There is still life after that
One day he too shall be king.
The young boy, the young prince, future ruler of the kingdom of the Clouds, sits atop the cliffs overlooking the vast ocean and it is all a lie.
Years later, he remembers the sting of the salt-laden air, the water-cool breeze against soft, childish cheeks, and the fair sting of tears blinked back unmercifully until he could see nothing beyond the horizon but a wide swell of rich swirling foam crashing against the jagged, haphazard rocks, swallowed in the rich, deep blue of the heavy, potent waters.
If he had fallen, no, he does not think like that. He does not wish to fall; his legs swing and collide against the sturdy rock, parts of his legs vulnerable from where his tattered pants emit gaping holes, allowing the flesh to come in contact with a thick, solid thud against the precipice barley clinging to his entranced form.
He has heard the whispers, the lies have finally unraveled like wisps of denga-myths uttered in the blackest hours of night, where those lies for mere moments ripen and flourish into the rich, wondrous truth of worlds and dreams beyond his hopes and beyond his understanding.
The imperious figure that struggles to settle next to him, a wiry frame of taut muscles cut into a lean and slim man, does not say anything, only places a hand on the boy’s knee, stopping him from bloodying his exposed legs any longer.
The tears well up even more, now blinding him to everything save for the visions inside, for he knows and he knows that he is simply too young to know.
The face looms in his blurred vision and he cannot prevent it.
Her lips are like split blossoms blooming in the spring circles, always a sad little grin prepared to make a clever little tale spun out of the air wash over him like a tangible force, mystifying him and he always makes sure to ask how she does that.
Mischievous dark eyes, a shade deeply violet and ornately amused, do not answer him. Soft petals on his forehead are her only reply to his unspoken questions and he clung to the memory fiercely, but now that time is passing, into the setting sun, it is a distant, cold thing he shall never care for.
He leans into his father’s body, it is strangely warm and the boy has never dared to associate something familiar to him, something like home in this regal man dressed in dark colors that strike harshly against the whitened rock of the bleached cliffs. This is not his father, his father sits on a throne of legacy, carved out of his ancestors and their legends, truth-legends, memories that transpired long ago and passed down in wondrous accounts, so magnificent, that they are impossible to believe.
His father is the King, the one he reveres and dares not to love. The boy makes no other willing motions of his own, he is picked up into the strong, hardened arms of his father, and carried down, down the winding path, to home. Her home.
And he is too tired to resist.
“Iliahas,” the pretty voice rings out, clear and gently as the swrye-bird song. He glares at two dark eyes cast in perturbed distraction peering under heavy lashes, a pale face framed with darkened hair, not close to black, but far too deep to be brown.
He scowls, face crumpling up far too dramatically for the taller, slender woman to take seriously, a soft giggle emitting from her gentle voice. She casts a brief look at the young girl’s curling locks and falsely innocent face before she walks over to her son.
“Surko,” she chides, a sun-splashed hand of soft golden hue resting warmly on his cheek, “You think it is a shame to be called such a lovely and pleasing name?”
His voice breaks highly and squawks like a bird of the great sea, ugly and unruly, “But it’s a girl’s name.”
His sister laughs, no longer pleasing as her singsong teasing had been before, as only siblings can muster even under their parent’s supervision.
“Ay-yal,” his mother curses softly underneath her patient breath, “I do not know why you think it so. You should not be ashamed of my name.”
And she frowns, not a real one, but such a duplicate that he pauses, grief swallowing the outrage in his heart. His mother does have a beautiful name, a secret one, that only he and his sister (and his father, but the young boy often forget of his father’s involvement in The Secret) know and keep locked in their minds and swearing to never reveal it.
His mother is named Syrenne du Iliahas and it is forbidden knowledge.
Even at his young age, only seven, he knows that he will never dare to reveal his mother’s name outside of the family. To the people of the Cloud-kingdom, to the statesmen, to the entire world, she is Queen Syrenos khas Aekhas, wife of Kursos Reysos, and lawful supplicant to the Aekhas dynasty.
It is the Big Lie, the Great Secret, the only way his mother (and how she loved to whisper this tale in the dusky hours of not-yet-sleep and sleep!) and his father could marry, for the royal D’Kia of Kursos could only marry a person of nobility.
And his mother, spinner of tales, gentle healer, and brilliant priestess had no such claim that could lawfully bind her to a noble ranking – save her connections to the D’Kia Aekhas, known for their interest in funding scholarly research.
His mother is big, a large soft mass of simple robes covering her body as she wraps long arms around him, easily lifting him. Surko is small for his age and he worries he will always be this way, far too thin and he is being to gangle: a mess of limbs not quite prepared to work together as a smooth, perfected whole are attached to his body and he often finds himself self-conscious of his gawky form.
