeled by the bed so he was able to look at her evenly.
“Master, I will do anything for you,” Seiran said seriously. He kissed her hands and said, “In the next life, please keep the windows open for me. I will return to you when I have finished this lifetime.”
Although Alenaire herself did not really believe in reincarnation, she still nodded her head to appease him. After a while, she felt a deep weight on her eyelids, and she could not help but close her eyes.
“Goodbye, my…Juju…” He whispered through tears, holding a hand that was now cold.