His sister Jhelenia looks at her brother and mother with an air of being better. For Jhelenia, pretty, young, and ripening into a woman, has no interest in play, only in jests that cause anger in her younger brother. She plays with her russet tresses and smiles at the boys across the river’s bank. Surko has felt his sister’s distance, as though she too is across the bank, separated by a distance he cannot dare to cross, a distance she ‘s unconsciously placed. Her only other interest, save annoying her little brother, is finding the best husband when she reaches the age of maturity, only a couple of years away, she is playing a game herself, but to her, it is being a “grown up.”
His mother, Syrenne, no, Queen Syrenos, wrinkles her nose at her daughter, who will never be tall, but shall be modestly average in height, and says, “My girl, you mustn’t tease your brother-”
“I know, Mother,” the haughty tone lazily and carelessly drifts away from her mouth the moment she opens it in reply.
“Jhelenia, you are the oldest and it is your responsibility to always be careful and behave properly, as suit a young woman of your stature. Perhaps, if I was so inspired and impressed by such a lady, I could tell a tale of the Bonacartìer family…”
This catches her interest as quick as animals used to barely a year ago. She recognizes that name, as does Surko. A boy, perhaps a half a year older than his sister, with bright eyes and hair like mottled dark leaves, who has often cast shy smiles in the direction of his sister.
But the tale isn’t told. Just as days grow black during the worst of the winter cycles, as rain falls in the sunniest of days, the light in his mother’s oddly colored eyes goes dark, then black.
(They are like his eyes too; he is always reminded of the violet when he looks in a mirror, for he can never escape the identical eyes with the sad joy questioning him in the reflection.)
There is a scream and he never learns of who created that awful sound.
Rushing, there are noises, the scream does not end soon enough and there is a busy swarm, crowding him, pushing him away and he cannot think, cannot believe.
She is not dead.
There is life in her yet, the eyes are closed but he catches movement, even in the swarm of Others, enough to make him hope, to not be afraid, but he does not want to believe…
His sister catches him, and it for the last time. Takes his hand in hers and follows the procession, a mockery of the fancy ones held for special courts, into the clean-whiteness of a healer’s abode. Prays and mumbles fall on his ears but come out as a steady buzz, hissing away and he watches, the gray faces, the medicines pulled off waiting shelves and always, always that question. Don’t die on me. Wake up. Can you hear me?
Can you hear me?
Flutter of heavy eyelids, a web of blue lines visible in her face, grown colder and paler than the whitest moon. “Cuijope?” is the whisper and then, silence.
There is still hope. She still lives.
Her blackened hair falls in its heavy, rich waves, unfettered by the traditional braiding, netting, and baubles, loosely moving with each and every careful step.
His arm is a source of support, one she clings to like a child, an ache burning in his throat at his mother’s child-like gesture. He has grown taller than her, taller that his father, just as slender and wiry as the two of them. The gangling limbs eventually righted themselves and he walks with a steady, determined pace.
His pale skin is flushed slightly; the walk has been taxing yet his mother seems just as healthy as he. That is another lie. She has no gray hairs, no wrinkles of skin, preserved like stone burrowed deep in the ground. Her features are still delicate and fair, only pale, pale as her husband and her son, that strange deathly white a trait of the D’Kia Kursos inherited in her deceivingly youthful face.
“But a little less,” she says in her soft voice, now left to a lilting, breezy whisper. She has lived for six years more; six years passed her collapse and diagnosis. She shall die, but not like all others, her time draws near and Surko wishes it would not claim her, would not eat her solid flesh and tear the dwindling spirit from the frozen body.
They say she has the zengzi malady, a disorder inherited in all Aekhas, one that does not always steal life, merely causes great pain. Yet her body has not aged, not a single day. They do not realize what she truly has.
A curse, she said, when she first truly awoke from that dark day, a curse I hoped I could avert. But she could not, only protect her body from an unknown assailant and that villain had attacked her weak point – her soul. Even now, Syrenne’s eyes were glassy, painted windows into a fading life force. Though a witch, she was not powerful enough to stop the curse’s careful, malicious design, only wait, wait until the day when she faded away completely.
He hopes the body dies along with her soul, for even now this preserved appearance troubles and disgusts him. She knows this, she had, in a moment of weakness, confessed to his father that she couldn’t be trapped anymore, and she had to be freed.
Surko does not believe she will ever be free, but his mother knows that as well. They keep their own secret because they know how his father will take it. He too is fading, the King young Surko had feared and been in awe of was replacing the man that Syrenne had married, whatever part of Reysos, the man that did not understand his son, who took his son from a cliff’s overhang and gave him a true hug and a whispered, “No matter what, I love you,” that man would die along with his wife, in misery and torment.
“Just a little longer,” she says, her eyes still sharp enough to make out the complex road ahead.